Mystery Worshipper: Ecclesiastical Flip-flop
Church: St James
Location: Dallas, Texas, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 November 2006, 10:00am
The original church was opened in 1956. The present church was completed in 1995, and its architectural style is Gothic. The former church is now converted into a chapel, half of which is a meeting room. The stained glass is quite striking: around the altar, there are windows depicting Saints Peter, James, Mary, Joseph, John and Paul, with the centre window depicting Jesus Christ. All the way around the nave, the stained glass shows scenes from the life of Jesus. Originally, there were three bells in the tower, but these were augmented to six for change-ringing in 2003.
It is hard to tell how far afield the worshipping members of the church community come from, but there is a full schedule of services and activities on Sunday mornings, including Sunday School at 9.00am, between the eucharists at 8.00 and 10.00am. Late morning, while refreshments are being served in the spacious church hall, hand-bell practice takes place in the church sanctuary.
The church is situated on a street corner in a smart residential area. Next door and next door but one on one side of the street corner, are two Protestant churches of different denominations. The other side of the street corner, the church is situated on a main road.
The Revd "Bubba" Dailey was the celebrant (Bubba is a nickname and I do not know her real name); the Revd Harry Dailey (her husband, also a priest) was the preacher; the Revd Phil Schneider, permanent deacon; a couple of chalice assistants vested in albs; a lady MC ostensibly robed as a verger; plus acolytes and crucifer vested in albs and matching white girdles.
What was the name of the service?The Holy Eucharist Rite II for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
How full was the building?
About 2/3 to 3/4 full. I estimate the nave is capable of holding 200 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, by one or two sidespeople briefly at the door, and also by George Powell, the tower captain, and the Revd Phil Schneider, the permanent deacon.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were boxed pews with mattresses, which were comfortable enough for me.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reasonably quiet and reverential. A fully robed verger in cassock and gown was rehearsing the young boy/girl acolytes and crucifer before the service, as if in readiness for the gospel procession in the nave. The organ began playing as the start of the service approached.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Hymnal 1982, The Book of Common Prayer, a supplementary hymnbook called Alleluia II, and an in-house service booklet, The Holy Eucharist Rite II. A leaflet was also provided giving the variable parts of the service such as the readings printed in full.
What musical instruments were played?
An electronic organ, which proved to be quite a versatile instrument. Also a solitary guitar.
Did anything distract you?
Yes, the stained glass windows. Right at the end of the service, at the start of the recessional hymn following the blessing and dismissal and before processing out, the servers and verger performed the ceremony of extinguishing the altar candles very gracefully and reverentially, in such a way that it avoided giving the impression of indecent haste.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a simple sung eucharist with bells but no smells. The candelabra on the altar consisted of two three-in-one candlesticks – as used at benediction (which did not take place). The use of incense here is apparently confined to festivals. There was a mixed robed choir wearing black cassocks and surplices, and they processed to the front of the church, made their reverence to the altar, before continuing to process to the back of the church by the organ where the choir stalls are. Notices were given out in the middle of the service between the intercessions and the peace, after which 13 former soldiers came up to the altar rail for a blessing. Next, three or four people having birthdays came to the front of the church each for a prayer of blessing, before the service proceeded with the offertory.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Revd Harry Dailey was no match for the rector, away on vacation, and whom I heard preach on another Sunday.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Mainly about the gospel reading of the day from Mark 12:38-44: "Beware of scribes... they will receive the greater condemnation." He referred to the temple merchants who had extorted people out of their money, and then to the widow in the temple who "put in two copper coins which made a penny." Jesus says: "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury... but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The reverential moment of the consecration, with the celebrant and various assisting ministers gathered round the altar, accompanied by the ringing of the sanctuary bells.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
During the sermon, especially near the beginning, the preacher made several quips prompting hearty laughter. Each time he came to the punchline, he dropped his voice so that I could not hear what his words were. I don't know whether that was just me, but my appreciation of the sermon was incomplete.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had already been introduced to the bell-ringers a few days earlier, and instead of hanging around looking lost, I joined them in making my way up to the tower to ring on the five bells (a sixth bell was out of action). At this church, they put the cart before the horse by ringing the bells after rather than before the service. The access to the ringing room was daunting and a little scary, consisting of a vertical iron rung ladder of 20-plus steps against the sacristy wall below. At least three out of four limbs had to be in contact with the ladder at all times, and ladies were advised not to wear skirts. Great care had to be taken so as not to miss one's footing, and it was 20 feet up to the trapdoor into the ringing room. The service was not over until 11.20am, and the bell-ringing proceeded for some 10 minutes after that.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee (in disposable cups) with ringed donuts and a slice of iced cake – very nice, too! During this time, I had an interesting conversation with the permanent deacon, amongst other things telling me about his vacation in England earlier in the year.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – passable. For one thing, it is the only church in the Dallas area with bells hung for change-ringing. But given a free choice, I would go further up the liturgical candle.
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 scary access and difficult climb up the ladder to reach the ringing room.