St Jude, Scottsboro, AL (Exterior)

St Jude's, Scottsboro, Alabama, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Jude's
Location: Scottsboro, Alabama, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 6 October 2012, 5:00pm

The building

The edifice was built on a lovely 10 acre plot on July Mountain, just south of the city of Scottsboro, Alabama. The brick and stone structure is attractive from the outside. Inside, the narthex seems more comfortable and inviting than the church. The interior is wide but not particularly deep; no pew is far from the altar. The electric lighting is stark and too much focused straight down or straight up, creating ghastly shadows. A gold colored domed cylinder of a tabernacle, looking very much like a cappuccino machine, dominates the front.

The church

They have an active and seemingly well organized chapter of the Knights of Columbus. There is a Saturday vigil mass and two Sunday masses, one in English and the other in Spanish. During the week there is an evening mass on Wednesdays but a morning mass on other days.

The neighborhood

Scottsboro is the county seat of Jackson County, Alabama. In 1931 nine African-American teenage boys were tried in Scottsboro for rape and sentenced to death, even after one of their accusers recanted and admitted that the charge was a fabrication. After two retrials, charges were dropped for several of the boys and the death sentence was commuted for all but one of the others. The boy sentenced to death escaped and remained in hiding until 1976, when he was pardoned by Governor George Wallace. The incident of the Scottsboro Boys is widely regarded as a gross miscarriage of justice and has been examined in literature, music, theatre, film and television. On a lighter note, Scottsboro's First Monday Trade Days, begun in 1902 as an occasion for horse swapping, continues to this day as an open-air market attracting hundreds of vendors.

The cast

The Revd Alan C. Mackey, pastor, was celebrant and preacher.

What was the name of the service?

Saturday Vigil Mass.

How full was the building?

About 100 people were present in a church that could have held a few hundred.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

People smiled and said hello in the parking lot. A man held the door open and nodded a friendly greeting.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, the wooden pew and the kneeler were quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The faithful were just finishing a recitation of the Rosary as I arrived. The atmosphere was quietly reverent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good evening and welcome to St Jude's."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Seasonal Missalette.

What musical instruments were played?

Electronic organ for which no organist was present. The instrument was played via a pre-recorded computer program. The three Marian hymns were pitched in a range I found too high or too low to sing the melody.

Did anything distract you?

I was rather distracted by the statues of the Stations of the Cross. They were very large for the church, and also were illuminated with can lights focused upward, like footlights, complete with looming shadows. I was also somewhat mystified by the order in which people received communion. Ushers dismissed the people from the back pews first and moved forward.

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

The service was formal but not stiff; reverent but not slow; and a bit mechanical without being perfunctory. It was liturgically conservative. Some women had veils or mantillas on their heads. Although there was no altar rail, a litany desk was provided for communicants to receive kneeling if they desired to do so.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

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

7 – Father Mackey used the sermon primarily as a time of teaching.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The pastor gave a history of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, which was instituted by Pope Pius V in thanksgiving for the great naval victory over the Turks at the battle of Lepanto in 1570, a favor attributed to the faithful having recited the Rosary. From Mary's divine maternity, he transitioned into showing honor and respect for traditional marriage and family.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The Sanctus, the Angus Dei, and the doxology at the end of the eucharistic prayer. All were sung a cappella in Latin.

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

The electric lighting, which was generally aimed straight down, created dark shadows. The saints eyes appeared to be sockets.

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

The people were friendly, and smiled and nodded, but didn't engage in conversation with me. A small group replaced a burned out light bulb.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

None was offered.

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

5 – Despite the people's general friendliness, I didn't get much sense of joy here. Be grateful you're Catholic, Amen.

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

It didn't make me sad to be a Christian.

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

The disagreeable lighting.

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