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1641: Memorial Presbyterian, St Augustine, Florida, USA
Memorial Presbyterian, St Augustine, Florida, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Preacher's Kid.
The church: Memorial Presbyterian (also known as Flagler Memorial), St Augustine, Florida, USA.
Denomination: Presbyterian Church (USA).
The building: If the Presbyterians ever have a cathedral, this will be it! The congregation was organized in 1824 and the present building dates from 1890, a gift from the oil and railroad magnate Henry M. Flagler. It was designed by the New York firm of Carrere and Hastings, who also designed the Arlington Cemetery Amphitheater and Tomb of the Unknowns, the Frick Collection, the New York Public Library, and Goldwin Smith Hall and Rockefeller Hall at Cornell University, among dozens of other equally famous structures. The architectural style is Venetian Renaissance – most popular for grand buildings in Florida at the time. This style is evident in the huge copper dome rising about 150 feet overhead and the ornate terra cotta frieze done by Italian artists. The woodwork is all hand-carved Santo Domingo mahogany. Although cruciform, the floor plan strikes you as a bit odd upon entering: what traditionally would be the nave is in fact the transepts. In the north end is a chapel with chairs that can be reversed to provide overflow seating and large sliding doors to close the chapel off for smaller services. What traditionally would be thought of as the north transept is in fact the area which, from back to front, contains the organ case and choir seating behind a screen at a second-story level, and a congregational-style rostrum for the clergy. There is a lectern centrally located from which the readings are done, and to the right, or gospel side, is a pulpit with a sea-shell reflector. Below the lectern on the floor is the baptismal font which in communion services converts to the Lord's Table. The chandeliers are three-dimensional crosses and may well have been gaslights at installation. Four torches also illuminate the crossing. The Flagler family tomb is connected to the transept.
The church: Their numerous ministries and outreaches are well described on their website. Among these are a Presbyterian day school, a women's circle, Sunday school and fellowship groups for young people, and a prayer chain. During the week there are choir rehearsals, committee meetings including those of the trustees and deacons, and seniors activities. The church provides rehearsal area of the St Augustine Children’s Choir. They have two services on Sunday morning, with the earlier service at 8.30 being an abbreviated version of the later service, according to the leaflet.
The neighborhood: St Augustine (which the locals pronounce AWE-gus-teen) was founded by Spanish explorers in 1565 and is the oldest continuously occupied European-founded community in the continental United States. Plundered by pirates and burned by the British, it came under British rule, along with all of Florida, after the French and Indian War (1754–1763), known in England as the Seven Years' War. After the American Revolution, Florida was ceded back to Spain and remained under Spanish rule until 1821, when it was acquired by the United States. In the 19th century, when Henry Flagler's railroads came to town, St Augustine became a winter resort for the very wealthy. A number of mansions and palatial grand hotels of this era still exist, as do several Spanish colonial structures. The city remains a popular tourist destination. The church is in a neighborhood that dates from the 19th century. The truly old and historic part of town is only a short distance away. The neighborhood houses are medium to very expensive in appearance.
The cast: The Revd Dr J. Dudley Weaver, Jr, chief pastor, opened the service, read the gospel, preached the sermon and officiated at communion. Mary M. McKemy, director of Christian education, led the prayer of confession and declaration of pardon. Adam Smith, director of youth and college ministries, read the Old Testament lesson and led the prayer of illumination, affirmation of faith and the prayer after communion. Also assisting in various roles were Susan Abare, Dorothy Dornblaser and Karen Harvey. Ray McDonald, organist and director of music, presided at the organ and led the choir.
The date & time: All Saints Sunday, November 2, 2008, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
About 75 percent. The make-up of the congregation seemed to be a cross section of people of varying means. There were quite a number of tourists and seasonal residents (popularly known as "snowbirds") escaping colder winter climes.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two ladies and a gentlemen were at the door when we approached and they greeted us warmly, provided us with service leaflets and escorted us to a seat. The people sitting next to us smiled warmly and welcomed us.

Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable unpadded pews facing inward from both directions in the nave (remember, they are really long transepts). The pews could very well be the originals – they are built in the English style on very short platforms and fit into the mosaic tile patterns of the floor.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The organ voluntaries were lush (see more later) and people were quietly exchanging greetings with one another.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be will you all."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Presbyterian Hymnal and The Holy Bible, New Revised Version. There was also a service leaflet containing almost everything needed except for one or two hymns. The service leaflet was in fact almost an exact copy of Rite II from the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and piano. The organ is one of the last great American-styled instruments built by the Aeolian-Skinner Company in 1970. In 1995, Knowlton Pipe Organs of Davidson, North Carolina, modernized the organ console with computerized technology, and in 2000 the console was again rebuilt and restored by Roger Colby, Inc. of Johnson City, Tennessee. Hymns sung during the service, and sung enthusiastically, were those traditional to All Saints Day. The congregation sang the Sanctus as well as the Agnus Dei. Three different adaptations of the hymn tune Lasst Uns Erfreuen were done: the initial voluntary by the noted contemporary organist and composer Rick Deasley, the hymn itself ("Ye watchers and ye holy ones"), and the closing voluntary by the 20th century Swiss composer Rufolf Moser. The organist's voluntaries throughout the service included pieces that would be instantly familiar to anyone reared in the American Deep South. One of his opening pieces was variations on the old gospel song "When the roll is called up yonder," which is no longer included in any Protestant hymnal I know. At communion he improvised on "Shall we gather at the river." The excellent choir sang Gerard Francis Cobb's Hark! The Sound of Holy Voices at the introit; Lloyd Larson's Holy Ground at the offertory; and David Angerman's A Song of Parting at the close of the service.

Memorial Presbyterian, St Augustine, Florida, USA

Did anything distract you?
The congregation seemed a bit talkative at the beginning of the service and at points during the service when action was down. A small boy kept going into and departing from the choir loft for no apparent reason.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
If ever there was a high-church Presbyterian church, particularly in the American South, this is it! The service could easily have been mistaken for an Episcopalian eucharist. Departures from the Prayer Book included the placement of the peace in the order of the service, the use of the Apostles' Creed rather than the Nicene Creed, and the inclusion of a declaration of pardon rather than an absolution. The church welcomed about a dozen new members, using a modification of the confirmation rite from the Prayer Book. The Lord's Prayer was the "debts/debtors" version. At communion, members of the Session distributed hosts to everyone in the congregation, who then consumed them all together. The wine was administered in the same manner. Incense and bells were neither expected nor present, although a chime was tolled as the names of deceased congregants were read.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The Revd Dr Dudley is truly a senior minister and has the grand style of a Southern gentleman and scholar. He preached from the pulpit, which, interestingly, is closer to the floor than the lectern.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Dr Dudley's theme was "Know who you are, and whose you are." He emphasized that we are part of what has gone before and certainly part of what will come after. Our parents and our family, both filial and spiritual, make us what we are, and in turn we carry the influence forward.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This church is an almost total sensory experience – the only thing lacking for me was incense. The beauty of the place, the spirit of the congregation, the announced continuing gratitude to the benefactor, the spirituality of the leaders and their message made for a wonderful Christian experience.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The "children's moment": Only one child went to the front. The subject was dull, and I couldn't see the person conducting the matter. It would seem to me that children's church could be done a bit better and differently – and in another place!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We walked around the church and viewed the Flagler crypt, the chapel, and the parlors adjacent to the chapel. We were invited for coffee in the garden but by the time we got there it had run out. The church started a tradition three or four years ago of a pilgrimage to the nearby Huguenot cemetery for a blessing of those buried there, and everyone was quite involved in getting that assembled and done.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee for us, unfortunately!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I lived in the area this would certainly be a candidate for me, although I am of another denomination. The worship experience was first rate.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely! The worship experience was every bit as awesome as the sensory experience of the place. This church and its congregation outdid expectations. I commend it to anyone visiting the area, or moving there.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The children's moment, but more importantly, the music and the sermon.
 
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