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2827: Church of the Advent, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Read this report | Other comments

March 26, 2015

I do not pretend to be able to speak on the parish's behalf, but as a member of the parish may I respond briefly to the concerns reflected in the report.

We have a rotation for greeters, and it is not always easy to spot visitors from more frequent worshipers. I am sure that if the greeters had recognized the Mystery Worshiper as a guest, some sort of greeting would have be proffered. In truth, it may take a few visits before newcomers are recognized as such.

I cannot explain why the majority of worshipers entered en masse just prior to the beginning of the service, except to say that perhaps there was a coincidental and collective bout of tardiness, regretfully. It is not the custom of our regulars to gather in secret conclave before making their way into the church.

It is generally our custom to observe silence before the mass. This is not merely to prevent disturbance of private prayer, but also so that one may prepare oneself. No less an authority than the General Instruction of the Roman Missal advises: “Even before the celebration itself, it is a praiseworthy practice for silence to be observed in the church ... so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred celebration in a devout and fitting manner.” I realize that this may come off as unwelcoming to those not familiar with this tradition, but our consensus is that there are many opportunities for such conversation post-mass. It is unfortunate that this did not prove to be true in this particular instance.

In a similar vein, during the peace, is customary for worshipers to greet those in their vicinity with some variation of "May the peace of the Lord be with you," but again, this is not normally considered an appropriate time to engage in general conversation.

As for the Mystery Worshiper feeling unwelcome after the mass, that is quite regrettable and to our discredit. Normally, the clergy greet individual worshipers at the rear of the nave, and they are typically very good at identifying newcomers and ensuring they are welcomed properly. I do not know how the Mystery Worshiper was neglected, but it was certainly not our intent.

Neither was it our intent for the Mystery Worshiper to feel unwelcome during our coffee hour. In fact, there has been a concerted effort by the parish to overcome the reserved tendencies that are normative to the region and engage with newcomers. We always enjoy hosting visitors, and I personally apologize for the Mystery Worshiper having had such an unpleasant experience with us. I can only say this will motivate us to redouble our efforts to ensure that we are warm and inviting to all.

Regarding the sermon, Deacon Noyes had indeed experienced a sudden illness, and so our associate rector, the Revd Samuel Lee Wood (i.e., the gentleman with the full beard), filled in as preacher. The "three movements" that Father Wood referred to are: First, we hear the Law; second, we confess and repent of our sins to God; and third, we hear the Gospel, assuring us that despite our wretchedness, our Savior Jesus Christ has provided a way for us to meet God. The sermon was also meant to be a reflection on Lent, wherein despite our failure to abide by the spiritual disciplines we have pledged, we are forgiven through God's mercy.

I see no reason, however, to apologize either for the length of the sermon or of the service itself. Our clergy take their responsibility to preach and teach very seriously. A great deal of thought and effort goes into each, and a longer sermon allows for a deeper and more sophisticated exploration and understanding of the topic at hand. I, for one, find this very valuable, and it was one of the things that attracted me to the parish in the first place. Similarly, we take our liturgy very seriously, as is appropriate given the parish’s history. Truncating portions of the liturgy for the sake of mere brevity is not a concept the parish believes in.

Finally, regarding our lack of sound amplification, the church building actually has superb natural acoustics, so the need to introduce any artificial amplification has never been believed to be an issue.

In any event, again, I cannot speak for the parish as a whole, but I am sure they thank the Mystery Worshiper for his feedback and will seek to remedy themselves accordingly. If the Mystery Worshiper were ever to visit us again, I would hope that he would have a more enjoyable experience.

Justin Temprano

AC Priest replies:

Of course it is impossible to recognize everyone. But one would think, especially in the case of people performing the role of greeter at a church, that if you don't recognize a worshiper, your immediate reaction would be to say, "Hello. I don't believe I've met you. Are you visiting?" If the response is "Yes, I am", then the follow-up should at the very least be "Welcome!" plus an offer of whatever assistance might be needed. While it is nice to acknowledge people we already know, we are nevertheless asked to look for Christ in all, especially strangers.

It is certainly possible for traffic problems, transportation foul-ups and the like to delay the arrival of large groups of people who then enter all at once when their tardy bus or train finally discharges them, or when traffic finally clears. However, I was standing at what I took to be the main door of the church for at least five minutes before I finally entered, and during that time not a single soul passed me. Instead, I observed a great number of people entering at a door further along, which I later discovered leads more directly to the church hall and offices. Secret conclave? Perhaps not. But secret knowledge of the "proper" door to enter by? Judge for yourself.

I made no remark on the time of quiet reflection before the service. In fact, I welcome such quiet time. It is good when observed before any service in any tradition, and in my experience it is generally the rule in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

I am sorry to hear that Deacon Noyes was ill.

Sermons are very personal, not only for the preacher but also for the listener, and any comment on sermons should be viewed in this light. As a clergyman myself, I always keep my homiletics professor's words in the back of my head: "Don't tackle too many things in one sermon; you'll confuse them!" and "There are generally three places in every sermon where you can bring it to a close – take the first!" This advice has got me out of a lot of trouble!

Any Anglo-Catholic parish takes the liturgy very seriously. It is the beauty of the liturgy that also draws me to the Anglo-Catholic expression of our Anglican/Episcopal denomination. However, length does not automatically translate to excellence. One does not have to truncate the liturgy to achieve a more standard length for the mass. For example, we are blessed with many beautiful mass settings, well written, of varying lengths. If the inclusion of special prayers such as the Great Litany will stretch out the service time, perhaps that could be balanced by choosing shorter music. A shorter setting carefully chosen would not truncate or detract from the beauty or solemnity of a great Anglo-Catholic mass.

Finally, regarding the lack of sound amplification, personally it was not a problem for me. However, none of us are getting any younger, and more and more churches these days are adding devices to accommodate the hard of hearing. Any potential visitor with a hearing problem (and there are far more than you might think) should know up front that he or she may have trouble hearing the goings-on.

Regrettably, for many churches, making the stranger feel welcome is observed more in the breach. As a frequent traveler and therefore a visitor to many churches, I am always saddened by churches that proclaim that they are welcoming, friendly and inclusive – but then seem to do everything not to show it! If my words would help to redouble the effort that you say is being made at Advent, then I am satisfied.

April 6, 2015

While I also cannot claim to speak on the parish's behalf, as a fellow parishioner and the member of the acolyte guild who happened to be serving as MC for the service when the Mystery Worshipper came to visit us, I would add two things to Justin's comments from March 26, 2015.

First, on the issue of people arriving en masse, I suspect what the Mystery Worshipper observed was the disbanding of Entr'acte, our adult education series, which meets on Sundays in the parish library between the 9.00 and 11.15 masses. Information about the program is always included in the announcements section of the service bulletin, but that's obviously not very helpful for a person who's arriving at the church with no guidance about what's going on. The timing is a little unfortunate, but because the parish is a gathered community that includes many people who travel a great distance to be with us, we end up overloading our Sunday timetable. To the extent that this contributed to the Mystery Worshipper's sense of feeling unwelcome, we clearly need to work on juggling the logistics here a bit better.

As for the length of the service, the Mystery Worshipper is absolutely right in saying that the service he attended was too long. For this, I am largely to blame. The service actually had two extra parts! Normally, when we do the Great Litany, we cut out the prayers of the people and the general confession – having already prayed for intercession during the litany. However, I neglected to remove these portions of the liturgy from the altar binder and so our visiting deacon proceeded to lead us in them. We normally do try to keep the length of the mass to an hour and 45 minutes. Mea culpa!

In any case, I'd like to join with Justin in apologizing to the Mystery Worshipper for how unpleasant he found his time with us. We'll certainly try to do better!

Michael Gnozzio

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