St John Cathedral, Buenos Aires

Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Buenos Aires, Argentina


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Cathedral of St John the Baptist
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 February 2013, 10:00am

The building

Built in 1831 in the wake of a treaty recognizing the religious rights of English residents of the city, the Anglican cathedral was perhaps the first non-Roman Catholic place of worship in South America. The exterior is neo-classical; the interior is, however, Victorian. It is now a national monument.

The church

As very few people live in the vicinity, almost all of the parishioners commute in. While some of the parishioners are ex-pat, I got the impression that most were Anglo-Argentine of some generations, or who had married into that community.

The neighborhood

The cathedral is a few streets north of the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada. Its classical front faces on to a street in the city's financial section, with ornate stone commercial buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century, when Buenos Aires was known as the Paris of the Americas.

The cast

The then-dean, and a Spanish-speaking assistant priest (no longer on the parish website, so I don't have their names).

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

It could seat about 300; perhaps 80-90 people were present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

In the Anglican manner, I was greeted as I entered, recognized as a non-parishioner after an enquiry as to language, and was given a prayerbook and hymnbook, as well as the bulletin and an offer to be of assistance if I had any questions. Two parishioners welcomed me as I staggered my way to the pew (having just been a victim of a robbery, I was still a bit discombobulated).

Was your pew comfortable?

I have no real memory of the pew, so it must have been fine.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Most of the parishioners evidently knew each other, and were quietly chatting; it was not disruptive.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Buenos días! Welcome to the cathedral."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

I honestly cannot recall the English service book; the Spanish book was the nicely-printed one produced by The Episcopal Church.

What musical instruments were played?

There was an organ. As it was summer in the southern hemisphere, the choir were off, but several parishioners held forth with good voice, and it all worked.

Did anything distract you?

Having just had my camera taken from me by a group of three thieves, I was quite distracted and unsettled. I fear that I had trouble concentrating.

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

Middle-of-the-road, with priest in alb and stole. Hymns used both Spanish and English verses. I was struck by how Anglican hymns do quite well in Spanish.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

8 – The Spanish-speaking priest cast his voice well, pausing after each paragraph for a woman interpreting his text into English. In an odd way, it flowed quite well and was perhaps how the gospel was preached in many places – here it was from Spanish to English, surely fairly singular in Anglican circles.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

I fear that I was too distracted to do my job here. I fear that I can remember almost nothing about the content, but that's not his fault.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The kindness of the priest and his wife, who had seen the robbery and came up to help me clean up. News spread in the congregation fairly quickly and several parishioners came up to comfort me and see how I was doing, or if I had been injured.

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

Being mugged outside.

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

I was guided by a parishioner into the cathedral hall with the apology that they couldn't give me the drink I surely needed.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was excellent. I jokingly asked for a cortado (espresso cut with a bit of milk) and it was quickly supplied. I think it the best coffee I have ever had in Anglican circles since I was confirmed by Bishop Reed in 1967.

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

10 – As well as being one of the two Anglican churches in the city, they were very helpful and genuinely concerned.

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

See above.

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

How odd it felt going into a church just after I had been robbed, but it felt natural, and it worked out.

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