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3315: St Catherine of Siena, Portage, Michigan, USA
St Catherine of Siena, Portage, MI (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Paterfamilias.
The church: St Catherine of Siena, Portage, Michigan, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Kalamazoo.
The building: A modern structure. There is a baptismal pool in the rear of the church, allowing for baptism by immersion. There is a Blessed Sacrament chapel immediately behind the sanctuary area; over the entrance are the four Hebrew letters that form the tetragrammaton, the name of God. Seating is on three sides of the altar. The most striking feature of this church, though, is its stations of the cross. A parishioner made a generous donation that made the stations possible; they were designed by local artist Michael Northrop. The first eleven stations are located on the south and southeast walls. The large crucifix hanging over the altar serves as the twelfth station. The thirteenth and fourteenth stations are in the chapel; one of the stained glass windows in the chapel can be seen as a fifteenth station (the resurrection). Soil from the Holy Land was added to the paint used for the stations.
The church: This is quite a large parish with an impressive array of social justice, faith formation, and pastoral care ministries, amply documented on a well-designed website. There is an extensive music program. The range of their social justice activities is noteworthy: they support two Mexican orphanages and have a sister parish in El Salvador; parishioners have traveled to all three locations to assist in their ministry. And for nearly twenty years they have sponsored a ministry supporting migrant farm workers in southwest Michigan. Groups of parishioners visit the camps, providing necessities and activities for children in the camps.
The neighborhood: Portage is adjacent to, and immediately south of, Kalamazoo, in southwestern Michigan. (Kalamazoo was made famous by the Glenn Miller Orchestra in a song of that name; and Johnny Cash mentioned it in his song "I've Been Everywhere.") Portage is home to Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company, and the Stryker Corporation, a manufacturer of medical equipment. Portage boasts an extensive network (over 50 miles) of parks and trails. The area around the parish is mixed use, and near Westnedge Avenue, a major north-south thoroughfare in Kalamazoo and Portage.
The cast: The Revd Stan Witek, parochial vicar, was homilist and celebrant. No other participants were identified.
The date & time: Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Vigil), Saturday, June 9, 2018, 5.30pm.

What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
Perhaps 80 per cent full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Was your pew comfortable?
Quite. No kneelers; we stood from the preface until receiving communion.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quietly chatty.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
At 5.20, a parishioner approached the ambo, introduced himself, and led the congregation in a portion of the Rosary, concluding with a prayer for peace. Mass began in the usual way: "In the name of the Father..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Sunday's Word – Year B, a paperback publication of GIA Publications containing the readings; a trifold leaflet containing hymns for this particular service; and another trifold with the texts and music of contemporary liturgical composer Steven Janco's Mass of Redemption. All of these were available on a cart in the narthex.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, two electric guitars, and drumset. There is a two-manual pipe organ in the church, an opus of Nichols & Simpson Inc. of Little Rock, Arkansas, but it was not used at this service.

Did anything distract you?
So: did you ever hear Peter, Paul and Mary perform with a drumset? To my mind, drumset really doesn't mesh with the '70s folk idiom of the repertoire we sang. To his credit, the drummer seemed to be an excellent musician, and worked hard not to overcomplicate the proceedings. But the constant bass drum/strong beat, snare/weak beat did grow tiresome.

St Catherine of Siena, Portage, MI (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The music tended toward happy-clappy; the liturgy very prayerful.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The parochial vicar preached from the front of the congregation, without notes, and seemed very comfortable with his congregation.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He began talking about the importance of "interpretation," and gave a couple of examples. Newton interpreted the laws of physics in one way; centuries later Einstein came up with a different interpretation. Republicans and Democrats interpret the Constitution in different ways. And from the beginning of Christianity there have been different interpretations of doctrine. In the gospel for the day (Mark 3:20-35 – "If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand"), Jesus' ministry was interpreted differently by the scribes, and even his family ("He is out of his mind"). But Jesus replied: Look at my ministry, my healing, my feeding the hungry. Jesus also reinterpreted relationships, as he looked at all those around him and said, "Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me." Whatever different philosophies or political views we espouse, we are called to follow Jesus.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Admiring the stations before and after mass. And Father Witek's homily.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A couple of lines in the second verse of the closing hymn ("Till on the cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied") – whoa! I've never previously encountered such a full-throated affirmation of penal substitution atonement at a Catholic mass. And I hope never to again.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I asked a woman seated in front of me, "Where are the rest of the stations?" (I had not yet discovered the final two.) She didn't know, so I asked a member of the choir, who pointed me to the chapel.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Materfamilias and I would be very eager to work with their social justice ministries. The preaching is good; the music seems to be varied and well-prepared. I'll ignore the closing hymn for now.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Such unambiguous singing about "the wrath of God."
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