St Paul's, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

St Paul’s, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Paul’s, Milwaukee
Location: Wisconsin, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 June 2010, 10:15am

The building

This neo-Romanesque structure of red Lake Superior sandstone was the work of Edward Townsend Mix, an architect of the American Gilded Age (the period of rapid economic growth following the Civil War) who designed the Kansas State Capitol and whose neo-gothic National Soldiers Home still lords it over the Milwaukee landscape. The exterior features arches and battlemented parapets reminiscent of castles. St Paul's holds the largest collection of Tiffany windows in Wisconsin and the largest window ever made by the Tiffany studios. The building was damaged by fire in 1950, and some of the windows were lost.

The church

St Paul's reaches out to the community through a number of activities and groups. These include Episcopal Energy, which encourages fellowship among the parishioners; a youth ministry; a men's group; family teams; and a thrift shop, just to name a few.

The neighborhood

The church sits in the heart of Juneautown, named after Solomon Juneau, one of Milwaukee's founding fathers. Once home to the city's rich and fashionable, Juneautown is still a desirable place to live. It is largely an area of hotels, larger churches and older homes built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Easy access to Lake Michigan's waterfront, along with nature trails and summer festivals, make it a trendy place for younger people who want to live and work in the city.

The cast

Worship leader and preacher was the Revd C. Steven Teague, rector. Timothy J. Benson, music ministry director, presided at the organ (and did so very well). But alas, the choir were on summer recess.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Holy Eucharist

How full was the building?

About one-third full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A man gave me a bulletin and said "Good morning."

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews are cushioned, as are the kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Reverent. Many of the members who knew one another greeted each other.

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?

Prayer Book 1979, Hymnal 1982, Lift Every Voice and Sing.

What musical instruments were played?

A very magnificent five manual organ. The instrument is said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman who lived next door to the church and used to bang on pots and pans to drown out the choir. Her spirit is said to sneak into the locked and darkened church at midnight to coax unearthly, yet sweet, sounds out of the old pipes, leaving sweaty palm prints on the keys.

Did anything distract you?

Perhaps only the fact that it was Fathers Day and this was never mentioned. Liturgical purists may find it in conflict with the lectionary readings, but it would seem that a parish interested in reaching out to its membership and the community at large would embrace the day and the importance of fatherhood, given the needs on that subject in communities.

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

Episcopal worship is formal, although sometimes the atmosphere can be lively. This setting was a bit stiff: proper processionals by folks in starched white albs and surplices, lots of bowing and crossing, etc. But the congregation had a chance to meet and greet these "real" people at the end of the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

7 – The rector is a good communicator and knows that the gospel needs to predominate in his preaching.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

We don't like to hear about people who are possessed by demons. But don't we all have some besetting preoccupations, desires or influences that need to be challenged or relieved? Jesus is in the business of doing this for us today. We may well be in the business of doing it for each other.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The organ is a powerful and beautiful instrument. There are two divisions: a chancel organ and a marvelous antiphonal organ at the back of the church. Being a visual person, I was stunned by the opalescent quality in the Tiffany windows, one of the unique contributions of Tiffany to stained glass artistry.

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

I find the practice of naming everybody's friend and relative by first name in the petitions somewhat tedious, but that's just me. The passing of the peace seemed to be a general friendship ritual in which the whole membership greeted one another. Better to reserve that for the initial greeting; the sharing of the peace has a more ancient meaning of renewal and affirmation. Perhaps this should be occasionally re-explored. Finally, am I the only one who finds the various eucharistic prayers in the Prayer Book a bit rambling?

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

It was my understanding that parishioners are encouraged to visit with new members in the well-landscaped garth during the coffee hour. And so I went out to express my lostness there, but the regulars appeared to have some difficulty recognizing this as a time to welcome the stranger.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee was available. Some not-very-appealing store-bought cookies were especially popular with the children.

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

8 – The service was positive and upbeat and encouraged me to think of this place as a legitimate house of Christian worship.

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 wonderful architecture and stained glass. There are many American churches that boast fine Tiffany windows, but none like this!

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