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750: All Saints, Pawleys Island, South Carolina, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
Mystery Worshipper: Thursday.
The church: All Saints, Pawleys Island, South Carolina, USA.
Denomination: Episcopalian Church in the USA.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The church: The parish has been active since the early 1700s (a long time for America). This church has been in the news over the past few years as a focus of a potential rift in the Anglican communion. At the time of my visit, I knew this only vaguely and was certain only that there were strong feelings: left or right, liberal or conservative, I didn't know which way.
The neighbourhood: It is a few miles inland from the Atlantic ocean, in an area of huge live oaks covered in Spanish moss (read eerie) with palmetto (small fan-shaped palm plants). The old church is surrounded by a very old cemetery with wrought iron enclosures, overgrown camelias, and other remnants of an ancient civility.
The cast: Rt. Rev. Thaddeus R. Barnum, celebrant, and Rev. Erilynn Barnum, preacher
What was the name of the service?
The Holy Eucharist: Rite I and sermon.

How full was the building?
We arrived a little early and I wasn't optimistic, but people in linen and pearls kept coming and coming until the little sanctuary was almost completely full. This on a hot, humid morning.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The usher's polite "morning" and nod would have seemed more genuine had I not, regrettably, just overhead him complain that today was not his day to usher and he'd had to do so, now, for three weeks in a row. To be fair, it was muggy even at 8am, and it's bound to be uncomfortable in a suit in that climate.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was simple and wooden with tapestry kneelers, and was comfortable enough. The kneelers of the pew beside us were hand stitched in some pattern different from most of those around us. The woman who arrived next to us appeared momentarily at sea, as if we were in her usual pew, but she recovered nicely and gave us a belated smile.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A gentleman was playing a nice, subdued organ piece as the church filled. For a tourist area, the crowd seemed remarkably well dressed. It is possible I was more acutely aware of this because my companion kept smiling at me with arched eyebrows and a nod at his flip flops each time a particularly well-dressed person entered.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, the service begins on page 323."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Bible, Book of Common Prayer and hymnal – although I had no idea such militaristic/patriotic hymns were even in the hymnal. Perhaps they chose those because the service was two days after American Independence day?

What musical instruments were played?
Only an organ.

Did anything distract you?
The very Southern Protestant look of the sanctuary, resulting primarily from the hideous stained glass. Perhaps in the 1700s it was desirable to appear less Catholic? Really, is there ever a good reason for milky whirled glass? It was alleviated a bit by small stained glass palmetto plants. The whole effect was ever-so-slightly nauseating and, for some reason, kept reminding me of overly simplistic, saccharine interpretations of scripture I have been subjected to in the past.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It's hard to answer this one. The congregation seemed very well behaved. I've mentioned the general attire, but the general demeanor seemed to be approaching one of submission. This actually only appeared to be the case in response to the character of the preaching.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – While I hesitate to do this, the deacon Rev. Erilynne Barnum had a "fill the tent" preaching manner, which could not fail to remind me of the gentleman sharing her surname in the circus of the past century. She was great. Dynamic, forceful, funny. The whole congregation was rapt. What a treat!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We as individuals create our own prisons, using the restraints of guilt, the self, and fear. Jesus can cut these ties. After being freed from something, we are free for something – to be the person God wants us to be.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The livelier-than-expected sermon helped with the slightly claustrophobic linen-and-pearls atmosphere. The sermon was good, as I said. Almost too good. It began to feel as if we in the pews were more of an audience, and less a group (including the priests) searching together. The most redemptive, lovely thing was actually a mistake the priest made. She was very earnestly entreating us to be the best people that we could, but she accidentally said "priests – um, people" instead. It became easier to feel she was one of us, then.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The overly enunciated speaking style of the celebrant seemed almost aggressive. It didn't feel like love. It kept reminding me of the manner of an elementary school bully. That made my skin crawl a tiny bit.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no area for standing in the back of the church. We went out under the formal portico and were greeted warmly by the enunciating priest on our way out. There was an announcement offering welcome bags to visitors. The bags were gone when we filed out, but it seemed a nice thought. One lady turned completely around and walked over to us to say hello and ask where we were from.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – that enunciation bothered me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Pretty much. It confirmed the contradiction between the outer, sometimes ham-fisted expressions of corporate faith and the subtle, evanescent personal experiences I think I have of God. Always good to be at home in the contradiction, the ambiguity. It's a balancing act, faith – dare I say like a tight-rope walk in the circus?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I'll remember being relieved at the preacher's friendly slip up.
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