St Peter's on the Canal, Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, USA

St Peter's on the Canal, Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Peter's on the Canal
Location: Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 August 2010, 10:00am

The building

A rather stark surrealistic take on a traditional New England church. It's surprisingly dark inside, with a dark wood A-frame roof and dark wood pews, while richly colored stained-glass windows limit the natural light. What immediately grabs passers-by, though, is the prow of a fishing boat, complete with oil-skinned fishermen, protruding from the porch above the main entrance.

The church

The parish has the mix of summer residents and year-rounders typical of Cape Cod parishes. Its roots lie in the bisection of the parish of Bourne when the Cape Cod Canal (an artificial waterway traversing the narrow neck of land that joins Cape Cod to mainland Massachusetts) was dug, with all the Bourne churches left on the Cape side. The first service in Buzzards Bay was in 1938 in a meeting hall, and it wasn't until 1946 that the community got its own church building, and not until 1963 that it became a parish in its own right.

The neighborhood

The village of Buzzards Bay sits on the mainland side of the Cape Cod Canal, in the shadow of the Bourne bridge and the lifting railway bridge. The village seems a little past its prime, with most traffic bypassing it on the way to the Cape. The Massachusetts Maritime Academy, training sailors for the US Navy, is down the road and 10 new cadets were present at the service.

The cast

The Revd Sue Lederhouse, priest-in-charge designate, preached and presided, assisted by Dan Horgan, intern for the diaconate.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist, Rite II.

How full was the building?

About half full – every pew had someone in it but everyone could maintain Anglican personal space.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A naval cadet standing at the door said "Good morning" before I was tapped on the shoulder by a charming girl of around two-and-a-half, in her mother's arms, who handed me the service sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?

Perfectly comfortable for the duration of the service.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I arrived during the pre-service hymn-sing, where the organist took us through any music that might be unfamiliar – so the atmosphere was one of warming up for praise.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Our worship this morning begins on page 355 of the red Prayer Book."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The usual Episcopal juggling act: the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the 1982 Hymnal, a service sheet with the running order, and a lectionary insert with the collect and readings. Oh, and a couple of loose sheets with music not in the hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?

An organ, which rather overpowered the congregational singing despite the pre-service warm-up.

Did anything distract you?

I couldn't help looking around trying to find the next bit of nautical themed stuff – the sanctuary lamp set in a little ship's wheel, anchor and boat carvings on the pew ends, and so on.

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

Quite formal but not stiff. A gospel procession but no incense or bells; a mixture of traditional and more contemporary songs; and a peace that went on and on as everyone tried to share the peace with everyone else.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

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

7 – The Revd Sue Lederhouse has a quite businesslike manner, clear and easy to understand, with no distracting eccentricities.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel was Jesus' healing of a woman on the sabbath, and the preacher picked up the themes of healing and sabbath time. She noted that in her lifetime mandatory Sunday observance has declined, and we've rather lost the idea of the sabbath as a time of rest and focus on God. She noted that the synagogue president had focused on the literal rather than spiritual meaning of the sabbath, and observed that we, like him, often fall back into taking offense and clinging to rules when we're confronted with something we don't understand. She reminded us that healing of body and soul was at the heart of Jesus' mission, and that it's good for all of us that healing work in our society continues 24/7. But we do all need sabbath time: our lives shouldn't be centered on our work, and we need to make time to stop and remember who we are and whose we are – and to receive his healing.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

No single moment stands out, but the overall feeling was of being welcomed into God's family, so that's pretty heavenly in its way. There was one "almost uh-oh" moment when an octogenarian retired submariner rose to address the cadets and started rambling on about his childhood. When will this end? I began to think – but then he mentioned "making space for God 500 feet underwater" and his words were really quite moving.

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

The peace went on rather too long for my Anglo-Catholic taste. In fact, it seemed to emphasize my outsider status, as everyone appeared to know everyone else.

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

After shaking the priest's hand, I was directed to the church hall for coffee. There, a couple of parishioners introduced themselves for a brief chat. I was pretty obviously a transient, so no one tried to draw me into the church's activities.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The coffee was real and hot, and the cakes were home-made and delicious. I can't comment on the provenance of the coffee, and the styrofoam cups were a tad un-green, but it was a friendly gathering.

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

8 – If I lived in the locality I wouldn't hesitate to make this my parish.

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

Yes – glad to be part of God's family on earth.

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

The sanctuary lamp in its little ship's wheel.

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