Sunday, December 6, I revisited St. Mary’s Episcopal Church for the 11:30 a.m. service for 2nd Advent Sunday. My initial visit last year revealed both positives and negatives (click here to read previous visit review). During this visit I saw improvement in some of the areas I commented, most notably the greeting. When churches fail to warmly welcome each visitor and member, they tragically miss an important opportunity in their mission to share the “Good News”.
Sadly, the noise levels in this beatifully sited church before and during the service were high enough to mar my visit experience by blocking my ability to hear the music and officiants clearly. The sermon, well-delivered by the associate rector, did not produce a personal connection for me. The music for this service, the third of four Sunday services, was wonderfully delivered in folk style by a praise group of singers and instrumentalists. I highly commend this group for their dedication with well-written, beautifully performed, and appropriate selections.
[img_assist|nid=145931|title=St. Mary’s Episcopal – Praise Group|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=213]
It Starts With the Welcome
The greeter at the door was friendly, holding the door open for all. I commented on her warm greeting and she responded it was her “job”. Would that she was multiplied by dozens and sprinkled around Anchorage. She was not doing a “job”, but personally ministering to all comers. Thank you Ms. greeter!
This warm greeting was immediately tempered by the sole bulletin passer, so preoccupied with a personal conversation with a parishioner, it was difficult catching her eye to receive one. However, the voluminous bulletin proved to be a poor guide to my worship experience, as officiants names were omitted, leaving me totally unaware of the names of participants in the service.
Service Quite Noisy
At the start of the service it was virtually impossible to clearly hear the proceedings due to the unwillingness of worshippers to stop talking, and noise from the lobby. Closing the doors to the lobby could have diminished some of this noise, but the person calling for The Gathering (calling to worship) was extremely hard to hear. During the service, adults and children talked off and on making it difficult to clearly hear the proceedings. I have no problem with children being with their parents in any service, but also feel it offers parents a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate and train reverence in children. Children and adults were clearly observed talking loudly, unimpeded, at various times throughout the service.
The musical director of the 11:30 service, Wade Hampton Miller, has assembled a talented and dedicated group of instrumentalists and singers. Clearly they add much to this service, despite the noise levels. I particularly enjoyed the processional Walking to Jerusalem and a piece Miller created for Advent 2009, Come, Oh Come, Oh Chosen One. The music, in a folk vein, clearly was done with sensitivity and simplicity. I considered it to be a strong point of the service.
The Rest of the Service
The only evident sign of Advent was the Advent candle holder and wreath in the front. Lighting of the Advent candles was clearly an important facet of the service. The sermon was delivered by whom I later discovered to be the Associate Rector, the Reverend Doctor Ted Cole, Jr. (whew!). While a good talk and well-delivered, I felt a personal lack of connection to the speaker and topic.
The Eucharist, known here as The Great Thanksgiving, was preceeded by the Rector noting it was open to all! This is a rare statement in Anchorage church visits and I applaud St. Mary’s openness and sincerity.
After the service, the musical leader noted they did not do Christmas songs during the service prior to the celebration of the Advent, but because it was after the service, they would perform some. I greatly enjoyed their musical offerings and commend visiting this church just to experience this gutsy, polished group.
I left St. Mary’s with mixed feelings but realize every church community adopts various forms of expression. I did introduce myself to the Associate Rector on the way out, but not the Rector as he was preoccupied with others as I left.[img_assist|nid=145932|title=St. Mary’s Episcopal – The Great Thanksgiving (Eucharist)|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=126]