Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: St Gabriel's
Location: Monterey Park, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 July 2012, 10:00am
A very interesting modern take in stone on an old-fashioned country church, dominated by pointed arches. The inside is simple yet elegant, with the altar framed by a pointed arch. The organ case stands behind the altar, and a large Byzantine crucifix hangs above. To the left is a baby grand piano. Wooden beams support the steeply pitched ceiling.
I was not able to learn anything about their programs, except that they have a Sunday school and celebrate the eucharist in Mandarin, Cantonese and English.
Monterey Park, about 10 miles east of Los Angeles, is a pleasant city with a predominantly Asian-American population. In the 1920s, Asian immigrants were attracted to the potato and commercial flower farms that dotted the area. But beginning in the 1970s, as second generation Asian-Americans longed to escape the confines of Chinatown, the city began to attract more well-to-do residents and upscale businesses, and is known today by some as "the Chinese Beverly Hills." The church is at the top of a hill on a very hilly residential street. Speaking of potatoes, in 1926 a local merchant by the name of Laura Scudder noted how quickly potato chips went stale in the open barrels out of which they were sold. And so she fashioned airtight bags out of wax paper to preserve the chips' freshness. From those sealed bags was sparked a worldwide potato chip industry. Over the years, a variety of foods sold under the Laura Scudder brand have become famous for their freshness and quality.
The Revd Peter Lo, rector.
What was the name of the service?Holy Communion (English).
How full was the building?
There were four people present: a middle-aged couple, an elderly lady, and myself.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived at 9.55am to find the Cantonese service still in progress. An elderly Chinese gentleman standing outside told me that the English service was primarily for the benefit of the Sunday school children, but since they were away this weekend on an outing, he wasn't sure that there would be an English service. He also told me that he was a retired schoolteacher from Hong Kong, and that the congregation was made up of people from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. He said that the people from the mainland "don't know Jesus, but they want to learn."
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes - standard wooden pew with kneeler.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
When the Cantonese service finally let out, the priest recessed up the aisle behind the processional cross, and was surprised to see me standing at the back. He greeted me warmly and said that he hadn't planned on celebrating an English eucharist today, but that he would do so for my benefit. When I protested, he said that there would be others present also. Just then the middle-aged couple and the elderly lady mentioned above came walking up, introduced themselves, and welcomed me. We all went inside and settled in our pews.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"OK. We begin with a moment of silence."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A home-made paperback entitled St Gabriel's Episcopal Church Holy Communion, which was obviously intended for children. Hymns of Universal Praise, containing traditional hymns in Chinese and English, was in the pews, but we didn't use it.
What musical instruments were played?
None. Father Lo had explained that there wouldn't be any music at the English service, but I had noticed that a woman was playing the piano at the Cantonese service.
Did anything distract you?
I felt a little (well, quite, actually) self-conscious inasmuch as the English eucharist was being celebrated especially because I happened to be there. Father Lo mentioned me by name during the prayers of the people, and gave me a special blessing at communion after ministering the host to me.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A standard Rite II eucharist, with some concessions made to the fact that it was usually a children's eucharist. There was no Gloria even though the liturgical color was green, and we said the Apostles' Creed in lieu of the Nicene Creed. No bells or incense, but Father Lo was vested in chasuble. We sang the Sanctus and Lord's Prayer unaccompanied, although there was no other music. At communion, everyone partook of the chalice via intinction.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – I'm going all the way with my rating. I'm sure Father Lo hadn't planned on preaching in English, but he did so admirably - albeit with a very strong Chinese accent.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Our witness to Christ is a journey that is difficult for three reasons. We often feel self-conscious about witnessing in public, that we are inadequately prepared. We are afraid that we will be scoffed at and rejected. We also feel unworthy. But there is no right time when we are more ready than at other times we should just do it! People rejected Christ when he preached to them during his ministry on earth we should not worry about being rejected. And our faith makes us worthy. God's grace is richer than our weaknesses. Jesus has prepared us to be good citizens of his country.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Knowing that the eucharist was being celebrated because I happened to be there.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Under the circumstances, there was no way that I could have left my Mystery Worshipper calling card behind.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The middle-aged man shook my hand, wished me a safe trip home, and said he hoped I'd be back again.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. I understand that lunch is served after the last service of the day, the Mandarin service, but I couldnt stay for that. I'll bet it was a delicious lunch, though!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – Again, I'm going all the way on this one. What a delightful little church! If I lived in Monterey Park, I'd be honored to make it my spiritual home.
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 attention shown me and special blessing given me.