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591: St. Michael's, Marblehead, Massachusetts
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St. Michael's Church, Marblehead, Massachusetts
Mystery Worshipper: Thames Swimmer.
The church: St Michael's, Marblehead, Massachusetts, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church of America
The building: The building is the second-oldest still-used episcopal church building in the USA. While it has been altered many times (and has plans displayed to demonstrate this), it still has the air of an 18th century CofE place of worship. The pews have doors, which were recently refurbished so they work, and latch, perfectly. The tables of the 10 Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer still gleam faintly behind the altar. The bell, cast by Paul Revere, still rings in the belfry. God's in Heaven, all's right with the world.
The neighbourhood: Marblehead, Massachusetts is the yachting capital of the world and the birthplace of the American navy. The immediate neighbourhood of the church is one of the oldest parts of town, and boasts many colonial buildings.
The cast: Fr. Wootten, celebrant and preacher
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?
It was nearly empty--about 30 souls in a building that could seat 200 easily. Perhaps it was the 4th of July holiday that kept 'em away.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher tucked away in the back greeted me as I entered and handed me the service sheets.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a pew with a door and very comfy cushions. The only problem was unlatching the pew door: I fumbled for a few moments until I figured out the secret and opened it.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was reverential, but very punctual. A five-minute prelude introduced the service and everyone sat quietly and listened.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A bespoke service sheet and the 1982 Hymnal. The service sheet was basically taken from the Book of Common Prayer.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, and quite well, too. It was a visiting organist, to boot.

Did anything distract you?
The church itself is so quaint that I was gazing around more than paying attention to the service at times. A (Victorian, unfortunately) stained-glass window caught my eye: portraying Dorcas giving out clothing to the poor (one of whom looked uncannily like the Jesus in the next window but one), the caption was: "She hath done what she could" referring to the woman with the precious oil for Jesus's feet. The dedication was to a Maria Appleton, and one wonders whether she was the parish clothing club coordinator or a very put-upon lady who was only as good as she ought to be. According to locals, the answer is lost in the mists of 120 years ago.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was Anglo-Catholic but not smoky. Instead of tinkly altar bells, the Paul Revere bell in the belfry tolled at the consecration.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Fr. Wootten was very matter-of-fact, and simply read the sermon, but the material itself was quite interesting and memorable.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Capitalism has been victimising itself and the law has still not caught up – greed is a corrupting practice for everyone, but avarice, and not money, is the root of all evil. There is no place for belief in today's marketplace. He quoted Dostoevsky: "Where there is no God all things are legal." We bless the money in the alms basin each Sunday to signify that all money has a job to do for God. The free enterprise system is a blessing – and it deserves to be guided by moral people who know what it means to be stewards.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I think that contemplating the Maria Appleton window and listening to the organ and the song was the most wonderful part of the service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As is my wont, I sang all the hymns and service music clearly and loudly. The older gentleman in the pew directly in front of me turned around after the prayers of the people and just before the peace and said fairly loudly: "It's wonderful to hear someone sing so lustfully in church!" He must have seen my face redden a bit, so he tried to temper the word, but everyone, including the priest, was looking at us. I managed to mutter "thenkyew" in the smallest voice I could muster, as I'm sure he meant lustily.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was taken in hand by a couple, one of whom had been churchwarden, and got the cook's tour of the church. It is going through a difficult interregnum after a disagreement that played a part in the departure of the previous rector. They await the appointment of a priest-in-charge, but they will have to wait at least two years before calling another rector. Some of the missing folks that day were missing because of the disagreement. I also got a short history of the building and the improvements they hope to make in it (a spire, for one)

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any, although I saw a watermelon through the serving hatch. An art exhibit, part of the Marblehead Arts Festival, took up most of the space and perhaps they were afraid of coffee stains on the canvases. They'd also had a lobster roll lunch the previous day, and perhaps that had tuckered them out a bit.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I am always drawn to a church that appreciates lusty singing. It's also the closest episcopal church to the ancestral manse and has good liturgy.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes; the church is going through a hard time but I felt a spirit there that I am sure was not only christian but determined to use that fact to rebuild. I am glad to participate in that spirit through the liturgy.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Being accused of lustful singing, of course!
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