Mystery Worshipper: Red Tory
Church: St Paul's
Location: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 February 2015, 10:30am
The exterior has the look of an English parish church, but was constructed from local materials. The inside is simple, even plain, with the domed brick bóveda ceiling traditional to San Miguel opening to a skylight above the altar. The light covers are of perforated tin, and the floor tiles are hexagonal. There is an elegant crucifix hanging at the east end.
This is a bilingual congregation in a town with a large American and Canadian ex-pat community, which also includes some Brits. It's clear that the church is a strong part of the social life for the congregation, and is also attended by some local Mexican Anglicans. They sponsor Bible study, lectures, and an annual retreat. They strive to be a family-friendly parish with (quoting from their website) "a small but growing" Sunday school.
San Miguel Allende is in central Mexico about 170 miles northwest of Mexico City. During Mexico's Spanish Colonial period it was one of the most prosperous communities in the New World, thanks to gold and silver mining operations in the nearby mountains. The town was known for its lavish mansions, palaces and churches. But it was also the first municipality to declare independence from Spanish rule during the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821). As the mines began to close down in the late 19th century, it became a veritable ghost down. It remained so, with its grand architectural masterpieces intact, until "discovered" in the late 1930s by artists and writers, who in turn attracted moneyed interests to the area as well as American and Canadian ex-pats. Today the historic town center remains much as it was hundreds of years ago, although trendy restaurants, upscale shops, art galleries, and Old Mexico-themed cantinas now occupy the buildings. The church is quite centrally located, a short walk to the historic downtown area.
The Rt Revd William Gregg, retired assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, celebrated. There were others in the party too, but they were not identified.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist with Choir
How full was the building?
There were around 80 worshippers who mostly filled the church. There were no empty pews.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not on entering. However, the woman who made announcements before the service asked all visitors to stand so that she could pass around a microphone and have them introduce themselves and say where they were from.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was a perfectly traditional Anglican wooden cushioned pew with flip down kneeler (padded) mounted to the pew in front, and book holders on the back.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was abuzz with conversation and people coming in to find their seats. Not in an intrusive way, though. The woman making the announcements before the service asked if anyone had any other notices, and two people spoke up.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to St Paul's."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The American Episcopal 1979 Book of Common Prayer and (also American) El Libro de Oración Común y de Himnos 1982, a combined volume in Spanish of the Prayer Book and the Hymnal 1982.
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ and flute.
Did anything distract you?
During the peace, which seems to act as a kind of social hour here, one woman carried her pre-school aged child around insisting that he share the peace with everyone. In one case, she pinned the child's arms so that another parishioner could tickle him!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely not happy-clappy, but also not at all stiff. It was a fairly traditional Anglican eucharist, using the Rite II liturgy from the Prayer Book, and ruthlessly committed to modern language, including the Lord's Prayer. To be fair, I should say languages (plural), as the gospel and prayers of the people were read in English and Spanish. After the peace, the celebrant invited anyone with a birthday or an anniversary to come up and receive a blessing, which one woman did.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The sermon, delivered from the aisle, was fine, but did not need to be 18 minutes long. Many points were repeated, and I didn't think the two parts of the sermon hung together terribly well.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The bishop focused on the Old Testament reading (Isaiah 40:22-31 God is all-knowing and all-powerful and never wearies) and the gospel (Mark 1:29-39 Jesus heals many and then preaches in neighboring towns). In essence, it focused on the omnipresence of God. In Isaiah, God's people, who have believed for a generation that they have been abandoned, are reminded that God is present, even when they (read we) have forgotten him. In Mark, rather than Simon's mother-in-law having been made well in order to serve the disciples, she was made well because that was what she needed to fulfill her role. God gives us all that we need, and if we will receive what God gives us, we will find what we are to do with it.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The bilingualism was very good. Both the clergy and the congregation moved comfortably and seamlessly between English and Spanish. The leaflet was also very well done it made clear exactly where you were in the books, which language was being used when, and did so using only one normal sheet of paper.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, the sopranos were awfully flat. But it's clearly an elderly ex-pat choir doing what they can. In the introduction to one of the hymns, the organ and flute parted ways somewhat dramatically, but it all came together again once the congregation began singing. I don't much care for modern language, but I do think that the Americans generally do it better than others. Did I mention the 18-minute sermon?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It was almost impossible not to be swept up in the line of people heading out the back of the church to shake the hand of the bishop, and thence to the lawn where coffee and sweets were being served. No one actually invited us to attend, but it's entirely possible that anyone would believe such an invitation to be superfluous.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was fruit, some biscuits and some other pastries, all of which were fine. Also hot coffee and tea in styrofoam cups.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – Oh, to live in San Miguel! But if I did, I might seek out one of the many Roman Catholic churches, where I could presumably find more traditional liturgy.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?