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3275: St Mary's-on-the-Highlands, Birmingham, Alabama, USA
St Mary's-on-the-Highlands, Birmingham, AL (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: William Dewy.
The church: St Mary's-on-the-Highlands, Birmingham, Alabama, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Alabama.
The building: The stone building is beautiful inside and out. Every detail of the interior is gorgeous: bright and polished to a fare-thee-well. The stained glass about the church is particularly lovely. The main door into the church is toward the rear of the liturgical south wall of the nave. Another building on the St Maryís campus is Drennen House, the parish house building next to the church. Everything I saw looked lovingly well-kept – but terribly difficult to maneuver if one wasnít able bodied. There seemed to be steps everywhere: to the garden, into the church, and up to the chancel where the people received communion. I gather from a monthly parish newsletter that the congregation is working on plans to renovate the church buildings.
The church: There seem to be a lot of ways to get involved aside from the usual parish service commitments like Bible study, choir, acolytes, and readers. Outreach in the parish includes assisting people to get their general equivalency diploma (awarded to persons who never finished high school but later completed a prescribed course of study), a prison ministry, a mission trip to Haiti, and several small groups.
The neighborhood: The Highlands is one of the oldest residential neighborhoods in the city of Birmingham. It is just southeast of the cityís center. It is near the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Lakeview Entertainment District.
The cast: The Revd Huey Gardner, rector, was celebrant and preacher.
The date & time: Sunday, January 21, 2018, 7.30am.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist (Traditional Language).

How full was the building?
I sat rather near the front (so far in front, in fact, that no one was in front of me except the celebrant and an acolyte) but I estimate 20 to 25 people were present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two ushers greeted me in the narthex and handed me a 1928 Prayer Book with a service leaflet.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew with its padded seat was quite comfortable. The hassock kneeler was somewhat less so. It was thick, heavy, and a bit unwieldy.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet. Some hushed whispers in my immediate neighborhood, but nearly silent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. The service begins on page 67 in the Prayer Book."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which was distributed from the narthex before the service, was used. The pew racks had the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal 1982, but they were not used at this service.

What musical instruments were played?
No instruments were used, nor was there singing at this eucharist.

Did anything distract you?
I noticed that there was a cross instead of a crucifix at the altar. Then I noticed the absence of anything that looked like a tabernacle or aumbry for the Sacrament or a light (candle) to show its presence. I wondered if the Sacrament was reserved.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It might have been stiff and a bit dry, but it was executed beautifully. I found it an interesting style of high church Protestant. The chasuble-clad celebrant faced east to celebrate.

St Mary's-on-the-Highlands, Birmingham, AL (Interior)

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The rector preached without notes from the chancel steps.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon started with a lament that the 1928 lectionary does not include an Old Testament lesson – unfortunate, because we missed hearing the reading from the Book of Jonah. (I wondered why the rector hadnít directed the reader to include the Old Testament lesson, which was printed in the service bulletin anyway.) After a brief recap of the Jonah story, slightly longer than reading the omitted lesson to us, the preacher talked about Jesusís call to repentance in the gospel lesson from the first chapter of Mark. Repentance is a change of heart, mind, and attitude. The call to repentance is to turn from a self-focused life to a God-focused life.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The loving care and beauty of holiness exhibited through the Prayer Book language, the architecture and stained glass.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing was like being in the other place. Everything was in good taste. Perhaps the sliver of the parish I observed was monochromatic. Everybody appeared to be of a similar socio-economic background; but hey, itís a 1928 Prayer Book service at 7:30 in the morning. It was high, dry and proddy, but for what it was, it was impeccable.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A couple of parishioners introduced themselves to me and bid me welcome. They asked if I was new to Birmingham (I found it interesting they didnít assume I was a regular at a later service) or if I was visiting.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was offered.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I felt much more richly blessed (or perhaps gratified) by this worship service than most that I have visited. If I lived in the neighborhood, I would certainly visit one of the later services with music.

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

St Mary's-on-the-Highlands, Birmingham, AL (Window)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The stained glass.

 
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