St Elizabeth Seton, Rocky Hill, Connecticut, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Elizabeth Seton
Location: Rocky Hill, Connecticut, USA
Date of visit: Monday, 30 July 2018, 9:00am

The building

Perched on a hill, the church is a small building that, if not for the sign, you would think was a barn. The plain interior has connected seats packed tightly together that leave no room for kneeling. As one enters, one notices what appear to be a few attached rooms to the right and a small raised indentation where the choir stands during the liturgy. The altar is on a wooden platform with a microphone; the gospel book rests on what appears to be another altar on another platform; there was a large plant sitting between them. In back of the altar is a very large window with a very large cross (absent a corpus) visible, and hidden off to the side is a small dark room that appears to contain a tabernacle.

The church

The parish of St Elizabeth Seton was founded in 1984 as a mission of nearby St James parish. In July 2017, in response to changing demographics, the two parishes were merged to create St Josephine Bakhita parish. Both churches maintain an active congregational life in their respective buildings. St Elizabeth Seton Church supports Sainte Anne's parish in Saintard, Haiti, and they have organized mission trips to visit that parish. There are two masses each Sunday at St Elizabeth Seton plus weekday masses on Monday and Friday. St James Church offers the Saturday vigil mass, one Sunday mass, and a weekday mass on Tuesday and Thursday.

The neighborhood

Rocky Hill is a small town of about 20,000 that is a bedroom community for some of the nearby cities like Middletown and Hartford. The streets feature neat single family houses and a number of large white collar type business. The town has the appearance of growth. The most interesting thing about the town as a whole is that it was voted the number one sports town in the US by the magazine Sports Illustrated in 2003. The church sits on a hill in a residential neighborhood on a semi-busy street. There are also no sidewalks, which leads me to believe not very many people walk.

The cast

The pastor, a deacon, a lector, a crucifer, and an adult choir of eight to ten people.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Mass for the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time.

How full was the building?

It is a small building but it was only about a quarter full when we arrived ten minutes before the liturgy. But it was 95 per cent full (maybe 300 people?) by the time the mass started (five minutes late). About 99 per cent elderly people, although a few children did show up later.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Three very nice men were shaking hands at the door.

Was your pew comfortable?

Sort of. The pew was padded, but the lack of kneelers was a bit jarring. To be clear, though, I would rather have a rock hard pew with a kneeler than a comfortable one without.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very noisy and chaotic. The choir were rehearsing and lots of people were talking noisily. My wife even commented on it, which she never does.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"We gather together as a faith community."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Two books by Oregon Catholic Press: a missal and the accompanying music issue. It took me a minute to find them, as they were in a little nook under my seat.

What musical instruments were played?

I recall a piano, certainly not an organ.

Did anything distract you?

The noise, the absence of kneelers, how incredibly ugly the church was ... and my wife asking me if we actually were in Catholic church because of the way it looked.

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

It would definitely fall in the happy clappy hand holding category. It seemed focused on community, not God. Someone in the choir audibly inserted "became flesh" into the Creed instead of "became man." Someone tried to hold my hand during the Lord's Prayer – a custom I dislike.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

7 — The preacher's voice was clear and he was articulate, but he did come across as a bit of the homey buddy type.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel was the story of the loaves and fishes, so we had a sermon about how we all seek unity. Eating together is one way we achieve unity. He also vaguely tied in how consumption of the Sacrament gives us unity with Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The recessional was "How great thou art" so I was actually able to sing it.

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

However, the other songs of the Dan Schutte type were awful. Even though the congregation did not appear to have any native Spanish speakers, one was even in Spanish. But the no kneelers was the worst. I could feel myself getting weak in the knees when we were forced to stand at parts of the mass where kneeling is prescribed. Also, the choir person changing the Creed; the design of the church, and the noisiness.

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

There was no post-service event. Everyone was sprinting for the parking lot, which was awful to get out of. Nobody would let us back out of our spot. I even heard one car beep at another to keep them from backing out.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

No such thing.

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

1 — I would not attend this church again if it was the only Catholic church within 100 miles.

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

No, not really, I felt guilty I had not found a more Catholic liturgy and had subjected my wife to this place.

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

The "suburban prayer barn" design of the church. I now truly understand the term.

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