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|1881: St George's,
Laguna Hills, California, USA
Laguna Hills, California, USA.
The Episcopal Church, Diocese
of Los Angeles.
An imposing mission style complex dating from the late 1960s,
of which the church is only one component, sitting stylishly
back from a busy street near (and visible from) the frenetically
busy Interstate 5, also known as the San Diego Freeway.
This congregation has existed from the late 1880s. They place
a special emphasis on youth, sponsoring St George's Academy
for pre-school and kindergarten, and the Pathway School for
elementary and secondary students. They also sponsor several
health ministries and support Habitat for Humanity, which helps
to provide affordable housing for the working poor. There are
two celebrations of the eucharist each Sunday, the earlier service
following Rite I and the later service Rite II (described on
their website as including "all the pomp and majesty of
the best we can offer to God)".
Laguna Hills is in Orange County, southeast of Los Angeles,
at the intersection of Interstates 5 and 405 (known as the El
Toro "Y"). During the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
the region was dominated by a small number of wealthy landowners
who raised oranges, avocados, strawberries and other fruit on
huge plantations. One such landowner, Walter Knott, had heard
tales of a hybrid berry produced by crossing a raspberry, blackberry
and loganberry. Exploring a deserted farm, he discovered a vine
that bore the hybrid. Calling his find the boysenberry, after
the farm's original owner, Knott cultivated the berry and sold
it at a roadside stand – an enterprise that eventually
grew into the theme park known as Knott's Berry Farm. Agriculture
in Orange County declined after World War II, and the plantations
were subdivided into housing tracts. Today Orange County consists
primarily of upscale residential communities interspersed with
large shopping malls. The sprawling retirement community known
as Leisure World (which wags refer to as Seizure World) is a
dominant feature of the region. St George's Church is located
in a leafy, middle or perhaps upper-middle socio-economic community
where the streets are wide, leaves are green, and (judging by
car park capacities) churches are not numerically challenged.
The Revd Norman Freeman, rector, was the celebrant and preacher,
assisted by a plethora of individuals and families. A pianist
par excellence and a handbell choir played significant parts
in the service.
The date & time:
October 25, 2009, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist, Rite II.
How full was the building?
Probably three-quarters full, with a delightful mix of age groups,
except I thought that teenagers and young adults were under-represented.
All other ages were plentifully abundant. There were about 160
people present altogether.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived a bit too early, but once someone was on deck, I was
quite formally but pleasantly welcomed in the narthex. I found
my own way to a pew.
Was your pew comfortable?
I've rarely sat in a pew so comfortable. Not cozy fall-to-sleep
comfortable, but welcome-and-let's-do-this-well comfortable.
Hats off to the craftsmen!
How would you describe the pre-service
The pew bulletin notes, "We observe a 15 minute period
before each service for prayer and meditation." In fact,
what happened was that the handbell choir rehearsed (a performance
to die for!). This segued into silence, which in turn segued
into a magnificent prelude.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning and welcome."
What books did the congregation use during the
Every redwood tree in California must tremble in fear of its
life each time St George's puts out an order of service. The
service booklet consisted of 20 very large and beautifully presented
sheets of paper. Everything we needed was included, and more.
What musical instruments
This is a faith community of musical excellence. Father Freeman
took a master of music degree from the Juilliard School of Music
and is a highly accomplished jazz musician (so the website tells
us), and so music plays an important role at St George's. The
piano, organ and handbell choir were the primary music sources.
We're not talking grandpa with wobbly fingers here: from the
Variations on Amazing Grace onward, this was broadcast
Did anything distract
One of the candles kept doing its obligatory fluttering and
threatening to go out – or did it actually go out? Also,
it seemed to me that the traditional epistle and gospel sides
had been reversed. And during the children's sermon, two of
the little ones at Father Norman's feet amused themselves with
a game of rock, paper, scissors – not everyone was as
enthralled with his sermon as this Mystery Worshipper, I guess.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
This was a glorious interfusion of the best of formal high-side
of middle Anglican liturgical tradition (gospel procession but
no bells or smells) with family-friendly atmosphere. Only the
hymnody dumbed down the traditions. The happy-clappy spiritual
"This Little Light of Mine" struggles to work on a church organ
with all the stops out.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 A polished sermon from a preacher who crafts his art.
It was pitched for young families and incorporated a brilliant
enactment of trust and visual blindness. The rapport between
Father Norman and the children was clearly well established
and a joy to behold. The children's component segued (that word
again) seamlessly into the adult component.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Do people ever recognize life while they live it? Do we ever
seem to have time to look at one another? Carpe diem! (without
the big words). Like blind Bartimaeus, whom Jesus healed, we
need to have our eyes opened. (And here, of course, was the
Christological rub I hoped for.) Jesus opens eyes!
Which part of the service was like being in
The handbell choir. Oh my goodness, they were a delight – and
their sheer joy in their art, both rehearsing and in the liturgy,
was utterly joy-infectious.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Parents seemed to be incessantly popping up with cameras to
take photos of their little darlings. Why? Was this a special
service? And why, oh why, did the crucifer need to wear white
gloves? Would human hands uncovered defile the sacred cross,
or vice versa? And then there was the BMW Z4 parked in the "Clergy
Only" parking spot. (Did I say that Orange County is upscale?)
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Father Norman noticed I was a visitor, but instead of bidding
me welcome and pointing me toward coffee, he actually said,
"Bon voyage." But I hung. And hung. Finally I sidled
up to a lady and asked where coffee was being served. She turned
me in the right direction but then was gone in the blink of
an eye! In the hall, those who stayed were enjoying coffee at
their tables, but made no room for a stranger.
How would you describe the after-service
Ghastly. Sort of wet and brown and watery coffee-like substance.
I am sure that no coffee bean, fair trade or otherwise, sacrificed
its life for it.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 Perhaps, as the cameras suggested, this was a special
service, and therefore a stranger went unnoticed. If not, then
this church has, for all the spit and polish, some serious issues
about welcoming. I felt invisible.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Absolutely. But the after-mass function left a bitter taste
– and not just the coffee.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The concentration and joy on the faces of the handbell choir.
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