|651: St Peter's, Morristown, New Jersey, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Sumtil.
The church: St Peter's, Morristown, New Jersey, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church, USA.
The building: A 20th century stone building in Norman style with a flat ceiling which reminds one of Peterborough Cathedral. Light brown stone walls relieve the intensity of the granite. There is an attractive chapel to the right which contains a beautiful stone pulpit mounted in the wall. The nave is long, not too wide, and fairly high. A metal rood screen with sliding gates surrounds the quire. On the grounds are the parish hall, rectory and a cemetery containing a memorial garden.
The church: The parish is intergenerational and made up of people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. It is a large parish with a long history of community service. The choir of boys and men is one of the oldest in the state and is now augmented by a choir of girls and one of men and women. Musical excellence has been an hallmark of this parish.
The neighbourhood: St Peter's is located just outside the main shopping area of Morristown. The town has gone to great lengths to preserve the architectural characteristics of many of the original buildings. The church is on a busy street, but inside it has a serene atmosphere.
The cast: The Rev. Zachary W.M. Fleetwood, Rector, Celebrant; The Rev. Richard R. Swanson, Associate for Youth and Family Ministry, Preacher; Bruce E. Meswick, Canon for Music, St. Philip's Cathedral, Atlanta, Georgia, Conductor; Anthony Pinel, Visiting Organist and Choirmaster; numerous acolytes, lay eucharistic ministers, and the Verger. Nearly 60 girl choristers, who were attending the Choir Festival, walked in procession and filled the quire almost to overflowing.
What was the name of the service?
Festal eucharist. This was the closing of the three-day "Three Choirs Festival," in which the choirs of girls from St Peter's, Christ Church, Greenwich, Connecticut, and Trinity Church, Princeton, New Jersey were singing.
How full was the building?
Mostly full. One suspects that many were family and friends of the choristers from the two other parishes.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A warm handshake as the usher handed me the order of service accompanied by a vocal "welcome to St Peter's."
Was your pew comfortable?
Not terribly. The seat and back met at an angle which were not the easiest on the back. The ends of the pews were too high and too uncomfortable to use as arm rests.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Talk, talk, talk! The talking of the adults and the clambering around of the children made it almost impossible to hear the organ voluntary. It was, quite frankly, disturbing, and did nothing to help one gather thoughts and prepare for worship.
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?
Book of Common Prayer 1979, The Hymnal 1982. Bibles were available in the pews, and the Order of Service contained all the propers of the days well as everything one needed for the service.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The constant talk during any available moment, between lessons, during the singing of the choir, during the organ voluntaries. Also the constant clambering about by children sitting nearby. We have worshipped in churches in less affluent neighborhoods where there was more attention paid to God than to the neighbor.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was typical of an American parish church. Entitled "festal eucharist", there was nothing especially festal (liturgical procession, incense, bells, etc.) to set this eucharist apart from the usual Sunday liturgy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Although the preacher read from a prepared text, he made good eye contact with the congregation. One was somewhat surprised to note that he was vested in choir habit rather unusual these days.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His asking the listeners to "engage with God and others." He used as his example illustrations from the Gospel reading about the talents. He also included well thought out passages from the two lessons to emphasize his points.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Enjoying the beauty of the building, the singing of the girls and the thoughtfulness of a neighboring worshipper who sent a lozenge when I coughed!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The casual approach which the acolytes and torch bearers brought to their tasks, and that dreadful custom of singing a verse of the hymn, "From all that dwell below the skies" as a doxology, which it is not.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance of that. During the announcements, the rector invited all to coffee hour, and after attempting to listen to the organ voluntary, parishioners again welcomed me and invited me to coffee hour.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Two hostesses greeted us at the entrance to the great hall, supplied us with name tags, and made us welcome. There were all kind of goodies, cheese, bagels, sweets, juice, coffee, and tea. One certainly did not need lunch after that.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 It simply is too far from home, such that it would be very difficult to participate in week day or evening activities
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 constant talk.