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806: St Peter's, Beaufort, South Carolina, USA
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St Peter's, Beaufort, South Carolina, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Monastery Hood.
The church: St Peter's, Beaufort, South Carolina, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: The brick building itself is unremarkable, but looks out on Spanish moss-festooned trees. Inside, there is a larger-than-life crucifix behind and above the altar on a deep rose-colored background – awe inspiring!
The church: This is the only Catholic church serving a rather vast community – with the exception of a small mission which only offers a Saturday Vigil Mass. I hear tell they're going to be building a larger church soon.
The neighbourhood: The grounds of the church and school are very beautiful, with huge live oaks, hanging Spanish moss, a small bridge crossing a pond and many azaleas. It is all very tranquil, although the property is surrounded by heavy traffic. Indeed, it's quite the island of tranquility.
The cast: The Mass was celebrated by Father Ronald Cellini.
What was the name of the service?
Saturday Vigil, Fourth Sunday in Lent.

How full was the building?
Mostly half full. We sat close to the front and it was less populated there than at the rear of the sanctuary.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We arrived 10 to 15 minutes before Mass and the narthex was empty of any souls. We found some bulletins on a display stand, so we helped ourselves. It would have been better had someone been there to welcome us. As Mass commenced, Fr Cellini asked that we introduce ourselves to each other – nice touch – and during the peace the lady next to me remembered my name (oops, I had forgotten hers!).

Was your pew comfortable?
Standard wooden pews – no complaints, but a cushion to pad the nether regions would have been most welcome!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
On the whole, the atmosphere was quiet and reverential, and any talk was limited to whispers. The organist was playing quietly. Standard stuff.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening. Welcome to St. Peter's."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
World Library Publications' Missal and Hymnal, found in the pew pockets, and easy to follow.

What musical instruments were played?
A good organ played well.

Did anything distract you?
Although the pre-Mass atmosphere was, on the whole, reverential, later on, when the congregation went forward to receive the eucharist, one couple in front of us (non-Catholic, I believe) chit-chatted the whole way through. Also, the air-conditioning was turned up so high it was positively bone-chilling. I saw one gentleman turn the collar of his shirt up around his neck in an effort to warm up! It had been a record high temperature during the day and this had probably prompted them to turn up the A/C. Unfortunately, the evening temperature dropped severely after sunset.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was on the conservative side. Fr Cellini made a point of instructing the congregation on the proper way to receive the eucharist. As far as I'm concerned, this was welcome information, in view of how sloppily some people sometimes receive the host.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Fr Cellini was an accomplished homilist, but I had difficulty in following, because of his incredibly speeded-up manner of speech. Clearly, his congregation are used to this, but especially when he read the gospel, I had trouble keeping up!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The parable of the Lost Son (the Prodigal Son). Actually, it was more about the older son who was upset about all the fuss made over his brother. Fr Cellini pointed out that God doesn't owe us anything, and no matter how well we follow the rules, that's not necessarily going to get us into heaven. The older brother had done everything right, but his bad conduct blew it for him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Actually, the homily was very thought-provoking and made me realize how I would probably have been just like the older brother. I hope I can remember this when I have the tendency to whine!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Perhaps the "other place" isn't hot at all – I found the numbing airconditioning almost unbearable! Also, the lack of welcome at the door was disappointing.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Hanging around produced no results. Everyone was gone very quickly. By the time we walked outside, Fr Cellini was engaged in conversation with others, so we even missed out on a farewell handshake.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
If there was any, it was not announced. We went into town and had dinner on the waterfront.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Apart from the fact that this is the only church available, I would be happy to make this my regular church. I could even learn to love Fr Cellini's speed-reading!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh yes, I'm always glad to be a Christian.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Probably the homily, and the vision of that huge crucifix behind the altar.
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