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2980: St James in the City, Los Angeles, California, USA
St James in the City, Los Angeles (exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: St James in the City, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Los Angeles.
The building: A Gothic Revival church dating from the 1920s. It is the work of San Francisco architect Benjamin Geer McDougall, designer of churches, schools, apartment houses, commercial buildings, hotels, and private residences. It was built of reinforced concrete, a necessity in earthquake-prone Southern California, and has a stucco veneer. Outside there is a courtyard between the church and parish house. The interior features a ceiling of redwood beams and trusses, and stained glass from Judson Studios of Los Angeles depicting the sacraments as realized in modern times. Choir stalls are separated from the nave by a marble rail, and from the sanctuary by another marble rail. Behind the altar is a wooden panel, and organ pipes stand to left and right.
The church: In 1962, the noted black entertainer Nat King Cole was invited to sing at St James’ Easter service. The resulting firestorm of protest from the congregation was so intense that the rector was forced to resign. Ironically, just three years later, Cole's funeral was held at the church, attended by Count Basie, Jack Benny, Sammy Davis Jr, Robert F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra and Danny Thomas, among other notables. Today, St James in the City runs a food pantry and soup kitchen and serves lunch at a nearby AIDS clinic. They are also home to a separate Korean congregation. St James Manor provides affordable housing for senior citizens.
The neighborhood: The church is on Wilshire Boulevard at St Andrews Place, a hodgepodge of garish modern storefronts mixed in with grand old Art Deco architectural masterpieces including the Wiltern Theater. This is Koreatown, so called for its high concentration of Korean businesses and residents.
The cast: The Rt Revd Catherine S. Roskam, retired bishop suffragan of the Diocese of New York and bishop-in-charge, was the celebrant. She was assisted by the Revd John Kim and the Revd Canon John Thies. The Revd Jenifer Chatfield, associate for liturgy and formation, preached. The Revd Canon James Buonemani, organist and director of music, played the organ and conducted the Schola Cantorum of St James. Others, from verger to oblation bearers, were also named in the bulletin.
The date & time: Third Sunday in Lent, February 28, 2016, 10.30am.

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

How full was the building?
I counted room for about 500 and there were about 80 present – mostly women, mostly middle aged and older, although there was a healthy scattering of younger couples as well.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No.

Was your pew comfortable?
No.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People entered quietly – no greeting, no visiting. Canon Buonemani led four choristers in some last-minute coaching. When that was done, he moved over to the organ console and struck up a Bach prelude. The church bell was rung.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord …” (introit for the day, chanted by the Schola Cantorum – well, by the men anyway; the women were included in the entrance procession but remained silent).

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Prayer Book 1979; Hymnal 1982. But everything we needed was included in the bulletin.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, an opus of Murray M. Harris Organ Co. of Los Angeles. It was rebuilt in 1995 by Austin Organs, Inc. of Hartford, Connecticut, as its Opus 2762.

Did anything distract you?
Bishop Roskam is very short; this was most evident as she stood at the altar with the other clergy. Her chasuble looked almost like a cope. Some of the gentlemen members of the Schola Cantorum are quite good looking. It may be sacrilegious to say so in this context, but Miss Amanda enjoys being in the company of handsome young men.

St James in the City, Los Angeles (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
As high church as you can get without crossing the line into Anglo-Catholic practice. The Schola sang Victoria’s Missa Salve Regina with perfect Renaissance intonation. Lots of chanting. No incense, but bells at the consecration. We were invited to say the Creed and Lord’s Prayer in the language of our choice – English, Spanish, Korean and Igbo (the principal native language of the Igbo people, an ethnic group of southeastern Nigeria), were given in the bulletin. I said them in Latin. At the intercessions, a bell was rung after each prayer in lieu of the standard “Lord, hear our prayer” response. We were verged to communion, but the preacher was not verged to the pulpit for her sermon.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The Revd Jenifer Chatfield had notes in front of her but only glanced at them from time to time. She spoke clearly and with conviction. She quoted Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey (my favorite novel) to illustrate that love is what binds all mankind to God.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The ministry of Jesus on earth was all about healing and forgiving. These make possible the Kingdom of God, where God’s justice rules over injustice. We all fall short at times – we all sin – and not just the “big ones” of murder, thievery, blasphemy, adultery, etc. We sin by falling short of our potential. Sin takes us further and further away from a right relationship with God. Healing and forgiveness are the opposite of judgment and condemnation (which some televangelists seem to favor – she mentioned them by name). The Messiah is not a “warrior Messiah” – he doesn’t play the “blame game.” Repentance is healing. God is the ultimate expression of love.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Ordinarily I don’t notice ethnic makeup and don’t mention it in Mystery Worship reports. But in light of the treatment afforded to Nat King Cole in the past, I was delighted to see so many people of color not only in the congregation but also in the altar party. All of the ushers, for example, were African-American. I’m sure Nat King Cole pulled some strings up above to make this all come about.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As well done as the liturgy was, I couldn’t help but feel that it was too perfect – too cold. Cold is not what “the other place” is all about, but that’s what I felt. And why weren’t the women allowed to chant the introit?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I snapped some photos of the excellent stained glass, but no one said anything to me. I spoke a bit with the Revd Jenifer Chatfield about The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

St James in the City, Los Angeles (Window)

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Cookies, breakfast breads, and cheese and crackers were set out in the parish hall. But they ran out of coffee cups! While I was waiting for some more to be brought out, a swarm of children descended on the cookie tray and made short work of it – all gone by the time I got my coffee! I settled for a piece of cornbread (which I like anyway, but I really wanted a cookie). The coffee was tasty and served in cardboard cups. People sat around at tables visiting, but my jacket must have been a cloaking device, as no one seemed to notice me.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – If the liturgy were to warm up a bit, and the people to notice a stranger in their midst, maybe. It’s a beautiful church, wonderful organ, and top notch Schola Cantorum.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Preaching on The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
 
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