St Charles, Huntsville, AL

St Charles King & Martyr, Huntsville, Alabama, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Charles King & Martyr
Location: Huntsville, Alabama, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 May 2012, 10:00am

The building

A small but very attractive building, obviously designed for Anglican worship. The exterior is brick and the interior has a vaulted ceiling with very old wood trusses. Quite beautiful.

The church

Neither their website nor their blog mentions anything about their ministries, outreaches or other parish activities, and this Mystery Worshipper was unable to discover anything on his own.

The neighborhood

Huntsville is a city in north-central Alabama near the Tennessee border. An important textile manufacturing center during the 19th century, Huntsville turned to munitions production during World War II and later to missiles and rockets. Today the city remains an important center for rocket-propulsion research. The church is located on the fringe of downtown Huntsville. There are some loft apartments being built about a block from the church, and there are old homes and newer apartments nearby. Downtown Huntsville is a very interesting area, with many restaurants, bars, and coffee shops.

The cast

The rector, the Revd Steve Victory, was the celebrant and preacher.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion

How full was the building?

There were, counting the children who came in just in time for the eucharist, 21 people. The nave was about one-quarter full, with most people sitting toward the back.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I entered the church, I was warmly but quietly greeted by the usher, acolyte, and priest. The usher handed me a bulletin and I took my seat. A couple of people smiled and nodded, but no one spoke – and I like this. After the service, I was warmly greeted by several people.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes! It was a pretty antique wooden pew without a cushion, but it was still more comfy than many cushioned pews I've sat on. The kneelers, on the other hand, were diabolical – see below.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was very quiet and reverential. As people came in, they bowed and crossed themselves before entering their pews. After kneeling in prayer for a bit, they settled back and waited quietly for the service to begin. There wasn't any whispering or waving, and I liked the opportunity to be able to concentrate on prayer.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The introit, spoken by the celebrant: "With a voice of singing declare ye this, and let it be heard, Alleluia! Utter it even unto the ends of the earth. The Lord hath delivered his people, Alleluia! Alleluia!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Hymnal 1940 and the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

What musical instruments were played?

The sole instrument was a pipe organ, the pipes of which were located above and behind the congregation. I noticed on my way out that the pipes looked quite old and beautiful.

Did anything distract you?

I'm quite used to staying focused in chaotic environments, but all I heard was an ambulance go by on the freeway during prayer. I simply prayed quietly for whoever was riding to the hospital.

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

High-church, verging on Anglo-Catholic. Everyone crossed themselves at the mention of the Trinity and at other appropriate places, bowed upon mention of Jesus' name, and bowed and crossed themselves upon entering or leaving pews. At the same time, I didn't feel like they were self-conscious or uptight. They were relaxed enough to engage fully in worship while still remaining very reverent.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

24 minutes.

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

7 – I had a difficult time keeping up with the rector. The content was very good, but it would have been much easier to follow had he not read from a manuscript. I think it would work better for him to use notes, make better eye contact with the congregation, and slow his speech down.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Today was Rogation Sunday, so Father Victory began his sermon with a brief history of rogation. He linked it to our need for prayer. He then brought in the analogy of a successful marriage. A marriage (or any relationship, for that matter) needs constant communication in order to work. The same applies to our relationship with God. We should speak (pray) with God often, because this helps us to know him and follow him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The whole service was good, but my favorite part was receiving the eucharist. It is always a moving experience, and this was no different.

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

The kneelers were very uncomfortable. We spent most of the time from the sermon until the recessional hymn on our knees, and this quickly became painful. The lady in front of me finally had to sit back on her seat because her knees just couldn't take it anymore.

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

I had to leave soon after the service ended, but I wasn't given a chance even to begin looking lost. The usher came and introduced himself and asked me to sign the visitor register, and then several people greeted me and invited me downstairs for coffee. I waited to shake hands with Father Victory and he also invited me to stay. Unfortunately, I really did have to leave. I felt like the congregation were very friendly and engaging, and I wish I could have shared a cup of coffee with them.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I'm sure it would have been fine.

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

7 – The worship was very good, and if this were my regular church I'd find a solution for the uncomfortable kneelers. My only concern would be that I am very interested in belonging to a place that is very involved in local mission, and I don't know what opportunities this church has.

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

Yes, definitely.

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

The warm greetings and the heavenly worship.

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