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2336: Church of the Advent, Lillian, Alabama, USA
Church of the Advent, Lillian, AL
Mystery Worshipper: Preacher's Kid.
The church: Church of the Advent, Lillian, Alabama, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.
The building: The church is fresh-paint brand new, and unusual in that it is of modular design and construction. Pictures of the progression of construction are at the website. It is a cruciform chapel with the altar in one arm, the choir and organ in the arm to the left, and seating in the remaining area. It is fully handicap-accessible and houses a sacristy, restrooms, and a bride’s room/lounge.
The church: Advent is a mission begun in 2001 that now has some 81 communicants. They sponsor a cursillo group, Episcopal Church Women, and Education for Ministry, which is dedicated to intensive biblical, historical, and theological study. They also manage a thrift shop.
The neighborhood: Lillian is a small town on the Perdido Bay/Styx River area, which is also prime farmland. When the first bridge across the River Styx was built, a sign was erected that included the phrase "Charon Retired". The village is home to retirees, vacationers and fishermen.
The cast: The Rt Revd Philip M. Duncan, Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast, was the celebrant. The bishop was assisted by the Revd Martha Kreamer, vicar; and the Revd T. Keith Talbert, rector of St Paul's Church, Foley, Alabama, who also preached. Also participating were Thomas Roberts; crucifer; Jill Byerley, cantor; Cheryl Josephson, verger; Paul Condit, server; Col. Marilyn McGuane and Col. John Corbett, flag bearers; and Joan and Ron Freudenberg, banner bearers.
The date & time: February 15, 2012, 4.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Dedication and Consecration of the Episcopal Church of the Advent.

How full was the building?
Standing room only! Every seat was filled. Chairs were brought in and still there were people standing at the back. The congregation included "all kinds and conditions" of folk, from a guy in cargo shorts to a middle-aged lady in a fur coat.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Everyone greeted us warmly. The Kid was in the company of a former vicar and his family, and we were accorded great seats. The peace was truly enthusiastic, particularly because the Kid is not a vigorous peace-passer.

Was your pew comfortable?
The church has no pews; rather, it has cathedral chairs, but not the cane-bottom ones you see so often. These were fully upholstered in a dark maroon fabric that went well with the interior of the church. By the nature of the service, most of it was conducted with the congregation standing, at least up until the peace.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
This was a day of jubilation for this congregation and no one was quiet outside. However, from the point in time that the bishop pounded the door with his crosier, reverence prevailed.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Through the ages, Almighty God has moved his people to build houses of prayer and praise."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service leaflet with the dedication service reproduced therein, as well as the Prayer Book 1979 and the Hymnal 1982.

What musical instruments were played?
A first quality electronic organ, a piano, a string quartet, soprano and alto recorders, a mandolin, and a trombone.

Did anything distract you?
The length of the service truly got a bit tiring. The smell of fresh paint and the finishing of the building were apparent. The two children sitting in front of us were obviously bored to tears and a bit frenetic, but then again the service lasted almost two hours. Technology abounded in a few ringing phones.

Was the service stiff upper lip, happy clappy, or what?
If one had to classify the service, it would be "broad." Nothing was noticeably high or low. That said, Bishop Duncan's liturgical style is quite dramatic. Let it be known that no one will sleep through his celebration. The music provided for the service was an interesting combination: a Fauré piece for trombone and piano, a three voice canon on "Dona Nobis Pacem" and a Taize gospel number.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The Revd Mr Talbert is a neighboring cleric who had participated in the embryonic days of the growing of the church. Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because of the nature of the occasion, his sermon was more reminiscent than intellectual, more conversational than oratorical.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He compared the culmination of the efforts of the parishioners to create this church to the repatriation of the Ark of The Covenant that David attempted. He noted that although it was important for place, the glory of God is everywhere and in everyone.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The apparent joy of the parishioners for their new church home.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Standing for almost an hour and a quarter is pretty much like being in the "other place." Because the building was new, there were certainly some missteps: one wireless microphone refused to operate, although the room is small enough to need very little amplification. The altar party didn't seem to know quite where to put the processional cross, flags and banners. And when it looked as though we might make it completely through a service without "Please turn in your Prayer Books to..." it happened. Tthe bishop began the eucharistic prayer with: "We now continue with Eucharistic Prayer A, found on page 361 in your Prayer Book."

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
You could not hang around. In one massive wave everyone in the church moved out and across the way to the parish hall for dinner on the grounds. Everyone became everyone's best and oldest friend at that dinner.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Did they ever have a feed! Recall that we are truly in the Deep South, and church events – particularly big ones – cannot transpire without "dinner on the grounds." Everything was served, from fried chicken to ham sandwiches you made yourself, to ham biscuits, to drop biscuits, to carrot cake – all washed down with wine and champagne.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – This church is not truly locationally convenient to my residence, so that would militate against membership.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely! How often does one get to see real evidence of the growth of the Church?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Bishop Duncan's delivery.
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