Mystery Worshipper: Vagrant Congregant
Church: St Basil's Cathedral
Location: Antioch, Tennessee, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 21 March 2015, 9:30am
The church was originally built as a Methodist church but looks residential. It was acquired by the present group in 1991 and was dedicated at that time. The parish previously met in the rector's home and in rented facilities. The interior is filled with images and icons on every available wall space.
Their website does not mention any groups, ministries or parish activities. There is a calendar but it is bereft of entries. All I was able to discover was that there was a marriage preparation class being held immediately after the service.
Antioch is a community southeast of the city of Nashville that is under the jurisdiction of the Nashville municipal government. Named after the ancient Turkish city, it was until the 1960s a sleepy farming community. Improvements in city services spurred massive growth beginning in the 1970s, and Antioch rapidly became one of America's largest middle-class African-American residential communities. Driving around, however, I noticed a preponderance of ethnic shops and restaurants, primarily Middle Eastern and Indian. Antioch is the headquarters of the National Association of Free Will Baptists. St Basil's Cathedral is in a residential area with copious churches nearby.
Bishop Nicholas Boyle-Parsley, pastor and bishop. The bishop was in Western vestments but did use a hand cross for blessing at the end.
What was the name of the service?Divine Liturgy.
How full was the building?
About a quarter full. I arrived 15 minutes early and was alone until the liturgy began.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were copious welcomes! A parishioner, server, and celebrant welcomed me and provided me with a liturgy book. They even welcomed me during the sermon.
Was your pew comfortable?
Surprisingly, yes. It was dense foam covered in velvet.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a CD of Orthodox music playing while three people scurried to light candles and set up the altar.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
They have their own liturgy booklet, but the hymnal was the 1940 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ was played for each hymn.
Did anything distract you?
The images and icons distracted me because I was tempted to examine each of them. However, they contributed to the prayerful atmosphere.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a high-church liturgy with incense (bells on the thurible) and was mostly chanted. The Holy Orthodox Church, American Jurisdiction, bases their liturgy on the Tridentine mass with certain Eastern touches. The Byzantine liturgy is permitted but is generally not used. The service was based primarily on the English Missal of W. Knott & Son Ltd with an Orthodox epiclesis added and leavened bread. There was a procession of gifts as is done in the Byzantine liturgy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The bishop began with a story, which was enjoyable. His Southern drawl and knack for storytelling were evident.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Great faith and things can come from unexpected people. He told a story about a Bible salesman who stuttered. No one thought he would be successful, but he was the most successful salesman of all.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The liturgy was beautiful. I have never seen a fusion of Western and Eastern rites, but it was done reverently. The people were clearly devoted to the parish and the liturgy.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As mentioned, I was all by myself in the church right up until service time and afterwards! The start of the liturgy was delayed for 15 minutes as people began to trickle in. As someone used to punctuality, I found this distracting. Also, people continued to flow in throughout the liturgy.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The bishop showed me around the church, and people welcomed me to the coffee hour in the church hall (basement).
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was pound cake, cinnamon rolls, bananas, and coffee. The people were very kind even heating up my food! There was clearly an interest in my presence and an invitation to return.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – I would happily attend if I lived nearby.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The people really were excited to welcome visitors and the bishop was very gracious. I left feeling uplifted and that I had made new friends.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The friendliness of the people.