Mystery Worshipper: Wandering Verger
Church: St Hilary's
Location: Fort Myers, Florida, USA
Date of visit: Tuesday, 12 August 2008, 8:00am
Very modern in a round, red brick sort of way. Lots of colored glass in blocks forming parts of the walls and very tall narrow windows. Rather lovely actually.
It seemed a tight knit bunch, mostly, if not all, retirees. They sponsor all the usual parish associations as enumerated on their website.
Fort Myers is in southwest Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. The city is famous for its beaches and nearby islands. Seafood fanciers relish the pink shrimp, said to be the sweetest tasting of all shrimp varieties, that are harvested locally. The inventor Thomas Edison and automobile pioneer Henry Ford both maintained winter estates in Fort Myers that are open to the public. The church is on a main road near the edge of the city line in a nice, well kept residential area a few blocks off the coast.
The celebrant and preacher was a retired priest from Massachusetts, the Revd J. Michael Povey. He told us that the rector would be back the next Sunday.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist Rite I.
How full was the building?
The church, which probably seats about 200, was a quarter to a third full – but it was the early service on a beautiful summer Sunday.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I received a nod and a smile from an usher who handed me a bulletin as I came through the door. But she went right back to her conversation. No one else spoke to me, but the room was pretty empty and there wasn't anyone near me as I sat down.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard western church pew. There were cushioned pews on the sides and at the back under the choir gallery, but I didn't noticed them until after I had sat down.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Before the service you could have heard a pin drop. There was no music at this service, and I don't believe anyone said a word once they came into the church from the narthex. I may never complain about the pre-service volume again as this was almost funereal and eerie.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Rite I begins on page 323 of the Book of Common Prayer."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
No. There were no children, no talking. Late arrivals sat in the back. Once during the eucharist I heard someone come in – it was the organist heading up to the gallery.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Rite I does tend to be stiff-upper-lip, but it seemed relaxed. I got the impression that the celebrant wasn't used to saying it, as he sometimes slipped into Rite II and the congregation followed along.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Povey was quite jovial and had a good delivery. His sermon was well thought out, with the appropriate mix of humor, analogy and seriousness. It required no great leap of faith to follow. Someone who knew nothing of Christianity would probably find it to be logical and believable.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on the gospel (Matthew 14:22-33, the account of Jesus walking on water and Peter almost succeeding at doing so). The preacher spoke of the everyday miracles we experience when we take on things in our lives, the doubts that try to overcome us, and the miracles we create when we succeed. Follow Jesus and find the miracles in life.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The quiet meditative atmosphere at the distribution of the eucharist (as opposed to the eerie quiet before the service).
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The one song, led valiantly by the preacher at the end of the sermon ("I have decided to follow Jesus"), sung a cappella in several different keys simultaneously with the sort of enthusiasm usually reserved for taking out the trash or going to the tax man.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service, I stood near the back to see if the organist (who'd arrived earlier) would practice the prelude so I could hear the instrument. She did, and it is a fine pipe organ, which she played well. During this time, about a third of the people there walked past me on the way to the door and not one spoke or acknowledged my presence. The only person to speak to me was the priest, as I was the last person out the door. He was quite pleasant.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no mention of coffee or anything else. By the time I got to the door all but a few people were gone.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – The service itself was quite nice, the sermon good, and the supply priest likable. I did find a certain nostalgic comfort in the old (by New World standards) words of Rite I and it was better done than a lot of services I've attended where it was dragged out. However, the lack of friendliness left me wishing I'd stayed at the hotel and had breakfast with the dozen or so family members staying there. I'm probably being unfair and should attend the 10.00 Rite II and listen to the rector preach before I say I'd never go back. But I don't think Ill bother when next I'm in town.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No joy on the drive back. I actually found myself looking for a church service on the radio. And it absolutely poured down with rain to complete the experience.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The interesting glass in block walls and windows.