Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: All Saints
Location: Beverly Hills, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 28 November 2010, 9:00am
The present building saw its first service on Easter Sunday 1952 and was renovated in 1995. It can best be described as Southwest Mission Revival, with church, chapel, parish hall and offices opening off a small plaza. The interior is plain the first thing one notices is a choir screen in the chancel, with the altar in front and choir seating and organ console behind. There may have been a mural at one time on the east wall something is decidedly trying to peek through the whitewash.
They support numerous ministries, including a mercy and justice ministry (quoting from their website) "to provide opportunities to assist people in need" and a St Francis ministry "to facilitate ... our spiritual connection with nature."
Beverly Hills the very name is synonymous with prestige, wealth and power. One of several independent cities surrounded by the city of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills is home to the rich and famous and boasts the most expensive housing market in the United States. But even Beverly Hills has its "wrong side of the tracks" the tracks being the streetcar line, long gone, that once ran down Santa Monica Boulevard. To the north can be found the luxurious and extravagant mansions of the stars, while the area to the south, known as the Flats, features commercial buildings and more modest homes. All Saints Church sits on Santa Monica Boulevard at Camden Drive, very near to Lutheran, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches. One block away is Rodeo Drive, the most exclusive shopping street in the world.
The Revd Stephen Huber, rector, was the celebrant. The Revd Mary Haddad, associate rector, preached. The gospeller, lay readers, crucifer and acolytes were not named. Two unnamed clergymen attended in choir.
What was the name of the service?Choral Eucharist.
How full was the building?
I counted room for about 600 and I'd say it was half full. The crowd was a good mix of men and women, predominately young adult and middle aged, with some older folk. I saw no children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman smiled and said good morning as he handed me the service leaflet. Another gentleman stationed in the aisle also said good morning.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes plain wooden pew, uncushioned.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People entered quietly and took their places. The choir, vested in surplices and black cassocks, sort of strolled in and took seats in the side chapel. The organist, vested in black cassock and a choirmaster's surplice, played a soft, meditative prelude. When that was done, the crucifer and acolytes took up positions at the entrance to the side chapel and the choir fell in behind them for the start of the entrance procession.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to All Saints." This was followed by several announcements.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Hymnal 1982 and a service leaflet. The Prayer Book 1979 was also in the pews, but we didn't use it as all of the service was given in the leaflet.
What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, played very well. The choir numbered about 12 men and women.
Did anything distract you?
A young man sitting behind me apparently forgot to brush his teeth after breakfast. I had to move out of his airstream.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Aside from the vestments, a low Rite II eucharist, more or less. More, because some of the prayers were not in the Prayer Book. Less, because there was only a single Old Testament reading plus the gospel no psalm, no epistle. The celebrant wore a blue chasuble; the gospeller and preacher wore albs and blue stoles. The hymns were all traditional, and the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei were sung but there was no chanting. The choir sang an anthem at the offertory. There were no bells or incense, and the elements were not elevated at the consecration.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – The Revd Mary Haddad read her sermon from notes in a hurried voice, as if she were trying to fit it all in. Her thesis was interesting, but the whole thing sounded like one of those inspirational tracts you read in devotional literature. And after she had made her point, she kept on going, comparing Christianity to yoga, of all things.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The message of Advent is to keep awake, to be here, now. But we seem to be of a generation that is anywhere else but here and now, with our heads buried in our cell phones as we text away. The early Church was awake, but with its head in the clouds, expecting the Second Coming at any moment. What a distortion of faith that was! Jesus comes at unexpected moments; his power is available to those who are awake enough to notice. The Second Coming happens all the time! Jesus is here, now. As yoga teaches, keep awake and breathe deeply.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The slow, deliberate dignity with which the service was conducted was calming and heavenly. The music was top notch!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The young man sitting behind me really should have brushed his teeth, or at least have eaten something else for breakfast.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no recessional hymn; the altar party walked down the aisle in silence. Most people stayed to listen to the organist's postlude, and applauded afterward. I peeked about in the side chapel and studied the stained glass, but no one approached me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Strong, hot coffee was served in the parish hall in paper cups. There were also donuts, but I didn't sample those. A donation was requested cheeky, I thought, for Beverly Hills, of all places. I milled about the plaza, where people were visiting in small groups, but no one paid me any attention.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I had once heard a joke to the effect that a congregation in Beverly Hills was so discriminating that they sent the wine back. That didn't happen here, but I guess they spotted me as an outsider. I can't imagine myself ever "belonging" in Beverly Hills, even on the wrong side of the tracks.
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 choir screen and the young gentleman behind me.