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989: All Saints, Ashmont, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
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All Saints, Ashmont, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Liturgist.
The church: All Saints, Ashmont, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: All Saints is an early design of Ralph Adams Cram, the noted late 19th and early 20th century architect whose works include parts of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the Cathedral of St John the Divine. It is a late 19th century version of English perpendicular. The exterior is marked by a large square tower at the west end, with the base of the tower forming the narthex. As you enter the church you pass under the newly installed organ. The eye is immediately drawn to the carved, painted, and partly gilded rood over the choir entrance and an elaborately carved stone reredos at the east end.
The church: All Saints was founded in the 1880s as a mission to the working class English residents of Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston, who had become accustomed to Anglo-Catholic worship. A wealthy Unitarian family known as the Peabodys attended one Sunday when a heavy snowstorm interrupted their ride to Kings Chapel and their driver invited them to "his" church. They were so taken by it that they never returned to Kings and instead became members and patrons of All Saints, providing most of the funding for the present building. The current congregation is still a mixture of working class and wealthier members, including, now, a number of West Indian worshippers.
The neighborhood: Ashmont is a neighborhood of Boston that features characteristic old Boston three-decker apartment buildings. Physically it has changed little over the years, but demographically it has become more Black than Caucasian. I suspect that many of All Saints' congregation still come from the immediate area.
The cast: The Rev. Michael J. Godderz, rector, was the celebrant and preacher, assisted by the Rev. Franklin E. Huntress Jr. as deacon, and several lay assistants.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Mass.

How full was the building?
Nearly half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
My wife and I attended together, and since I was in clericals we entered separately to see if we would be treated differently. We each got the same polite "Good morning" and were each handed a service bulletin.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were spacious and well designed but not cushioned. The kneelers were padded but a little low. On the whole they were comfortable but not luxurious.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential. The organist offered a prelude that was well played.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The opening words were taken from the beloved Charles Wesley hymn, Christ, whose glory fills the skies.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Episcopal Hymnal (1940 edition) and the Anglican Service Book (a variant of the Book of Common Prayer entirely in traditional language). The Scripture readings for the day were provided on an insert in the bulletin.

What musical instruments were played?
Only the organ was used. It is a magnificent instrument, recently rebuilt, and was played very effectively.

Did anything distract you?
There were several minor distractions: Two of the altar candles were not quite vertical. The celebrant's stole hung several inches farther down on one side than the other (obvious even under the chasuble). There were also some misplaced inflections in the chanting of the collect and Gospel that most people would not have noticed. But none of these was sufficient to spoil the effectiveness of the worship.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was formal, traditional Anglo-Catholic. Certainly not happy clappy, but neither stiff nor rigid.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The delivery and presentation were very good. The only problem was that Father seemed to have prepared about a sermon and a half.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Godderz spoke of religious responses to the recent tsunamis and other disasters, and suggested that the response should not be, "Why would God do that?" but rather a recognition that God is present with us in the midst of these disasters by virtue of the Cross.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was superb throughout, and the air of reverence made for a heavenly experience. The high point was walking through the choir to receive communion while they were singing the Agnus Dei.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Father made his announcements between the end of the Gospel reading and the beginning of the sermon. For me, at least, that broke the flow of the service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The clergy made a point of inviting us up to the hall for coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good hot coffee, tea, fruit juice, fruits, veggies with dips, and bagels with various spreads all made for a pleasant repast. Everything was served on paper plates and cups (but good sturdy ones).

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – All Saints is just too far away, but it is certainly a place to attend when in the Boston area. My one critique is that as much as I appreciate hearing a fine choir sing a somewhat demanding setting, I also appreciate a larger musical role for the congregation. On the other hand, what the people did sing was sung well.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The experience of walking through the choir during the Agnus Dei will certainly stick in my mind.
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