Cathedral of St John the Baptist, San Juan, PR (Exterior_

Cathedral of St John the Baptist, San Juan, Puerto Rico


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Cathedral of St John the Baptist
Location: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 July 2014, 11:15am

The building

Ground was broken for the present structure in 1929. This is not the Roman Catholic cathedral of the same name in Old San Juan, but rather a stone church in the Spanish style, painted yellow, with school attached via a cloister. The interior is brightly lit thanks to clear glass and frosted glass windows. Behind the altar is a blue tile wall with Spanish-themed mosaics and a lovely stained glass east window.

The church

The Episcopal Church in Puerto Rico began as a mission in 1899 and became a parish two years later. Today the cathedral holds services in Spanish and English and operates a day school.

The neighborhood

Puerto Rico, claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1493, was ceded to the United States in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War. After years of failed plebiscites both for statehood and independence, resolutions for statehood were introduced in both houses of the US Congress in 2014. However, like most other business before the current Congress, the movement has gone nowhere. Rum, sugar, coffee and tuna comprised the mainstay of Puerto Ricos economy for most of the 20th century, but all are gone now. The cathedral is located on Avenida Ponce de Leon, to the east of Old San Juan and south of the upscale tourist and residential area known as the Condado. Like most of San Juan, and indeed most of Puerto Rico, the once-vibrant and prosperous area has fallen into decay and neglect.

The cast

The Revd Canon Dimas David Muñoz-Quintana, rector, presided. The Revd Martha L. McCracken, a Lutheran pastor, preached and concelebrated the eucharist with Canon Muñoz. Diana Villafae played the organ.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?

Eight people in the congregation. I was told that most people were away at the annual parish picnic.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A lady who turned out to be Canon Muñoz's wife said, "Hello. Are you here for the 11.15 service? Welcome." Canon Muñoz shook my hand and asked me if I was visiting, and where from.

Was your pew comfortable?

Wooden pew with red upholstered cushion. A little narrow and with the back at too severe an angle. Plus it wasn't bolted to the floor and slid around a bit.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Pretty quiet, considering almost no one was there. The organist played a voluntary.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Prayer Book 1979; Hymnal 1982; service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, a nicely voiced Rodgers electronic instrument, played very well by Diana Villafae.

Did anything distract you?

During the sermon, an apparently homeless man wandered in and walked up and down the aisles spouting gibberish in Spanish. Canon Muñoz gently but firmly walked him outside and bolted the cloister gate behind him. Pastor McCracken paused in her sermon to say that he was a "regular" at the cathedral, that he had been seen rummaging through drawers, etc., that the clergy had done their best to help him, but that he had not yet been able to overcome the problems facing him. She prayed that God might direct him to the right place.

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

A standard Rite II eucharist, perhaps a little more informal than one usually finds. The hymns were all old favorites, as was the service music (except for the Agnus Dei, which seemed unfamiliar to everyone but the clergy and which seemed to drone on interminably). I was impressed that Canon Muñoz and Pastor McCracken concelebrated the eucharistic prayer.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

25 minutes.

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

9 – Pastor McCracken had prepared her sermon well and handled the interruption with aplomb.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Jesus used parables to relate the kingdom of heaven to common everyday things. But do we really understand what the kingdom of heaven is? Its where God lives, but he also lives among us. Its where God reigns supreme, but his kingdom is also on earth. We witness the kingdom of heaven when we see something that seems insignificant become important: a young boy, a carpenter's son, instructing the scribes and Pharisees in the temple; that same boy, now a man, choosing twelve ordinary men to be his disciples; his taking common ordinary bread and wine and making it become his body and blood; his using a wooden cross to gain salvation for the world. It's the little things that can make a difference. Let us pray that we may recognize the things that will lead us to the kingdom of God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The majority of our tiny congregation were tourists/visitors. I thought it was heavenly that a group of strangers had come together to worship as God's children. We sang the Lord's Prayer to the Malotte setting, as we had done when I had previously visited the cathedral. You don't always hear that done congregationally, and I thought it was beautiful. The organist, Diana Villafae, sang a solo at communion, Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace by Oley Speaks, that was also heavenly.

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

The interruption by the homeless man was a reminder that it is sometimes easier to ignore the unpleasant than to face it.

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

Canon Muñoz, Mrs Muñoz and Pastor McCracken shook everyone's hand and thanked us for coming. I visited a bit with the organist, enquiring after the organist who had played at previous services I have attended here, Mr Johnson, who I understand has been ill.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none today.

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

10 – If I lived in San Juan this would be my home parish for sure.

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


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

I will be wondering why they scheduled the parish picnic at the same time as Sunday eucharist.

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