Mystery Worshipper: Kat
Church: Holy Family
Location: Syracuse, New York, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 July 2016, 5:00pm
A modern brick building, octagonal in shape, with a tall steeple and a newly tarred parking lot. One ascends a short flight of steps to enter, and upon entering one encounters modern seats, stations of the cross, and stained glass depicting various saints. On the grounds is a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes, made from stones gathered by parishioners and built to resemble the grotto at Lourdes, France.
They claim to be the largest parish in the Diocese of Syracuse, with 3,500 registered members. I believe that this church prides itself on being a "family" church and I noticed in the bulletin that there are a lot of activities going on for families, children, and young people. I think they are trying to live up to their Holy Family name. The church is also active in social media.
Syracuse is a city in central New York State that sits on the south shore of Onondaga Lake. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, industrial activity along the lake gave it the dubious honor of being named the most polluted lake in the nation. But industry declined as the 20th century waned, with giants such as General Electric, Carrier Corporation and Rockwell International moving elsewhere. Syracuse today is, however, a modern, thriving city, with Syracuse University and the convention business being its economic mainstays. On average, in the winter, Syracuse receives the most snow of any American metropolitan area. Holy Family Church is in the Westvale suburb of Syracuse, where there can still be found several late 19th-early 20th century houses but primarily a more modern housing stock. Behind the church's parking lot is a miniature golf course that seemed to be bringing in a lot of business. It is set down in a valley and there were a lot of cars parked about. There is also a large shopping mall nearby with all the usual big chain box stores.
I believe that the priest was the Revd Jason Hage, parochial vicar, although no one seemed to know. He was assisted by four altar servers.
What was the name of the service?Mass.
How full was the building?
Quite crowded. This is a rather big church and almost every seat was taken.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Lots of people were seated and talking to each other as I walked in and found my seat, but no one welcomed me personally.
Was your pew comfortable?
My seat was very comfortable. There was enough leg room and the seat was nicely cushioned. It is a modern church, made for the bigger people of today.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Everyone was talking amongst themselves in the church. The atmosphere was lively and people didn't stop talking even as the service was starting.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening and welcome to Holy Family Church."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The books were the paperback missalettes and song books typically found in Catholic churches.
What musical instruments were played?
Electric organ and piano, with a cantor leading the songs.
Did anything distract you?
I found a two-year-old sitting behind me to be quite distracting during the sermon, as he was making noises and I couldn't figure out at first where the noise was coming from.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was vibrant, with everyone singing and participating.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The young priest spoke with a sense of humor and held our interest throughout.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was the gospel reading on Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was so busy serving that she missed what Jesus was saying to Mary, who sat spellbound at his feet. This story depicts how we need balance in our lives. Mary is the soul while Martha represents the body. Being practical as well as being spiritual are both needed in life. We must balance the contemplative life and the active or practical life.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I enjoyed the singing although my seat mate did not. I also thought that the four altar servers and full house made for quite a delightful experience. People seem very much into their souls up here in central New York State. I was impressed by the vibrancy of this parish!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I couldn't concentrate on the sermon because of the odd offbeat sounds that the two-year-old was making.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone made a beeline for the exit. There was no hanging about.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no after-service event.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – I live nowhere near this parish, but I was quite impressed by how vibrant it seems to be. The bulletin was packed with upcoming events and activities for youth and families.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
This service made me very happy to be a Christian. I felt fulfilled as I exited the building.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I will remember how everyone listened to the young priest as he preached and laughed at his jokes, and how everyone joined in the singing.