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of St John the Evangelist, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Worshipper: Sir Thomas Browne.
of St John the Evangelist, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.
Roman Catholic, Archdiocese
The building: The
cathedral was begun 1847, the work of local architect Victor
Schulte, noted bridge builder and designer of other Milwaukee
churches. It is in the German Zopstil style, reminiscent of
Federalist with echoes of Christopher Wren, and features the
unique cream-colored brick produced locally. The original tower
was replaced in 1893, and the interior and its contents were
restored after a fire in 1935. The current structure, however,
reflects a major renovation supervised by Archbishop Rembert
Weakland, who served from 1977 to 2002. The archbishop, an outspoken
liberal, insisted on conforming the cathedral to his vision
of post-Vatican II aesthetic norms, despite pressure both locally
and from the Holy See to retain the cathedral's architectural
coherence. In many ways the cathedral is still a beautiful structure,
complete with ornate columns, windows, and devotional chapels.
There is a wonderful baptismal font near the entrance whose
steps into the ground recall ancient models. But a grand marble
baldacchino over the high altar was destroyed in 2001 and the
old altar was moved to the middle of the nave, slightly elevated,
but well below the choir area. Organ pipes now occupy the space
where the altar once stood. The celebrantís chair is to the
left (north) of the altar, against a column. Seating surrounds
the altar, which is a little awkward given that the building
has no real transepts. The most dominant image, however, is
neither the altar nor its organ replacement, but a modern fiberglass
sculpture suspended in the air above the open sanctuary. The
sculpture depicts a large crown of thorns above a crucifix and
has sparked much controversy, with many regarding it as a monstrosity.
I confess that to me this Christ looked more like an alien from
outer space than a suffering human – a weird cubist specter
floating above the unsuspecting populace with a misshapen metal
spaceship hovering overhead.
As stated on their website, the cathedral as a parish church
strives to be a center of prayer, charitable works, Christian
formation and community life, as well as a supporter of the
arts. There is an extensive outreach to the local homeless.
They retain a parish nurse on staff, who serves as a health
educator, personal health counselor, and referral agent for
those who need medical services.
The cathedral is almost as old as Milwaukee itself, which was
incorporated in 1846. It is part of a downtown neighborhood
known as East Town and is surrounded mostly by office buildings.
Right across from the west door of the church is a small city
park used for music festivals and the like.
The Very Revd Carl A. Last, rector of the cathedral.
The date & time:
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 13, 2009, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
It was pretty full, probably a couple hundred people. When I
got there I sat toward the back, thinking I might have a whole
row to myself, but by the time the service started I was mostly
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone handed me a service leaflet at the door, and the folks
sitting around me shook my hand both at the peace and at the
"greet your neighbor" bit at the beginning.
Was your pew comfortable?
Chair, not pew, and yes, it was comfortable. The only awkward part about the moving chairs is that they donít always match up very well with the kneelers in the other row.
How would you describe the pre-service
It was pretty quiet and contemplative, with a bit of background
noise. It is, remember, a very large and open acoustic space,
so itís never exactly silent, but nor is any sound so clear
as to be distracting. The organist played a very nice prelude
at the beginning, which would have been a nice beginning had
not the lay leader interrupted us with unnecessary introductions.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning and welcome to the cathedral. The celebrant
this morning is Father Carl Last, the cathedral rector. We extend
a warm welcome to our visitors and guests. Please greet those
around you. (Everybody gives a quick, friendly handshake.) Our
opening hymn is number 808."
What books did the congregation use during the
A service leaflet full of liturgical music from the 1970s and
80s, and a hymnal called Ritual Song put out by GIA
Publications, Inc., of Chicago – also known as the American
Catholic liturgical mafia. Whatever I might think of those,
I will say that I was pleased to see a fairly complete order
of service in the leaflet, which is in my experience pretty
unusual in Catholic parishes. One result of this, I think, is
that people did a pretty good job of attempting to sing along
during the liturgy.
What musical instruments were played?
Mostly pipe organ, with a little quiet piano music at the first
part of communion.
Did anything distract you?
Aside from the uncanny extraterrestrial Jesus, I found it disconcerting
that the priest so readily inserted his own commentary and prayer
in the middle of the liturgy. This happened at the beginning
of the service before the collect, during the eucharistic prayer,
and afterwards (perhaps more). While I am sure that his improvisations
were done with the best of intentions – authenticity and all
that – they effectively sent two messages: (1) the Churchís
liturgy is boring on its own so I need to supplement it; and
(2) the liturgy is the creative work of the priest rather than
the common work of the whole Church. The joy of Catholic liturgy
is that, even given widely divergent cultures and styles (and
clearly I disliked the style of this church), one should be
able to enter any church and find the same liturgy. The supposedly
creative insertions of Father Last, even if they intended to
be helpful, destroyed that unity and made the mass into a condescending,
personality-driven variety show.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It felt sort of like high church Methodism: we sort of want to do this Catholic thing, but not really. (And I should know: I went to a Methodist seminary.)
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Unfortunately I missed the first half of the sermon
due to a crying baby (which I really didnít mind) combined with
a very live acoustic atmosphere. What I heard sounded pretty
good; I just had a hard time understanding it because of the
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
I think the main point was that we may think we know Jesus,
but in fact we can only strive toward a knowledge of him. And
this knowledge comes at a great price: we have to reject the
ways of the world and take up the cross of Jesus.
Which part of the service was like being in
The time immediately before the service during the organ prelude: a big group of people from all walks of life gathered together in worship.†
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That initial liturgical whiplash after the prelude. And you'd think that would have prepared me for further interruptions, but apparently I'm just a slow learner.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
To be fair, there was some kind of additional blessing and picnic
going on after mass in the garden, so instead of ending properly
everyone walked outside to the garden. I stayed in the church
for a few minutes to snap a photo, and I did wander outside
to the garden, but I couldnít stay for lunch, and anyway no
one seemed to notice that I was a guest. I donít blame them
for that – itís a big church thatís no doubt used to wanderers.
How would you describe the after-service
There wasnít one, to my knowledge, but there appeared to be a barbecue.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 Iím sure the people are nice, but I just couldnít handle the architectural/liturgical devastation on a weekly basis.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
It sure didnít make me want to be a Roman Catholic. (And believe me, Iím an easy sell!)
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The giant ET Jesus.
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