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1879: Grace Episcopal, Old Saybrook, Connecticut, USA
Grace Episcopal, Old Saybrook, Connecticut, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Stindisguise.
The church: Grace Episcopal, Old Saybrook, Connecticut, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Connecticut.
The building: A tidy little English Gothic church dating from 1871, very Episcopal in appearance. It replaces an earlier building dating from 1830, and before that the congregation met in a schoolhouse. To the right is the parson's residence, looking like something right out of a Currier & Ives painting. (It is currently leased out; the rector and his wife live elsewhere.)
The church: They sponsor all the usual church organizations – Christian education, prayer groups, food ministries, missionary support, etc. Of special note is a "ministry to the lapsed." There are two eucharists each Sunday (Rite I and Rite II) and a healing service each Wednesday.
The neighborhood: Old Saybrook was founded by the Puritans in 1635 as the Saybrook Plantation and was merged with the Connecticut Colony nine years later. It is a town of about 10,000 people located at the mouth of the Connecticut River, emptying into Long Island Sound. It was originally the home of Yale College before that institution moved to New Haven. It is a very scenic little town, with an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants and some charming views of the coast, dotted with old lighthouses. Famous sons and daughters include the actor Art Carney, who played Ed Norton opposite Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden in the classic TV comedy series The Honeymooners; and Katharine Hepburn, of cinema and stage renown.
The cast: The Revd Charles L. Hoffman, rector; and his wife, the Revd Ellendale M. Hoffman, assistant rector.
The date & time: Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2009 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Probably around 100 people, not by any means a full congregation. It seemed predominantly an older crowd, with some children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher said hello as he handed my the bulletin. Another usher welcomed me as I began walking up the center aisle. He handed me a brochure on the church community that included contact information.

Was your pew comfortable?
Better than some older churches. This church had been renovated in the past 10 years or so, but only the chancel. Instead of kneelers, there were kneeling cushions.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Mostly quiet, although I noticed several people chatting away, catching up on news. It was obvious that the congregation were friendly toward one another, but not necessarily toward potential new members.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I expected that the Advent wreath would be lit before the service began, as is customary, but for some reason it was done much later on. There also seemed to be some confusion as to who would begin the service and with what words.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Prayer Book 1979 and Hymnal 1982. I noticed 3 x 5 cards with pencils in holders on the backs of pews and saw several people taking notes during the sermon.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, tambourines, bongos.

Did anything distract you?
The music was somewhat distracting as they didn't seem to be fully coordinated. Also, after a while, I began to be distracted by the sermon – see below.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This congregation seems to lean toward the evangelical, conservative teachings of the Church. Arms were raised in praise. The kiss of peace was fairly standard.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
To tell the truth, I stopped timing her after 35 minutes. The assistant rector seemed to be preaching five different sermons. I began to wonder what it was she was trying to say and when she was going to finish.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – Mrs Hoffman's style seemed to be friendly and casual, but to me her sermon(s) weren't able to take advantage of the style.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
There were too many topics even to consider. But here goes: (1) The meaning of the pink candle for the third Sunday of Advent; (2) something about her cousin; (3) something else about St Lucy; (4) what post-traumatic growth syndrome is all about; and finally (5) all about a brunch held by a family whose Swedish patriarch had passed away several years ago. I don't usually keep my eye on the time, but I just didn't know where this sermon was headed.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Getting in my car afterward and heading home.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sermon.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was a brunch after the service, and I stayed for it, but no clergy approached me. In fact, the rector never appeared, although his wife did, but never looked in my direction. One person did approach me, but it was obvious that he was pretty uncomfortable with this.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I ate without interruption.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – This is not a church where my spiritual hunger is going to be nourished.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No, I did not feel welcomed at all by this community.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How interminably long the service seemed, and how interminably long the sermon was.
 
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