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2297: St Michael's, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Photo: Courtesy of Bob Hostetler
Mystery Worshipper: Fluffy Bunny.
The church: St Michael's, Charleston, South Carolina, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of South Carolina.
The building: The current Georgian building was built in the 1750s, in the style of London's St Martin in the Fields. It occupies the site of a small wooden church built in the 1680s, and is the oldest surviving church in Charleston, having National Historic Landmark status. The clock and ring of eight bells came from England in the 18th century and the sacristy was a later addition in the 19th century. The seating is in enclosed boxes, each with its own door and cushioned pews and some chairs in larger boxes.
The church: St Michael's offers Alpha courses and a number of social and pastoral programs.
The neighborhood: Charleston, on South Carolina's Atlantic coastline, was founded in 1670 but at a slightly different location (it moved to its present site ten years later). It is sometimes called the Holy City due to the numerous church steeples that dot the city skyline. It was also one of the few cities in the American colonies to practice religious tolerance (well, for Protestants and Jews anyway). St Michael's Church sits at the downtown intersection known as the "Four Corners of the Law", so named because not only the church (canon law) but also the post office, federal building, and county courthouse sit there. The county courthouse, erected in 1790, is thought to have served as a model for the White House in Washington, DC. There are also any number of hotels, restaurants and churches of other denominations on the same street and in close proximity.
The cast: The Revd Alfred T. K. Zadig, Jr., rector.
The date & time: December 7, 2011, 7.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Lessons and Carols for Advent.

How full was the building?
About half full downstairs but I couldn't see upstairs.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were encouraged to come in, as the choir were filling the front porch and it was not immediately obvious whether it was the correct way to enter or not. We were given our service sheets and advised where the best place to sit would be.

Was your pew comfortable?
The cushioned pews were very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was very quiet. There was very little pre-service chatter and the organ was playing very quietly. The church was very dark with minimal lighting.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
There were no opening words. The choir started the service with Palestrina's Matin Responsory.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Just the service sheet, although the page numbers of the readings were published so you could read along in the pew Bibles (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) if you so wished.

What musical instruments were played?
Just the organ.

Did anything distract you?
The choir attempted a very difficult selection of pieces that were performed with varying degrees of success. Jesus Christ the Apple Tree was amazingly well done, but O Magnum Mysterium was a little poorly tuned.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was good liturgical flow with no hiccups between choir pieces, readings or communal singing. It probably leans toward high church, as the carols were all truly for Advent and not Christmas.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. It was sung so well by the choir it really lifted the spirit.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
During one number, the choir came down from the balcony. But it was done very loudly and with much clattering of feet on wooden stairs, which did detract from the small amount of prayer time during the service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A few people spoke to us, and when the rector discovered we were English, we were pointed toward parishioners who were also English. We were gently encouraged to leave, as they wanted to lock up. There had been a dinner before the service, however, and the welcome may have been warmer if we had attended that.

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)?
7 However, I would have to emigrate to be able to.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.
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