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|1866: St Francis,
Fair Oaks, California, USA
Francis, Fair Oaks, California, USA.
The Episcopal Church, Diocese
of Northern California.
The main church is an attractive, large, well-lit, and airy
modern building. The beautiful stained glass windows are scenes
from the life of St Francis. There is even a quiet room for
people with fussy children. They have a separate chapel, a social
hall/multipurpose room, and education buildings. The church
shares parking lot space with a service dog training outfit.
They are famous for their Red Wagon Ministry, providing toys
to disadvantaged children. They also maintain a pet information
center that provides information about service animals as well
as the therapeutic effect that pets can have on the ill, elderly
and lonely. They received very favorable press from the local
daily newspaper for sponsoring a community Christmas Day dinner,
originally for military families, but now open to all in the
community, with presents for the visiting kids. (Good stuff,
too; the picture was of a very happy little girl with a new
Radio Flyer wagon!)
Like its neighbor, the very large Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church,
St Francis Church is located outside the village in a pleasant
The Revd Tom Johnson, assistant priest, was the celebrant and
preacher. The Revd Marcia Engblom, rector, administered the
sacrament of holy baptism. There was also a deacon whose name
was not given, but she may have been the Revd Deacon Aileen
Aidnik, who is listed on the church's website. The pianist and
lay assistant likewise were not named.
The date & time:
Thursday, December 24, 2009, 4.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
Christmas Pageant with Holy Baptism and Eucharist.
How full was the building?
The space seemed no more than about a quarter full, although
my quickie head count estimates that there were close to 80
people there. It seems to be an age-diverse congregation; there
were lots of children, from a tiny baby (who was baptized) on
up through teenagers, with parents and grandparents.
Did anyone welcome you
Yes, I was given a pleasant "Merry Christmas" with
my bulletin even though I was very late (see below).
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard issue pew – plenty of legroom.
How would you describe the pre-service
I arrived at 4.25 for what I thought was to be a 4.30 service,
but I had misread the start time – the service actually got
underway at 4.00. Thus, I am afraid I cannot report on it. I
imagine it was fairly lively due to the presence of the large
family groups, though.
What were the exact opening words of the
I missed this as well, but the order of service shows that the blessing of the creche was first up.
What books did the congregation use during the
In the pews were the Prayer Book 1979 and Hymnal
1982, but everything was projected onto screens. I knew
the tunes for the carols and the service music anyway.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano only. A couple of young piano students contributed their
talents during the offertory.
Did anything distract you?
Besides my not getting the correct start time? I arrived just
as the pageant was finishing. The actors went behind the back
pew and decompressed. No problems there, except that they were
not attempting to keep their voices down and I was close enough
to hear them clearly. The babies were much quieter. (And then
there was the overhead projector, more below.)
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was the Christmas pageant service, so it was all over the
map. I’d call it informal, because it didn’t particularly stand
on ceremony, but others might not because Father Tom chanted
the eucharistic prayer (quite presentably) and there were loud
sanctus bells at the consecration. Mind you, this Mystery Worshipper
is something of a glad-handler, but the exchange of peace went
on long after I would have gladly sat back down.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
6 While Father Tom started out well, he sort of waffled
through the rest of it and seemed to be mumbling a bit as well.
Good subject, not great delivery, but it was mercifully short.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
He began by asking who had performed the first Christmas pageant
and delighted the congregation by informing them it was their
own patron, St Francis. He segued from there to Jesus as the
Lamb of God.
Which part of the service was like being in
I am always delighted to be a part of any service where babies
are being baptized. The small children were front and center
to see little Miss Abigail being welcomed into the family of
God. One of them was still wearing her angel dress and tinsel
halo. On this night, and in this church dedicated to the Saint
of Assisi, I was also delighted to have well-behaved animals
in the church with us. The roles of some of the angels in the
pageant had apparently been taken by dogs, and there was a toy
poodle being a Very Good Dog in his owner’s arms. I was reminded
of the old church cat, of late lamented memory, in my home church.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The order of baptism was projected onto the screen in front
of the church, but the font was located in the back. I know
the baptism rite is also given in the Prayer Book, but I couldn't
find the page, and so I got a bad case of tennis neck turning
back and forth. A brief mention to the effect that "You
may follow the order of baptism beginning at page 301"
would have been unobtrusive and to the point, and may have kept
some more of the focus on the ceremony itself.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I couldn’t stick around, but I was immediately spotted for a
visitor by the clergy on my way out the door. I was greeted
warmly and asked to sign the guest book.
How would you describe the after-service
I'm not sure there was any, but there were a lot of notices
about the community Christmas potluck the next day that would
be open to all in the community (and at which the little girl
would receive her new wagon – see above).
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 There were a lot of glitches – it was the Christmas
Eve pageant after all – but it felt like an authentic family
of God celebration. They seem like a friendly, inclusive bunch
and were obviously happy to see each other.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The children and dogs, silent in awe of Christmas, and the love
and joy this congregation so evidently felt.
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