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2292: St John's, Savannah, Georgia, USA
St John's, Savannah, GA
Mystery Worshipper: Fluffy Bunny.
The church: St John's, Savannah, Georgia, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Georgia.
The building: The present building was designed in 1853 by the 19th century gothicist Calvin Otis, noted for his many fine churches in the northeast and midwest United States. It is a very impressive Gothic Revival church with a large parish building to the right and the priest's house nearby. Inside, the baroque high altar is highly ornate. The reredos depicts a very impressive Christ on the cross draped in expensive-looking ecclesiastical clothing. A later annex houses a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, above which are the church office and choir rooms. A 1950s school building was renovated and renamed Cranmer Hall in 2004. St John's is also noted for its carillon of bells, its organ by the Illinois firm of Wicks Organ Builders, and some stained glass from the late 19th century.
The church: St John's still does the old Anglican rite by the 1928 Prayer Book, and one of the parishioners told us she travels 90 minutes each way to enjoy the service every Sunday.
The neighborhood: Savannah was Georgia's first capital, and its downtown area, rich in architectural treasures, is numbered among the largest historical landmark districts in the United States. A statue of John Wesley graces one of the city's downtown squares. Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts of America, was born in Savannah. St John's Church is in one of the many green areas of Savannah, sitting to the west of Madison Square, which contains several of the most important buildings in this historic city. Neighbors include a Masonic temple and several 19th century southern mansions.
The cast: The Revd Craig O'Brien, associate priest, presided in the absence of the rector, who was away dedicating a library at the University of the South. Brian J Taylor, DSM, organist and choirmaster, was in charge of the music.
The date & time: Second Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2011, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Sung Litany, Sung Eucharist and Sermon.

How full was the building?
About three-quarters full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were handed the litany sheet and the parish paper. We found our own seats.

Was your pew comfortable?
There were rows of pews. Although there were no cushions, they were surprisingly comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was very quiet. There was an almost inaudible murmur but conversation was extremely limited. There was no organ music before the service, which seemed strange to me and my small group. There were very few latecomers.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The priest went straight into the sung litany.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were given a sheet of the sung litany so we were able to follow it quite easily. In the pews were The Hymnal and The 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

What musical instruments were played?
The excellent organ looked very impressive. Dr Taylor made it sound wonderful.

Did anything distract you?
We all commented afterwards on how very well dressed everyone was. Obviously going to church was the big occasion and so everyone dressed accordingly. We all felt a little drab, but we were on holiday and luggage is limited. There were some distracting hats on display. But the congregation were exceptionally well behaved and there were no problems with distracting chatting in the service or beeps of technology.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
We were holidaying with a friend, and she and I had both been brought up very high-church. It was like we had gone back in time. The words were the old ones we learnt as children. There were no smells, but lots of servers (I think eight) and bells during the service. There was a noticeable lack of estrogen in the service apart from female members of the choir. I was surprised to see flowers on the high altar in Advent (although they were as close to purple as possible).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd O'Brien spoke clearly and directly to the congregation. He had notes but these did not intrude on his delivery.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was based around hope. Advent promises the blessed hope of everlasting life. Men desire knowledge. We find rest in the contemplation of the Word. Hope leans on the power and wisdom of God. Hope is not optimism. To hope we must direct our thoughts to God, lift our hearts to God, and open our hearts.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was so wonderful to hear again the old liturgy with which my friend and I had grown up. The choir were lovely, and I especially enjoyed the motet "Say unto them that fear the Lord" by Everett Titcomb.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At times I had difficulty hearing what was gong on. I am not sure the priest was amplified, nor the readers. Mostly I could understand what was being said, but occasionally it got a bit "lost in translation". The choir's first outing had a bit of an insecure start.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
In complete contrast to how we had been greeted on arrival, as soon as the service finished we were immediately quizzed as to who we were and where were we from. We were repeatedly invited to join them for coffee in the parish rooms.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was not just coffee and tea, but hot appetizers and various sweet cakes. We could have had lunch, never mind just a drink! I cannot think of a church where we have been made so welcome on our travels. Well done, St John's Church!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I would have to emigrate to do so though!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. We all left beaming from ear to ear and felt our spiritual batteries had been well and truly regenerated.

St John's, Savannah, GA (Statue)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The fantastic warm welcome we received and the thrill of partaking again in the old ritual.

 
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