Mystery Worshipper: Meet and Right So to Do
Church: St Paul's
Location: Frederiksted, St Croix, US Virgin Islands
Date of visit: Monday, 18 April 2016, 10:30am
The circa 1812 St Paul's is largely Georgian in architectural style, with gothicky windows and a more authentically Gothic Revival tower added in the 1840s. The nave, beneath a West Indian hipped roof, is an open sanctuary, with the chancel raised by a single step and separated from the nave by a rail. Two steps above the chancel is a free-standing altar with a versus populum orientation that is directly in front of a floor-to-ceiling stained glass east window. The distinctive carved stone pulpit was disused.
St Paul's dates to when Frederiksted was part of the Danish West Indies, but in recent years the congregation has ebbed and flowed with the town's fortunes.
Frederiksted is a picturesque town on the southwest tip of St Croix. Laid out in 1751 in a seven street by seven street grid, it is full of colonial-era buildings, many of which were built in the late 19th century. Today, the town is busy when massive cruise ships come to call (it has the only port for cruise ships on St Croix), but on other days it's a sleepy little place that has seen better days and is overshadowed by Christiansted on the other end of St Croix. There is hardly any shopping available and only a handful of restaurants. Frederiksted does, however, claim for itself the title of Scuba Diving Capital of the Virgin Islands. About three blocks away from the church is Strand Street, which parallels the waterfront and terminates near the old Danish fort, where canons are said to have fired the first salute to the flag of the newly independent United States of America in 1776. Frederiksted is also where a proclamation abolishing slavery was read in 1848 by the Danish governor general; locals to this day sometimes refer to the town as Freedom City. St Paul's is located on Prince Street, which is also the site of a federally subsidized facility for low income renters.
The Revd Canon Douglas Renegar, interim priest, wearing a white cassock-alb with cincture and a stole that appeared cream or off-white in color. The organist was listed in the order of service as Daniel Francois.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist
How full was the building?
About 100 congregants scattered across the pews, with many mothers and young children (as in crying babies) in the side chapels. The bulletin indicated weekly attendance between two services (7.00am and 10.30am) is about 150.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
St Paul's may not get many visitors, but it sure knows how to make the occasional newcomer feel right at home! The interim priest, who I later learned has been there for the last three months, was at the door, greeting folks as they walked up the steps and through the Gothic Revival tower into the narthex. Within a couple short minutes he had already invited me to lunch. A few minutes after I had taken a seat in the pews, an usher came over, shook my hand, and handed me a visitor's card. I was also warmly greeted during the peace and not in the overly superficial way of many churches. Yet another greeting came during parish announcements, when the same usher asked me to rise and be recognized.
Was your pew comfortable?
A little padding would be nice, but the legroom was more than adequate and there was plenty of personal space.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Alleluia. Christ is risen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1979 American edition of the Book of Common Prayer was used, with the day's order of service directing worshippers to specific pages. The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, was also in the pews, alongside the Hymnal 1982 and the traditionally African-American hymnal Lift Every Voice and Sing.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ of unknown make in a gallery above the west end of the nave.
Did anything distract you?
How immaculate the grounds and interior of this 19th century church are kept by the vestry and sextons, which can't be easy given the climate what with salt breezes off the Caribbean and the occasional hurricane.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I learned afterward that the parish has been without an incumbent clergyman for over three years, but you would have never known it. Most everything was done well, with bells, smells and a churchmanship that is slightly more high than broad, but not too catholicky as to offend reformed Anglicans. Rite II, Form 3 of the Prayers of the People, and prayer A of the Great Thanksgiving were used. During the announcements, Canon Renegar presented the church's acolytes two older gentlemen and a half-dozen school-age boys with crosses that were homemade by his father-in-law. The acolytes looked stately in the red cassocks and white surplices that were recently obtained by the parish through a kind donation from the mainland.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – It was fitting that Canon Renegar had one of those quintessential southern preacher accents.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
What does it mean to be part of the flock of the Good Shepherd? We're like sheep, who run into fences for no reason or run into a patch of thorns. We get into trouble when we follow the flock, but if we follow the master, we will walk in righteousness.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was a tie between the sung Lord's Prayer with the three-fold amen and an especially moving singing of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" during the recessional.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Trying to figure out why this church isn't overflowing with congregants, as everything was done so well.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The interim priest and I discussed doing lunch together.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was on offer.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I liked it enough to make me want to return. Liturgy well done, good preaching, welcoming congregation.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The touching ceremony of presenting the acolytes with crosses.