St Charles Borromeo, Peru, IN (Exterior)

St Charles Borromeo, Peru, Indiana, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Charles Borromeo
Location: Peru, Indiana, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 12 January 2013, 5:00pm

The building

The painted white exterior looked pretty in the town square in the late afternoon. Inside, the building is traditional, with high altar and side altars pretty much intact but unused. A free standing altar has been set up in the crossing. Either side of the high altar had incongruously busy banners that didnt seem to match or enhance the worship space. The interior showed signs of wear, including threadbare carpets, chipped paint and fallen plaster. Mrs Dewy wondered if there were a building fund drive for repair, and that perhaps some of the walls had been deliberately left in their present condition to show the needed repair. While there was no spoken announcement about that during the service, there was mention of the building fund in the stewardship report in the bulletin.

The church

The parish seems to be interested in offering its people a sacramental life. There were the usual written announcements regarding baptism, marriage, or reconciliation. There are also some spiritual and social activities for the faithful, with public recitation of the Rosary, adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, cursillo, youth group, etc. There was also mention of a pinochle party!

The neighborhood

Peru (pronounced PEER-oo by old timers but like the South American nation by the younger generation) is a small city in north-central Indiana. Residents like to think of Peru as the circus capital of the world. At the turn of the last century, it was the winter quarters of several major circuses, including Ringling Brothers and Buffalo Bills Wild West Show. The International Circus Hall of Fame is located just outside of town. The last remaining steam calliope factory in the world is located in Peru. Songwriter Cole Porter was born here, and his earthly remains rest in a local cemetery.

The cast

The Revd Eric Underwood, pastor, was the celebrant and preacher.

What was the name of the service?

Lord's Day Mass

How full was the building?

It was full but not packed. Perhaps 200 people were present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher held the door open for us.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Many families with children were present. It was hushed chatty.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"After the Lord was baptized, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit descended upon him like a dove."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Journey Songs and the Seasonal Missalette. There were also bi-fold cards in the pews with the music for the mass setting by contemporary Christian songwriter Dan Schutte.

What musical instruments were played?

A pipe organ in the west gallery.

Did anything distract you?

The babies and children made more than a little noise, including gurgling, verbalizing, chattering, and the like. For the most part I could hear the priest plainly, but the infant babble sounds were quite distracting to me.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The worship was a bit ploddy, lumbering along as if to fulfill duty. The celebrant had some energy but the rest of the place needed new batteries. After the sermon, the preacher made an invitation for the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) participants to come forward and be dismissed to pursue their studies. I observed one person come forward and formally process out with another individual bearing a substantial book with a red and gold cover. I was reminded of an old joke about a one car funeral parade.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 – Father Underwood preached from the midst of the church without notes. If I hadnt been listening to prepare a MW report, I dont think I would have noticed the sermon at all.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel lesson was the baptism of Jesus. In keeping the celebration of Jesus baptism, we are celebrating our own baptism into Christs body, the Church. We must pray throughout the coming days to seek ways to live out our baptismal promises.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

A parishioner behind me had a fine baritone singing voice. It made me feel like I wasnt channeling John the Baptist (a voice crying in the wilderness). But like being in heaven? Not really.

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

The music was lethargic. Most of the musical efforts got off to a good start with the organ alone (although its sound was a bit muffled, like it was under a felt blanket). But the organist did not know how to sustain the tempo. When the cantor, many yards away from the instrument, joined in, the pace slowed considerably. When the other people joined in, the music dragged to a dirge.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Some people told me "Good evening" as everyone scurried away.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

None was offered.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

4 – My impression was that the people are interested in living a sacramental life, but I didnt find much else about the community or liturgy attractive.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Not particularly.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The doleful singing.

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