Mystery Worshipper: Pew Hymnal
Church: Our Lady of Mt Carmel Mission
Location: Farallon, Panama
Date of visit: Saturday, 20 January 2007, 5:00pm
A very simple church, with open doors at the front and side, protected by iron grills. In the sanctuary are three statues of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, one of which is carried in procession on feast days through the town on a platform kept at the back of the church. A Christmas banner was still hanging at the front left of the sanctuary.
I was not able to determine anything about their ministries or activities.
Farallon, an hour's drive from Panama City, is a small town that has in recent years become the site of several posh vacation resorts such as the Royal Decameron. Every house seemed to have chickens and roosters milling about and lots of children playing soccer and ball games of some type. Most houses had a late model SUV in the driveway.
A travelling diocescan priest who also covers the Decameron resort and a neighboring parish.
What was the name of the service?Mass, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.
How full was the building?
The church would hold around 60 comfortably, but there were probably 80 in attendance, with about 20 people standing.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I was greeted warmly by the sacristan, who handed me a pamphlet containing the readings. He also led the singing.
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pews. However, I stood to give up my seat to a young lady with a baby.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet atmosphere, with a choir of about four people humming (in practice) the upcoming songs and mass parts.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo. Amen.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used. The above mentioned pamphlet, printed by the Archdiocese of Panama, contained the readings, prayers by the priest, prayer of the faithful and responsorial psalm. All the locals seemed to know the hymns by heart.
What musical instruments were played?
None; the tiny choir sang a cappella. They sang from their hearts, not with any skill, and not always agreeing on the same note at the same time. Their attempt was more moving than the performance.
Did anything distract you?
There were six ceiling fans but no air conditioning, as the church is quasi-open air. One noisy ceiling fan wobbled and looked like it was going to fall.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The priest and the assembled people prayed very reverently. Even the children were very well behaved and prayerful. Everyone held hands at the Lord's Prayer and warmly exchanged a sign of peace. They all seemed especially welcoming of guests from the nearby resorts. The only happy clappy part was the closing hymn in which everyone started clapping to the beat.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The priest spoke calmly and occasionally glanced down at some notes he had made.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
My Italian is better than my Spanish, but I gathered that he was commenting on the day's readings, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 ("For in the one Spirit, we were all baptized in one body") and Luke 1:14-21 ("Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing").
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Seeing the very prayerful reverence of the Panamanian people including the young people. The communal singing, although rustic, was actually uplifting.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The wobbly, noisy ceiling fan.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the final blessing and during the clappy final hymn, everyone exited the small church very quickly.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No refreshments were served; there is no church hall.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I am used to a more formal liturgy with a pipe organ and trained choir. But the warmness and prayerfulness of the people here would certainly make me come back.
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 reverent but out-of-tune singing.