Mystery Worshipper: Tropical Beachcomber
Church: St Alban's
Location: Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 March 2006, 9:30am
The church building was a house until a few years ago, when it was sold to the community of St Alban's. It still looks like a house, but has a large banner proclaiming its actual use. The interior still feels rather like a domestic sitting room, in spite of the altar and other church accoutrements.
St Alban's congregation, although numbering only about 30, is quite varied, ranging from native Caymanians to tourists via expats (mostly British, Jamaican or Canadian).
The population of the Cayman Islands is, superficially at least, deeply religious. There are approximately 40,000 inhabitants of the three islands, who are served by about 100 different churches. Many Caymanians are Seventh Day Adventists; many others, particularly those of Jamaican extraction, are Church of God. There is a strong Baptist contingent. There are also many worship centres whose denominations are completely new to me, among them the Faith Deliverance Cathedral.
The Revd Nicholas Sykes.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Morning Worship.
How full was the building?
Mostly full about 30 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No greeters were stationed at the doors, and the service sheets and hymn books had all been put on the chairs beforehand, along with a pamphlet on Forward in Faith. However, several people smiled at me as I came in, and there were some friendly hellos at the peace ceremony. At the end of the service, the vicar welcomed everyone, especially visitors and people who had returned from being off island. One of the benefits of such a small congregation is that the vicar clearly knows all his regular attendees well. After the service, several people came up and chatted to me.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a padded chair, and it was very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet. There had, it turned out, been Bible study beforehand, so people who had been to that were already settled in. The others found where they wanted to sit (there seemed to be a certain amount of "That's my pew!" going on) and composed themselves quietly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Let us pray."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern Revised; and an in-house leaflet containing the rubric of a Common Worship eucharist.
What musical instruments were played?
A keyboard – much better played than those things usually are! A choir of five did a good job at leading the hymns.
Did anything distract you?
The vicar's vestments didn't fit him! I spent much of the service wondering where he had borrowed them from. His cassock-alb looked about a foot too short, and the sleeves were short and pinched. I'm sure the only reason the collar didn't strangle him was that he hadn't buttoned it. But I'll never know for sure, as I lacked the nerve to ask him! I was also distracted by a few low-flying airplanes taking off and landing at the nearby airport.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Even though the order used was Common Worship Order Two, the service was what I would call Prayer Book Catholic – that is, fairly stiff-upper-lip, and definitely not happy clappy. There were readings from the Old and New Testaments, plus a psalm that the congregation chanted (rather badly!), and the gospel reading.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Not particularly engaging, but I've heard much worse!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon focussed on laws vs faith. Keeping the rules is no good unless we have faith as well. Abraham and Sarah believed several things that went against natural law, and perhaps their name changes (from Abram to Abraham, and Sarai to Sarah) reveal their new-found ability to laugh at life.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Apart from the psalm, the congregational singing was good, and surprisingly hearty for such a small group. At the end of the service, two young boys extinguished the candles with great solemnity, the elder one carefully prompting the younger to bow in all the right places. They were charming, and made me smile.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was the second Sunday in Lent, but we sang the Gloria!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service, my neighbour invited me to join the others on the porch outside for refreshments. I did so, and ended up talking to several people, all of whom were very friendly.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Some of the best after-church refreshements I've encountered in a long time! We had fresh lemonade and local rum cake. None of it was fairly traded (though the rum cake wins points for being local) but it was all delicious.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – The Forward in Faith leaflets on the chairs suggest that there would be at least one issue on which I would disagree fundamentally with this congregation, or at any rate with the vicar.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The service itself didn't make me particularly glad to be a Christian, as it seemed to be lacking in spirituality. However, the welcome from the congregation did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The solemn little boys who extinguished the candles.