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2839: St Christopher's, Pensacola, Florida, USA
St Christopher's, Pensacola, FL
Mystery Worshipper: Preacher's Kid.
The church: St Christopher's, Pensacola, Florida, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.
The building: It is a hall church in plain white brick neoclassical design, typical of Georgia style churches in the Deep South, with a little hint of of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields added. Inside there is an arched ceiling. The altar is forward and the choir sit in chairs behind it rather than in stalls. An earlier rector removed the lectern, so there is only the pulpit. There are two additional wings: one housing the parish hall and the other a chapel.
The church: St Christopher’s is one of the first missions established by Christ Church, the mother church of the Florida portion of the diocese. The congregation are multi-cultural and multi-racial. The church is "between preachers", so the clergy staff is all interim. They support a mission in Haiti as well as a number of local charities.
The neighborhood: Pensacola, in the westernmost portion of Florida's panhandle, is a seaport that is home to a major naval air station. St Christopher's is located in the northeast portion of the city in a rather affluent neighborhood. Next door to the church is a large cemetery which has no real connection with the church, but which is one of the more popular burial sites in a city with cemeteries dating back to 1559. There is a schoolyard across the way, and there are a number of small boutique shops in the area.
The cast: The service leaflet failed to give a complete roster of the altar party, but those whose names did appear are: The Revd Maurice L. Goldsmith, interim rector, and the Revd Walter Kindergan, interim associate rector. Neither the deacon nor any of the readers nor eucharistic ministers were identified.
The date & time: The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day, April 5, 2015, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Rite II, Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
The chancel was completely full. The overflow crowd was directed to the parish hall, where the service was shown on closed-circuit television.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were several greeters at the door addressing everyone with “Christ is risen” and providing a service leaflet that completely replaced the need to consult the Prayer Book or Hymnal. After the service we were greeted by several folks we know, and we were welcomed heartily by others.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was comfortable with a pad. The kneelers were adequate, but the pews were just a smidgen too close together for kneeling for an extended period. Interestingly, foam pads lined the bottoms of the book racks so as to muffle the sound of books being placed in them.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The church took on the din of Grand Central Station at rush hour crossed with a Baptist tent revival. Everyone appeared to have to greet everyone they hadn’t seen in at least the last 20 minutes, and at the top of their voices so they could be heard over the neighboring vocal contestant. There was no attempt at contemplative introspection. This is a bit of a harsh indictment, and the situation could easily be different on an ordinary Sunday.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Alleluia. Christ is Risen.” The opening of the service was a bit odd: the choir entered from a side door and, once in their places, sang "Easter Bells with Joy are Ringing", accompanied by the piano, the handbell choir and the brass quartet. Then they recessed down the center to join in the procession for the entry rite, which included the crucifers and acolytes along with the Sunday school children, the church banner, then the choir and clergy.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None other than the aforementioned service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ (an OK electric), piano, handbells, brass quartet.

Did anything distract you?
The noisy period before the service began annoyed me greatly, and the congregation has the custom, apparently, of applauding the choir or any soloist after his “performance.” At communion an excellent tenor sang Larson’s “Lord of the Dance” as the first communion hymn, and it received applause. There were other things that annoyed me, too, that I'll mention below.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
To call this low church would be an exaggeration. Rite II was followed quite literally, but the service music was rather hokey. As is perfectly acceptable, during the prayers some knelt, some sat and some stood with arms extended. Don’t be confused: this is not what the Preacher’s Kid would define as a charismatic congregation, but one that is clearly very Protestant. The Preacher’s Kid particularly dislikes the passing of the peace, so he remained kneeling following the absolution, but it was apparent from the activity that the peace was being passed with gusto.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The interim rector had a wonderful conversation style that made you think he was discussing his topic with you over a cup of coffee.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He compared the Resurrection to a time when he visited his grandparents overnight. There was a horrendous thunderstorm, but the next day dawned bright and fresh. The Resurrection is like the sunrise following a storm.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir and the other musicians were surprisingly good. The sermon was great. The people were friendly and the church was comfortable.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The lack of the respect for the space, the bus-station pre-service atmosphere, and the almost party aspect of the service offended me. There was continual talking through the sermon, the consecration and the communion.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We all went to the parish hall for coffee or iced tea.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We met a number of people for the first time, and renewed some acquaintances with friends from the community.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – The Preacher's Kid is high church. Low churches are not attractive to him as a regular.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It certainly did, notwithstanding the distractions.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The noise!
 
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