St Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood, California, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Thomas the Apostle
Location: Hollywood, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 May 2019, 10:30am

The building

This is a Gothic Revival structure built in 1930. The interior is ornately fashioned like many Anglo-Catholic churches, with a Lady chapel, a generous number of holy water stoups, a beautiful shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham, votive candles, an elaborate tabernacle for the reserved Sacrament, a monstrance, and stations of the cross.

The church

St Thomas is the only Anglo-Catholic parish in all of Los Angeles. One member reported that some members drive as far as 30 miles to attend mass here. According to their website, the church offers several low masses through the week, along with daily morning and evening prayer and compline. Confessions are heard on Tuesday evening. The church is affirming and inclusive of LGBTQ individuals in the neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods.

The neighborhood

A neighborhood of Los Angeles, Hollywood is of course home to the U.S. film industry; its name is synonymous with the industry itself. In 2002 a ballot initiative declaring Hollywood an independent city failed by a wide margin. As the 20th century waned, the old film studio buildings, Art Deco apartment buildings and other landmarks had gone somewhat to seed, but revitalization and gentrification have set in. The church is located on Hollywood Boulevard and is surrounded by apartment and condominium buildings, along with some single family houses.

The cast

The priest who was serving in place of the rector, who was on sick leave, preached the homily and was the celebrant at the altar. There were at least two subdeacons serving, one of which read the second reading. There were several servers at the altar, a thurifer, and a lay reader. The vestry warden gave the announcements before the mass began. There was a full choir in the chancel.

What was the name of the service?

Solemn High Mass.

How full was the building?

The nave was three-quarters filled. Its likely comfortable capacity is 150 people and there were an estimated 110 people seated there. Combined with the choir and servers, there were likely about 140 people present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The people were warm in passing the peace. However, no one in the nave or narthex area asked me for my name or introduced themselves. The priest filling in for the rector, along with the greeters, offered a perfunctory "hello." The priest invited visitors to stand just before the peace and a gift bag was offered to two visitors while the congregation applauded. I didn't stand, as I wanted to remain anonymous.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was a conventional wooden church pew and thus relatively comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Worshippers were quiet and reverential. Many stopped at the baptismal font or holy water stoups upon entering the church. Almost everyone either genuflected or bowed toward the tabernacle before entering the pew. Worshippers knelt in silent prayer after entering the pews.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Following the opening hymn and the Asperges, the celebrant said: ‘Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A member at coffee hour reported that the church uses the English Missal. Hymns and the entire printed text were in the worship bulletin. The racks contained the Hymnal 1982, the New English Hymnal, and the Book of Common Prayer 1979.

What musical instruments were played?

The church has a beautiful organ and this was the only instrument used.

Did anything distract you?

The indoor temperature was rather cool and felt like it was 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

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

The worship was traditional Anglo-Catholic with the Asperges, incense, and Sanctus bells. Many worshippers solemnly bowed as the processional cross and gospel book passed, and some solemnly bowed at the words of incarnation in the Nicene Creed, along with the Sanctus. However, the worshippers were not stiff and they were genuinely warm in the passing of the peace. Genuflecting and crossing were commonplace.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

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

8 — The priest was engaging in his sermon and he adhered to the text taken from Acts 9: 1-20 (Saul’s conversion). He struck me as a very accomplished preacher, and I appreciated that his sermon was biblical.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was about the conversion of St Paul. The preacher elaborated on how Paul was temporarily blind and healed by faith. Also, he illustrated that the Christian Church grew through the evangelism of St Paul.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

When the bread and wine were each elevated in the eucharistic prayer and the Sanctus bells were rung.

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

When visitors were asked to stand while a gift bag was given to them and the congregation applauded. This personally felt awkward for an Anglo-Catholic mass.

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

I was disappointed that no one introduced themselves to me, and the greeters were not engaging with me. I had to say hello to one of the greeters before he would acknowledge me. The other greeters just seemed stiff and disconnected.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was an elaborate assortment of pastries, biscuits, and tea sandwiches, along with juice, coffee, and tea. No one approached me to welcome me or introduce themselves, although I observed that people were friendly with the people they knew. I had to be the first to say hello to people I walked past. After I did so, three people introduced themselves at my table and engaged me in conversation. But I did not feel completely welcomed.

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

7 — Aside from the tepid welcome, I would like to visit from time to time because the solemn high mass resonated with me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, indeed. I felt I had truly participated in worship with all of my senses.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

I will remember the Sanctus bells at the elevation of the host and cup.

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