St Paul's by the Lake, Chicago (Exterior)

St Paul's by the Lake, Chicago, Illinois, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Paul's by the Lake
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 9 June 2013, 10:30am

The building

While the original parish was established in 1882, the present parish house was acquired in 1910 and the present church building was completed in 1925. The church is a smallish but nicely proportioned and appointed Neo-Gothic edifice.

The church

This Roger's Park neighborhood parish is known to be a bit more conservative than some. They alternate between the 1928 and 1979 editions of the Book of Common Prayer, and seem to use Rite 1 most of the time (this means there is a lot of "thee" and "thou" in the spoken parts of the liturgy). The parish website gives details about ministries assisting the hungry, refugees (in particular programs to Sudan and Burma), mens and womens support and service groups, devotional prayer groups and the like.

The neighborhood

Rogers Park is the northernmost neighborhood on Chicagos lakefront before crossing over into Evanston. It is one of the more racially, ethnically, socio-economically and religiously diverse parts of the city (maybe the whole USA).

The cast

The Revd John Heschle, rector; the Revd D.L. Banner, rector emeritus; Koji Torihara, choir director.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Mass

How full was the building?

There were 50-60 people in a space that might hold three times that.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. An usher handed me a bulletin/service sheet and shook my hand.

Was your pew comfortable?

They werent bad but could be re-spaced to offer more room front to back for tall parishioners. It was hard to kneel.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Somewhat chatty here and there, but fairly quiet.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit." The first spoken words came after an opening hymn and chanted introit.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Book of Common Prayer 1979 and the Hymnal 1940.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. There was also a summer choir of four singers plus the choir director.

Did anything distract you?

The acolytes (one lad looked like it might have been his first Sunday) used small stepladders to get their candle lighters up high enough to reach the altar candles. It seemed awkward and potentially dangerous – if one fell, there are a lot of steps and hard surfaces up there. At least they used a matched pair of pretty wood step ladders for this holy activity. The chancel is particularly cramped, and it wasn't clear if their usual choir occupy the small choir pews of the side gallery. I think a rearrangement of their sanctuary space might be in order. Just saying.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The service was very Rite 1 and proper. The voice of the rector, whose cordless mike seemed always to be on, dominated the sung and spoken responses.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 – I give the rector good marks for expanding on the gospel reading (Luke 7:11-17– Jesus raises a widow's son), and getting the job done effectively without dragging things out. (Their website includes a link for downloading sermons but it appears not to have been updated since All Saints Day of last year.)

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon addressed the subject of Jesus' concern for and understanding of the plight of the poor, and the impact that a miraculous healing would have on those of little means.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

It was great to visit a modest sized parish that seems to do a good job of keeping up a full schedule of worship, ministries, and maintaining their building decently, in what are for many challenging times.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The Rite 1 worship, the old hymnal, and the practice of facing away from the congregation (no free standing altar here) may be more of an artifact than the desire for a traditional sacramental expression. Looking around, I saw that the congregation were ethnically diverse and young. One gets the feeling they might be looking for some changes in the future. I wonder if women priests are ever invited to celebrate mass or preach at this parish? Also, they rattled off the longest prayer list of names I have ever heard. It felt like we prayed for everyone in the zip code by name.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I was greeted, engaged in conversation, and directed through a confusing sequence of rooms and stairways to a parish hall, where coffee was available.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I got a cup of black coffee (OK). There was a decorated cake awaiting someones arrival, but I didnt linger for that to be cut and passed out. I retraced my steps, only to find the main doors locked! A couple of parishioners chatting in the church didnt offer me directions to another door. I had to hunt around to find an unlocked exit to the side street.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – Im sure if I came regularly, I would find many friendly people here.

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

It was a good experience.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Being locked in!

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