St Mary’s, Anchorage, Alaska, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary’s
Location: Anchorage, Alaska, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 March 2020, 10:00am

The building

Their first service was held in 1954 in a garage in back of a private home. Shortly afterward, a parishioner couple donated a corner of their property for a rude building that served for three years while a permanent church was being built. That church, dedicated in 1958, was expanded over the years and now sits on a campus of church, chapel, offices, classrooms and meeting rooms. But alas, due to the present state of affairs, services are being held exclusively on-line via Zoom. Everyone participating in today’s service, including the clergy, did so from their individual homes. Miss Amanda attended from the comfort of her apartment in Peoria, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.

The church

Their numerous groups and outreaches are well described on their website – most of them paused at the present time. Their Sunday service is conducted on-line, with a bulletin available for download. The bulletin, in PDF format, contains a link that one may click on to access the service via Zoom.

The neighborhood

Anchorage, Alaska’s most populous city, is located in the southern part of the state at the terminus of the Cook Inlet. It is a modern city, surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful scenery. Miss Amanda has not been to Anchorage for many years, but judging by Google Maps, the church is located in a residential neighborhood including parkland and commercial enclaves as well as private homes and apartments. There seems to be a rather busy strip mall directly across the street featuring fast food eateries, medical offices, and services such as insurance agencies.

The cast

The rector celebrated the eucharist and preached. The two associate rectors led various parts of the service.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?

When I joined the Zoom session, there were 14 of us on-line. By the time the gospel was read, the count had reached the high point of 100.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Not under the circumstances. I was half-expecting that some personal word of welcome would be extended to each of us as we joined the session, but this did not happen.

Was your pew comfortable?

My computer chair served me well.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Miscellaneous mic tests and camera checks. The keyboardist played some tinkly bits and then launched into a medley of old standby hymns. His style was upbeat and jazzy.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning, everyone, and welcome to this place this morning.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The downloaded bulletin was very complete, with prayers, readings and responses.

What musical instruments were played?

Digital keyboard, played by a young gentleman.

Did anything distract you?

There were some technical glitches as various participants accidentally muted others or stole the screen focus with their cameras, but these were momentary. More objectionable were miscellaneous chat messages that some people were exchanging with each other, perhaps unaware that we could all see them.

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

A rather informal Rite 2 eucharist, more or less following the Prayer Book. There were no hymns despite the services of the keyboardist. We did our best to give the responses when called for, but as most people had their microphones muted, we could not always hear all of us. The celebrant was the only one who communed, as all of the participants and attendees were in their own respective homes.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

25 minutes.

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

7 — The rector spoke clearly and with expression, referring to notes in front of him. I thought he droned on a bit too long, however, and probably could have chopped about 10 minutes or so off his sermon without losing any of the meaning.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He began with a story about a recent mission trip of teenagers to Africa, where the participants found themselves in a room whose door they couldn’t open – something was apparently wrong with the lock. Suddenly a huge, hairy spider was seen crawling down one of the walls, and the teenagers all began to scream – all, that is, except one, who exclaimed, ‘Wow! We’re having an adventure!’ We are having an adventure now, but an adventure of danger and fear. Adventure can lead to courage, though, even though the danger is real. We’re learning what we must do – and we must learn quickly! It’s a terrifying feeling. We’d much rather feel safe and secure, not vulnerable. But facing vulnerability can strengthen us and bring us closer together despite physical separation. We can find strength in our faith, which gives us the courage to love and care for one another in the face of danger. The power to overcome is within us. We can’t do everything, but we can do whatever we can.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

During the exchange of peace, we were invited to turn our cameras on if we hadn’t already done so, so that we could all see each other. We were also encouraged to enter the chat room to exchange individual greetings and wishes for peace. Many did so. That was heavenly.

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

Only that the whole world is being held prisoner by this half living creature, half inanimate object, invisible plague.

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

People were invited to enter the chat room to exchange announcements, news, requests, etc. From my point of view, things sort of deteriorated into a party that had meaning only for the locals, and so I left the Zoom session at this point.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I made lunch for myself – a toasted cheese sandwich.

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

5 — I really have nothing negative to say about the experience, but neither do I see anything that would draw me back. If I lived in Anchorage (which I wouldn’t – too cold, too dark, too isolated) I might consider making St Mary’s my home parish.

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 exchange of peace.

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