Mystery Worshipper: Preacher's Kid
Church: St Michael & All Angels
Location: Dallas, Texas, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 23 August 2009, 11:00am
St Michael and All Angels sits in a close that includes a school and the original church which, when it was built, was deemed to be adequate for the entire congregation, but is no more. The present building dates from the early 1960s and is reminiscent to the Kid of its namesake in Coventry, although this church could easily fit in the nave of that cathedral with room to spare. The building is in the style of a hall, with no transepts. The noted and highly prolific sculptor Charles Umlauf (1911-1994) executed a starkly contemporary bas relief marble reredos of St Michael and the Angels that dominates the altar area, with the attention of the angels directed toward a gold Latin cross mounted on the marble. The marble was personally selected by Mr Umlauf and shipped from Carrara, Italy, a source of fine marble since the days of ancient Rome. John Szymk, a Dallas silversmith and artist, designed many of the sanctuary and baptistery appointments. Details of these and other noteworthy artworks are well described on the church's website.
St Michael's is a "second generation" parish in the diocese of Dallas, having been organized shortly after World War II. No one could have predicted that in the 21st century St Michael's would become the the largest Episcopal parish in the United States, with over 7,100 communicants and an average Sunday attendance of over 1,400 worshippers. On its summer schedule there are six (count 'em, six) services each Sunday, plus a eucharist and evening prayer each weekday.
St Michael's is bordered on the south by University Park and Highland Park, independent towns established prior to World War II which eventually were completely surrounded by the ever-growing Dallas. The Park cities, as they are called collectively, are probably the most expensive residential property per square foot of any in the state of Texas, and perhaps in the American Southwest. The Park cities maintain their own independent school district that accepts no state or federal money, graduating some of the most talented high schoolers anywhere. To the north lies Preston Center, the uptown commercial center.
The Revd Amy D. Meaux, associate for children, youth and family ministries, was the celebrant, and the Revd Christiana Olsen, associate for discipleship and engagement, preached. Assisting were the Revd Robert Leacock, associate for liturgy and worship; and the Revd Neal Hern, assistant for pastoral care. The altar party, including verger, adult acolytes, eucharistic ministers and clergy ,numbered two dozen.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist Rite I, but I would call it Texas Traditional
How full was the building?
Considering that it was the last Sunday of summer vacation, the service was well attended, with approximately three-quarters of the church filled. In point of fact, the church probably seats in the range of 500-600 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
They have a virtual army of ushers, and they were all ebullient in their greeting.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were quite comfortable with nice padding; however, they seemed a mite low for my taste. That made standing up and kneeling and the other "athletics" of the service a bit difficult for me, but it seemed to bother no one else.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The pre-service was quiet and prayerful, with people kneeling and praying. A few friends greeted each other with pleasantries.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The service begins on page 323 of the Book of Common Prayer."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The standard hymnal and Prayer Book.
What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, magnificently played by the church's organist and director of music, James Diaz. Opus 30 of the Schudi Organ Company of Mesquite, Texas, the organ would probably be most easily described as French in its style.
Did anything distract you?
As a semi-cradle Episcopalian, I am always annoyed by directions from the clergy to turn to a particularly page in the Prayer Book. That happened here at the beginning of the service, again at the intercessions and confession, and yet again at the beginning of the eucharistic prayer. This service was replete with people who apparently show up every Sunday, ranging from young people in their 20s to octogenarians, and I daresay they know which page they need to turn to.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a stiff as it gets in most of Texas. The music was the Willan service, but the Agnus Dei was omitted. The service was Rite I, but the prayers of the people were Form VI, usually associated with Rite II. The choir apparently were on leave. At the offertory, an unnamed baritone soloist gave a beautiful rendition of "Quia fecit mihi magna" from Bach's Magnificat.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Mrs Olsen (lady preachers are something the Kid is still trying to get used to) had a great delivery and an engaging, personal style. The sermon was conversational, with some references to personal and family experiences, and held the attention of this listener.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Mrs Olsen based her sermon on the gospel for the day (John 6:60-69 – Jesus asks if any wish not to follow him in light of his teaching, and Peter reaffirms that he will follow the Lord). She said that a distant relative of hers once went on a sientific expedition to the Congo, where she had to subsist on a diet that consisted solely of unseasoned rice. Although the relative regarded this as a starvation diet, she took it on faith that she would survive. From this Mrs Olsen turned to the significance and sanctity of the act of communion. Unleavened bread alone is insufficient to support life, but at such time as the Spirit of the Lord comes upon it, it becomes full nourishment for the soul.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Although the church is not mammoth, its design inspires a worshipful attitude that doesn't often occur in contemporary spaces. The organ music was truly outstanding, and the choir – which I have heard in the past – was sorely missed.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Those page numbers. Will they never credit us with experience?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't really look lost, I suppose. I was greeted warmly by Mrs Olsen and Mr Leacock.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was provided, but most folks did not stay for it.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – If The Kid were to move back to Dallas, St Michael and All Angels would be a top candidate for membership.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
That reredos gets me every time!