Mystery Worshipper: Andy the Albanian
Church: St Joan of Arc
Location: Orleans, Massachusetts, USA
Date of visit: Friday, 15 August 2014, 12:00pm
The church was built in the 1980s in classic New England style: white painted outside, pitched roof with a small spire halfway along. Inside it's bright and airy, a nave with no side aisles but transepts adjoining the sanctuary. The ceiling is high, with massive exposed roof trusses. There's an impressive collection of stained glass windows depicting the lives of the saints, though the Joan of Arc window took a bit of time to find, surprisingly (in the south transept). The sanctuary was renovated in 2012, adding a beautiful abstract stained glass window behind the crucifix. The air conditioning was effective, which was a boon on a sunny August day.
The church roll is about 1100 families, and there's a list of ministries on the website that fills the sidebar of my screen, so it's clearly an active parish. I'll just mention one, the Kenya Konnection, which provides scholarships and health care services to their adopted parish, Holy Cross in Dandora, Nairobi, Kenya.
Orleans is a resort community inside the elbow of Cape Cod. It's a prosperous town but with lots of weekenders, so presumably out of season weekday activities are harder to sustain. The church is close to the center of Orleans, with the Atlantic close on one side and Cape Cod Bay only a mile away on the other.
The Revd John P. Kelleher, pastor, presided and preached. Art McManus, director of music, played organ and piano, and a cantor (name not announced) sang beautifully. A lay woman read the first two lessons.
What was the name of the service?Mass
How full was the building?
About 150 people, which meant that most pews had occupants, but probably only about a third of maximum capacity.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A friendly "Good morning" and then, as I was pushing my mother-in-law in a wheelchair, I was shown to the area at the back of the church set aside for the mobility impaired.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were comfortable, with hinged kneelers on the pew in front. The wheelchair area also offered comfortable wooden armchairs of the kind my primary school teacher sat in.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was pretty quiet and reverential, albeit with a steady stream of people arriving until a few minutes into the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to our mass as we celebrate the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into heaven."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Just Breaking Bread, which contains the order of mass, the readings for Sundays and holy days, and a few hundred hymns. There was also a card insert with the new-ish translation of the congregational parts of the mass.
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ and piano.
Did anything distract you?
The very slow handovers between cantor and lector: the cantor would finish singing, return to her seat, and only then would the lector stand in her pew and walk slowly to the lectern. I suppose it was intended to allow time for reflection, but it made me wonder if the reader hadn't turned up.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road RC no incense, no Latin, but plenty of sung bits and a fairly formal style.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father John was clearly reading rather than extemporizing, and being careful to enunciate clearly, but the homily flowed well and was easy to listen to.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He began by (unknowingly) disarming my Protestant chippiness about the Feast of the Assumption, pointing out that it's not found in scripture, and was only introduced to the calendar in 1950, apparently in response to the Pope surveying parishes to find out whether it was widely believed. The feast is about Mary as so often being the exemplar for us in her openness to the fullness of God dwelling in her and transforming her. So our gospel reading includes the Magnificat, where Mary says that her soul her very being proclaims the greatness of the Lord. A religious education class was once asked what they thought the Holy Family would be like if they were around today, and one child said she thought Mary would take Jesus to the supermarket with her, and he'd sit in the shopping cart, and ask for candy, and Mary would say, "Not until after supper," and they'd go to the checkout and every cashier would hope they came to their till, because the glory of God shone through them. So what about us? Do we radiate the joy and glory of God? Or are we the customer the cashiers hope will go to someone else? Our calling is to emulate Mary in opening ourselves to God, in obedience to God, and allowing God's presence to shine through us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Walking back from communion, past the beautiful stained glass, with a lovely communion song being sung, really made me feel the presence of God.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Communion in one kind, given into the hand while standing, always seems a bit industrial to me. But kudos to Father John for giving a blessing to my learning-disabled daughter. I find that RC eucharistic ministers often don't know what to do when I arrive with her and she doesn't receive the host.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After-service chat in church isn't really the RC way, not least because there generally isn't much space for it. We were visibly a family group, which may be why no one approached us, but it didn't feel unfriendly.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No after-service catering at this weekday mass.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – That'd be a 10 if living on the Cape was part of the deal, but even in other surroundings I'd be happy to be part of a friendly, active community like this.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did, and a bit more appreciative of the Feast of the Assumption too.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The image of Mary pushing Jesus in a supermarket cart, and every cashier wanting her to choose their lane.