|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
||1477: St Paul's, Natick, Massachusetts, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Five Pints.
The church: St
Paul's, Natick, Massachusetts, USA.
The building: An unremarkable 1920s red brick building on Natick's
main street, with lots of rooms underneath the main worship space and in
the hall behind. Inside, a traditionally laid out church, with dark wooden
pews and whitewashed walls.
The church: The bulletin, their website and my conversations with
worshippers showed St Paul's to be an extremely active and growing church,
attracting people of all ages and backgrounds. I was told that in recent
years a significant number of Roman Catholics had joined the church, unhappy
about scandals and upsets in the Catholic diocese of Boston. Interestingly,
I met people who hailed from Baptist fellowships in the south as well as
a congregation in Virginia that has recently left the Episcopal Church,
who told me that their faith had been nurtured and deepened at St Paul's.
With a lively children's ministry, adult Christian nurture, overseas mission
links and a feeding program for the homeless, St Paul's appears to be a
community seeking to be truly inclusive. The congregation on my visit seemed
predominantly white and middle class.
The neighborhood: Natick lies about a 30 minute drive west of Boston,
in the area known as Metrowest. The village was established in 1651 by the
Puritan missionary John Eliot as a settlement for "praying Indians."
Despite such an auspicious beginning, hostilities between colonists and
natives grew over the years, and by the early 1700s white settlers were
in the majority. After the American Revolution, the town's predominantly
farming economy gave way to industry, and by 1880 Natick was America's leading
shoe and boot manufacturing center, a claim to fame now long gone. The distinctive
figure-eight pattern for stitching baseballs was also developed in Natick.
Famous sons and daughters include Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the anti-slavery
novel Uncle Tom's Cabin; Henry Wilson, 18th vice president of the
United States, whose tiny 1860s cobbler's shop is still preserved on the
edge of town; and Horatio Alger, Jr., author of a series of children's books
with a "rags to riches" theme. Today's Natick boasts an historic
quarter dating from Victorian times, and the town has a prosperous but unpretentious
feel to it.
The cast: The Revd Canon Edward Rodman presided, assisted by the
curate, the Revd Mark C. McKone-Sweet, who also preached. We were informed
that the rector, the Revd Jon Strand, was on a month's vacation.
The date & time: Sunday, August 5, 2007, 9.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist Rite 2.
How full was the building?
About half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A smiling usher handed me the bulletin as I walked in the front door and
said, "Good morning."
Was your pew comfortable?
So-so: a traditional wooden pew without very much legroom.
How would you describe the pre-service
Quiet, with a few whispered conversations going on among people in their
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning. Please, would you sit down." We were then encouraged
to shake hands with those around us.
What books did the congregation use during the
Lots! The Book of Common Prayer, the Hymnal 1982, and
an additional green hymnal whose name I didn't note down. There were also
responses, prayers and readings for the day printed in the bulletin.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The choir, I was told, was on holiday.
Did anything distract you?
My eyes scanned the 12-page bulletin more than once. It was packed with
information, even in this quiet midsummer season. Also, I was intrigued
to see children carrying up baskets of food along with the usual gifts at
the offertory; I was later told this was a collection for a local homeless
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Fairly restrained and traditional. The congregation missed not having a
choir or vocalists to give us a lead. There were a couple of quite rousing
hymns in which I naturally could have let rip with my voice and raised my
hands. However, glancing around me, I decided this would be a definite no-no!
This felt strange, since during the notices people broke into spontaneous
applause on a number of occasions. The energy and passion of the curate
was complemented by the relaxed and unfussy way in which Canon Rodman led
the eucharist. He ambled around the sanctuary like a friendly favorite uncle,
and at the end informed us that it was his 65th birthday and he had brought
a cake with him for coffee hour. His invitation to share cake with us was
very moving; I will summarize it in the final question below, as I will
remember it for a long time.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Curate McCone-Sweet was full of enthusiasm, pacing up and down
the church, eyeballing the congregation as he delivered his sermon.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
His text was Luke 12:13-21, the parable of the rich fool – the man who
planned to live a life of luxury on the proceeds of his bumper crop, but
whose life was demanded of him that very night. "What is the most important
thing in life to you?" the preacher repeatedly asked. He drew on his
experiences of the summer which included a mission trip to El Salvador and
helping run a summer camp for disadvantaged city kids. He also referred
to the aftermath of the collapse of a highway bridge in Minnesota, which
happened during the week.
Which part of the service was like being in
On the back page of the bulletin was a list of about 40 names of people
involved in the church's various activities. At the top, above the clergy
entries, it stated: "Ministers: All the parishioners of St Paul's."
I liked that, as I'm from a tradition where the priest is often over-exalted.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I attend worship regularly, but I struggled to find my way around the various
hymn books, prayer book and liturgy inserts in the bulletin. They ought
to simplify it.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We all retired to the hall, where people generally welcomed me and we enjoyed
tucking into Canon Ed's birthday cake as we chatted.
How would you describe the after-service
Filter coffee in a paper cup. I've tasted worse! There was no notice to
say whether it was fairly traded. Tea and juice were also available.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 In spite of it appearing quite conservative liturgically, I got
the impression there is lots of life in this parish, as I was visiting at
a quiet time of the year. I was attracted by their desire for inclusivity
but I might struggle with the music, although I expect they vary their styles
for different services.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Canon Ed's invitation for us to share his 65th birthday cake: "Y'know, it's
not about the things that you have, but the relationships and the people
you have. As Jesus said in Matthew 6: 'Do not store up for yourselves treasures
on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven... for where your treasure
is, there your heart will be also.'" In the middle of a holiday in a country
which seems overflowing with material blessings and abundance, I needed
to hear those words!
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.