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622: St Andrew's, Mt Pleasant, South Carolina, USA
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St Andrew's, Mt Pleasant, South Carolina
Mystery Worshipper: Trisagion.
The church: St Andrew's, Mt Pleasant, South Carolina, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal.
The building: St Andrew's campus is diverse in architectural style. They have an old wooden frame church, built in 1857, which unfortunately was under renovation and off limits. The "ministry center" is a very large mauve stucco building surrounded by live oaks dripping with spanish moss – very charming.
The church: St Andrew's has five weekend services: Saturday at 6:00 pm; and simultaneous services at 8:15 and 10:30 am on Sunday. They offer everything from spoken traditional Rite 1 to a contemporary Rite 2. They have great outreach ministries into the local community.
The neighbourhood: St Andrew's sits at the intersection of extreme wealth and poverty in the old village of Mt Pleasant. On one side of the street are lily white million dollar homes while literally across the street is a predominantly African American neighborhood, clearly impoverished.
The cast: The Rev. Steve Wood, rector and preacher in the contemporary service. The Rev. Ken Alexander, assistant rector and celebrant. Dwight Huthwaite, Worship team leader. Two other clergy, organist and choir were in the old church for simultaneous traditional services.
What was the name of the service?
10.30am contemporary worship service.

How full was the building?
Beyond packed. I was told the ministry center seats 650 people and it was literally standing room only with a dozen or so watching the service in the narthex on tv monitors.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I felt like I was at a family reunion. I was greeted by a friendly policeman directing me to a satellite car park about one block away. As I parked my car, I joined a large crowd of people walking back down the street to the church. Almost all of the group were very new to the church and they invited me to sit with them – which I did. As we approached the ministry center there were doormen to say hello and inside the building were teams of greeters and ushers to welcome me.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not a pew in sight. Instead we had very comfortable burgundy padded chairs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived about 10 minutes early and the church was already filling up with people arriving for the service and a good number entering from Sunday School classes – which they offer for both children and adults. The noise level grew from a low buzz to a loud roar with lots of laughing, hugging, and young families with lots of kids swirling around. During this time the praise band began pre-service music.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to St Andrew's."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used as all of the songs and liturgy projected onto an overhead screen. An usher did hand me a bulletin of the week's events. Also, under the chairs were bibles (NIV), prayer books, and guest cards.

What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, two or three acoustic guitars, bass guitar, violin, drums, a percussion section and vocalists.

Did anything distract you?
I come from a very small Anglican church, so the size of the building and the size of the crowd as intimidating. Also, the 10.30 service is very family friendly which means, at least at St Andrew's, there are a lot of young children.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a blend of contemporary and traditional, and very well done. The service began with four opening praise songs and then moved into a Rite 2 liturgy. Communion is a weekly event with the added wrinkle of prayer ministry available for those desiring personal prayer.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
26 minutes exactly.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – I was riveted. The rector, who looks much too young to be the rector of a church this size, was enthralling. They were in the fifth week of a sermon series entitled, "The Secret Life" and the topic of the day was "Prayer." He has a very engaging, personable style incorporating stories, humor and life experience. I literally went from weeping at one point to giddy laughter.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was an exposition of Matthew 6:5-13. He talked about making prayer real. The most memorable part of the sermon was his suggestion of prayer as conversation with Jesus.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The incredible singing. When the congregation started singing it sounded like the roof was going to come off. They either like to sing or they believe what they are singing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Having to walk a long block from the satellite parking would get tiresome after a while, especially in the rain.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have a chance to look lost. The people I met on the way in escorted me to the welcome center where I received a gift bag with information on the church, a free taped copy of the sermon and a free copy of their recent worship CD.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Sadly, no after church coffee, no cakes, no cookies.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – The church motto is: "Where everybody has a place." If I lived in the Charleston area, this would be my church home.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes! And it also gave me hope for the Episcopal Church.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The crowd walking down the street, the singing and the preaching.
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