St Dunstan's, San Diego, California, USA

St Dunstan's, San Diego, California, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Mary McKillop
Church: St Dunstan's
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Date of visit: Wednesday, 14 October 2009, 6:00pm

The building

This 40 year old A-frame church was designed by the architectural firm of Mosher and Drew, known for their unique humanist/modernist style. The interior didn't strike me as particularly attractive, although there are some nice stained glass windows at the west end that must have come from an earlier building. There is a free-standing altar with tabernacle behind – I think the altar was moved forward at some point.

The church

There are two churches in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego known for their music: All Saints, the Anglo-Catholic parish near downtown that offers traditional music; and the charismatic St Dunstan's. Along with a variety of music groups, St Dunstan's also supports a number of youth programs, a chapter of Daughters of the King, a Good Samaritans group who bring the eucharist to residents of a nearby nursing home, a quilting group called Prayers and Squares, and many other activities listed on their website. Sunday afternoons at 5.00 they hold a contemporary worship service that they call TGIS ("Thank God It's Son-Day").

The neighborhood

St Dunstan's is located in a nice suburban area with spacious homes – typical of San Diego. Some large parks and lakes are nearby.

The cast

The Rt Revd James Mathes, Bishop of San Diego, presided at the eucharist and at the installation of the Revd Kevin Warner as rector. Preaching was the Revd Geoffrey Piper.

What was the name of the service?

Induction of the Revd Kevin Warner as Rector of St Dunstan's.

How full was the building?

About two-thirds full. I guessed maybe 160 present. I was surprised that most were elderly.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was given a friendly welcome and offered a service book by one of four people on duty.

Was your pew comfortable?

Average wooden pew, no cushions.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Noisy – impossible to pray.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Bishop Mathes, we come together this evening as people of this parish..." I wasn't sure if this was the official beginning for an induction service or if it was written for this occasion.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Everything was in a large booklet, including hymns, songs and readings. Most songs were included, but they were to tunes I did not know and I found them hard to sing. The organist had written the mass setting and many of the hymns.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, piano, guitars, trumpets, drums and hand bells. There were two other music groups who sang in addition to the choir.

Did anything distract you?

The music dominated the whole evening. The choir were on the left of the altar, facing the congregation, and sat when the rest of us knelt. As distracting as this was, it was worse during the eucharistic prayer. They sat facing us, completely ignoring the consecration as it took place immediately to their left!

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

We started and finished with two traditional Episcopal hymns, but everything else was a eucharist in a charismatic style, complete with clergy raising their arms in the songs. The bishop wore a lovely cope and mitre, changing to a matching chasuble at the offertory.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

20 minutes.

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

1 – This was one of the worst sermons I have ever heard! After introducing himself, Father Piper spoke at length about the close friendship between himself and the new rector, and how lucky the parish was.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Father Piper said how much he and the new rector like to go fishing, and he even produced a photo of the rector with a huge fish in his arms. He tried to link all the fishing stories with the gospel ("I will make you fishers of men") but it did not work. After 10 minutes I was bored.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Gregory Funk, St Dunstan's organist, did a great job on the recessional, the Carillon-Sortie by the 20th century French organist and composer Henri Mulet.

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

The choir facing the congregation – and the awful sermon.

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

I went over to the hall for the reception. Basically the only people who spoke to me were the ones serving the drinks. I helped myself to the food without being spoken to and was left alone.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Red and white wine – very nice.

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

1 – Not my style! Another unappealing Episcopal church.

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

Not really. It was more like a music concert with holy communion thrown in.

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

The awful sermon on fishing!

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