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216: Church of the Advent of Christ the King, San Francisco, California
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Church of the Advent of Christ the King, San Francisco
Mystery Worshipper: EpiscoKid.
The church: Church of the Advent of Christ the King, San Francisco, California.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Typical California architecture – vaguely Spanish in style, painted in stucco-beige with Mexican-looking slate roof shingles. A very pretty, smallish garden stands directly next to the church building. The interior is dominated by a large, very lifelike crucifix above the altar.
The neighbourhood: The church is in the civic center area, so it is close to many office buildings as well as the symphony, main library and a number of chic restaurants and shops. It is also residential, with apartment buildings on both sides of the street. There is a notable amount of homeless people in this part of town. It doesn't feel unsafe, just lively.
The cast: Father Raymond Harbort, interim rector.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Mass.

How full was the building?
About three-quarters full. Not bad for summer. The church probably seats 100 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were greeters outside who welcomed me and engaged in brief chitchat. For first-time visitors they have a brochure that describes the church, its history and ministries. When I went inside, an usher smiled and handed me a bulletin and mass book.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not too bad for a wooden pew. The kneelers have minimal padding, but they weren't uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The most reverential I have ever seen. You could hear a pin drop in there. People were kneeling in prayer, sitting quietly or reading. I spotted several people saying the rosary, and another using St Augustine's Prayerbook.

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?
The Book of Common Prayer (Rite II), the 1980 hymnal, and a booklet with the music for the mass setting being used: Robert Powell, I think.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Not really. It was very quiet and pleasant, and when the service started everyone paid close attention. There was a small baby squeal at one point, but it was not intrusive.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Anglo-Catholic at its spikiest, with a bit of tridentine for good measure. There was a full altar party, incense galore, holy water, the works. However, it wasn't at all stiff and cold. The congregation sang the responses and hymns with great gusto and clearly appreciates this type of setting. The choir was magnificent! The mix of Gregorian and Anglican chant, sung propers and antiphons was simply amazing. It is the best church choir I have heard in the Bay Area.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – it was obvious that Fr. Harbort puts a lot of himself into his sermons. His message was clear and direct, with a very effective delivery. At one point he paused for a moment, and it was clear he was struggling with emotions.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Never be afraid to ask God for anything, for nothing is too large or too small to trouble him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The great billows of incense, the heavenly choir, and most especially, the reverential atmosphere before the mass began. Such prayerful silence is too rare these days.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing at all.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the Church of the Advent, almost everyone sits through the postlude, then files out the door. There is literally a receiving line: the celebrant and deacon, senior warden and the greeters all hug, say hello, clap each other on the back, and seemed genuinely glad to see me. There is no way to avoid it, but it was very welcoming. One of the greeters ambled with me into the garden where coffee was being served.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good coffee with half n' half, bottled water and tea. Cookies, cake, fresh fruit, and very California: guacamole dip with corn chips.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – I'm giving some serious thought to joining this parish.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely! The formal worship with such a friendly congregation was a delightful mix. One thing that really stood out was the fact that several homeless people attended the mass in their dirty clothing and smelled a little, but they seemed genuinely welcomed, and came to coffee hour and had conversation like everyone else. The Oxford Movement lives on!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
A poorly-dressed homeless man who had trouble walking was helped to the communion rail by an usher, and was given a priestly blessing by the celebrant after he was given communion. The woman kneeling next to this man drank from the same chalice unflinchingly. I don't know if I could have done the same.
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