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||1329: Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, California, USA
Mystery Worshipper: The Reverend Doctor B.
The church: Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, California, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Grace Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral west
of the Mississippi River. Sitting atop San Francisco's Nob Hill, it is a
monument to faith in one of the most secular cities in the United States.
It is a stunningly beautiful neo-Gothic church, notable for spectacular
stained glass (including one window featuring Albert Einstein), as well
as its famous labyrinths both inside and outside.
The church: Grace Cathedral is both the seat of the Bishop of California
and the home of a large worshipping congregation. It is well known for its
inclusiveness (all are welcome at the table, not only the baptized) and
fine preaching as well as a first-rate music program.
The neighborhood: Grace is surrounded by affluence. Some of the apartments
nearby rent for more than $3000 per month; a block away is the Mark Hopkins
Hotel where it is probably impossible to get a room for less than $250 per
night. Across the street is the exclusive Union Club. But just down the
hill is San Francisco's Chinatown and not far away are the strip clubs of
The cast: The presider for the first part of the service was the
Rt Rev. Henry Bainbridge, Bishop of Idaho and president of Province 8, representing
the Most Rev. Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
The presider for the remainder of the service was the Rt Rev. Marc Handley
Andrus, Bishop Suffragan of Alabama, who was being instituted as the eighth
Bishop of California. There were at least 16 other bishops, including the
Rt Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop-Elect, and the preacher,
the Rt Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, as well as numerous
deacons, priests, and lay persons assisting in the service.
The date & time: Saturday, July 22, 2006 (the feast of St Mary Magdalene),
What was the name of the service?
The Recognition and Investiture of the Rt Rev. Marc Handley Andrus as the
Eighth Bishop of California.
How full was the building?
The building was almost completely full; an estimated 3,000 people were in
Did anyone welcome you personally?
It was much too crowded to expect a personal greeting. An usher gave me
a copy of the service book (much too large to be called a leaflet).
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was comfortable, but San Francisco was in the midst of a heat wave
and it was uncomfortably warm in the cathedral.
How would you describe the pre-service
The pre-service atmosphere was noisy, festive, and full of excitement.
What were the exact opening words of the
"There is one body and one Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the
The only book we needed was the service book, which contained the entire
text of the service, including hymns, in both English and Spanish.
What musical instruments were played?
The instruments included organ, brass, lots of drums, and perhaps a synthesizer.
Did anything distract you?
The only thing distracting was the heat.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was worship that could only take place in San Francisco. The liturgical
party was led up the aisle by Chinese dragon dancers. The lessons were read
in English, Mandarin, and Spanish. Liturgical dancers danced out the story
of Mary Magdalene encountering the risen Christ. The liturgical leaders
represented every aspect of the Episcopal Church, from an 80-year-old deacon
from Alabama who assisted the newly instituted bishop at the altar, to the
young people of the Diocese of California (wearing T shirts that read "Bishop
Marc rocks!") who sprinkled the congregation with water from the font
during the renewal of baptismal vows.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 The sermon was at least an 8 and possibly a 9. Bishop Curry is
renowned as a preacher. This was the first time I had heard him and I was
a little skeptical, but he completely won me over. What was most impressive
is that he infused the African-American style of preaching with absolutely
solid content. The sermon was full of humor. The bishop dubbed Nicodemus
"Nick at Night" (a reference to a popular cable television channel
offering children's programming by day and offbeat entertainment at night)
for going to Jesus under cover of darkness. He said that Nicodemus must
have been the first Episcopalian.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Bishop Curry entitled the sermon "Keep the Faith." His text was
John 20.1: "Early in the morning, on the first day of the week, while
it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb..." The bishop pointed
out that John is the only evangelist to say that the women came to the tomb
while it was still dark. Darkness in John is always a metaphor for evil.
The sermon was punctuated with exhortations to the Episcopal Church to keep
the faith as Mary Magdalene did.
Which part of the service was like being in
With the exception of the heat, the entire service was heavenly. There was
remarkable enthusiasm among the people of the Diocese of California for
their new bishop. When Bishop Bainbridge asked if they recognized Bishop
Marc as their bishop and would they receive him, the entire congregation
shouted "We will" in such a way that the walls seemed to shake.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The heat was oppressive.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As I pointed out earlier, this service was unusual in its size and purpose. Nevertheless, people were helpful. When worshippers clogged the central doors, ushers directed people to the side doors. Helpful signs were everywhere.
How would you describe the after-service
Following the service there was a street festival that included every conceivable
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I would be happy to worship in Grace Cathedral on a regular basis, but a service such as this is far too elaborate and costly to stage more than once a decade or so.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Everything about the service (except the heat) made me glad to be a Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I will long remember the sermon, the music, and the enthusiasm for the new
Bishop of California, but the one moment that was most memorable was when
Bishop Marc was greeted by representatives of the diocese. One of them was
a child who seemed to be no more than four years old, and when Bishop Marc
bent down to give him a hug, I was so moved that I wept.
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