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||1348: St Mark's, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Liturgist.
The church: St Mark's, Locust Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
Comment: See the discussion thread on this report.
The building: The congregation was organized as an Oxford Movement
parish in 1847 and the church was built in the high gothic style favored
by the movement. The close also includes a small courtyard at the west end,
with the parish hall and rectory also opening off it. There is a bell tower
with a tall spire over the south porch, one of the few towers in North America
hung for change-ringing, with a ring of eight bells. The interior walls
are fairly dark, but there are many bright features, including an elaborately
painted chancel ceiling. The Lady chapel, given by Philadelphia's wealthy
Wanamaker family, is noted for its sterling silver furnishings, including
a jeweled and highly figured altar.
The church: Although about a third of the members live within a few
blocks of St Mark's, others travel more than 50 miles to worship there.
The congregation is mostly over 40 but has recently acquired several younger
The neighborhood: The church is located at 1625 Locust Street, in
a largely residential area near the business district consisting of stately
old townhouses as well as new residential development in progress. The Academy
of Music and other cultural attractions are also nearby.
The cast: The Rev. Sean E. Mullen, curate at the time but recently
called to be rector, was the celebrant and preacher. Ms Diane Meredith Belcher,
one of two co-organists in the parish, provided the music (although the
choir was on vacation). There were several unnamed lay assistants.
The date & time: Feast of the Transfiguration, Sunday, August 6,
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
It seemed nearly half full, probably about 150 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
When Mrs Liturgist and I entered the building, somewhat early, two ushers
rushed from two different directions to welcome us and hand us service sheets.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews seemed adequately comfortable. The kneelers were a little lower than I like but otherwise comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service
It was definitely quiet and reverent. Being early, we took a few minutes
to walk around the church and visit the Lady chapel and found a few other
early comers praying in the chapel or at a shrine.
What were the exact opening words of the
We sang hymn no. 427, "When morning gilds the skies," after which
the celebrant continued with "Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy
What books did the congregation use during the
Most of the text (except the hymns) was in the service sheet. The Book
of Common Prayer (1979) was also available, and the music, including
the mass settings, was sung from the Hymnal (1982).
What musical instruments were played?
Only the organ, an excellent instrument, was used.
Did anything distract you?
There were no major distractions, but it was a bit warm and I couldn't help
noticing the lady in front of me using her folding fan. Fr Mullen wore a
fiddleback chasuble, which is definitely not my favorite style, but I have
to admit that it was very well made of a finely brocaded cloth of gold.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
The style was definitely high-church-formal but also enthusiastic. With
no choir present, the congregation sang the mass setting plus the hymns
and did so very well.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
I was a little slow checking my watch, but it was very close to 12 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Fr Mullen spoke clearly and with a pleasant voice. His development
of the text was a bit unusual, but very apt.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Taking the text, "Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy
with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory..." from the Transfiguration
gospel (Luke 9:28-36), Fr Mullen suggested that often the Scriptures read
like the record of a dream sometimes, as in this case, a glorious one,
but sometimes, as with John's beheading or Christ's Passion, a horrible
nightmare. He then went on to say that much of life has the same sort of
feel. Peter and the others woke up to confront the glory of God. May God
also wake us up. (The sermon is on their website in the Clergy > Sermons
Which part of the service was like being in
The whole service was almost perfectly done all the participants seemed
to know just what to do next, and how to do it together as a team. I have
already commented on how well the whole congregation sang the mass (fortunately
to a setting which I have known and used for nearly 50 years). Everyone
seemed to take delight in doing everything well. For once I really cannot
single out one or two individual moments.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The greatest disappointment was that there was no change ringing that day
Mrs Liturgist is a ringer and had hoped to join the band, whereas I merely
wanted to hear them.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much chance one of the ringers had rung with my wife elsewhere and
grabbed us after the mass. Various people chatted with me while she took
a tour of the tower, and Fr Mullen took me over to the parish house for
How would you describe the after-service
It was almost a brunch. There were hot coffee, tea, and cold drinks, as
well as selections of cheeses, veggies with dips, and several different
cakes on offer.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 The only real drawback is the four hour commute each way. The worship
style is right in line with my (and my wife's) preferences; the sermon was
very good indeed; the congregation seemed quite welcoming; and I do look
forward to hearing the bells on a future visit.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
It's now more than two weeks later, and I don't think I've forgotten any
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