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2885: St Ann's, Avon, Connecticut, USA
St Anne's, Avon, CT
Mystery Worshipper: Adoro Te Devote.
The church: St Ann's, Avon, Connecticut, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Hartford.
The building: It could be called neo-traditional – a pretty little red brick church. The parish's first church was a wooden chapel for a congregation that had been meeting in private homes, schoolrooms and even hallways. By 1957 the parish had outgrown the chapel, and so the cornerstone for the present church was laid. Inside, the eye is immediately drawn to the altarpiece featuring the 12 apostles flanking a large crucifix. Full-length stained glass windows line the side walls. The ceiling features black wooden timbers. A gallery in the rear houses the organ pipes. There are two small shrines dedicated to St Ann and the Holy Family. I believe that major renovations were made in 2010 or thereabouts.
The church: This seems to be an active parish with several ministries all described on their website. Special mention goes to the women's group, Marthas and Marys, which fosters friendship among the parish women and reaches out to women in need. Also the Reemployment Group, which helps people acquire new job skills. There are three masses each Sunday, plus the Saturday vigil mass and a weekday mass.
The neighborhood: Avon, in northwest-central Connecticut in the Farmington Valley, is a wealthy suburb of Hartford. It was named after the river in England, of which settlers were reminded when viewing the Farmington River. Avon strives to present itself as an attractive community for business and well-to-do residents. The Avon Old Farms School for Boys is a well-respected private boarding school. There is a phenomenal donut shop a quarter mile away from the church.
The cast: The Revd John W. McHugh, pastor, celebrated mass, assisted by an unnamed server and a lector. Tom Stockton, director of music, presided at the organ.
The date & time: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Vigil), Saturday, June 27, 2015, 4.00pm.

What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
Sixty-five per cent would be about right – quite full from experience for a Saturday vigil on a rainy day.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but I saw the pastor working the crowd, talking to folks he recognized.

Was your pew comfortable?
Pretty standard for a newer Catholic church – no cushions, and the kneelers behind were almost far enough back not to hit them with my feet when I knelt.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Relatively quiet as people rushed in.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The blue Gather book, red worship book and a missal from GIA Publications.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, with the organist leading in song. It's a nice pipe organ in a beautiful case but I couldn't find out anything about its provenance.

Did anything distract you?
The hymn selection was pretty good for a Catholic church, yet the people in front of me didn't sing.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Pretty standard. The priest (very tall, by the way) stuck to the book. There was a procession of the priest, altar server and lector. No incense, bells or chanting, but also no ballet dancers, tambourines or clowns, or anything else you sometimes see in church nowadays. Maybe I have been Catholic too long, but I would absolutely had raved had there been bells and smells.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
6 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The priest spoke from a lectern on the epistle side. You don't see pulpits very much anymore. He spoke clearly and used a microphone. I did not see him consult notes, but his sermon was carefully prepared nonetheless.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon focused on the gospel reading: Mark 5:21-43 (Jesus raises Jarius's daughter from the dead and cures a woman of hemorrhages). Jairus was not necessarily a follower of Jesus (the term "Christian" was yet to be coined), yet he allowed himself to be open to God's plan. We, too, should be open to God's plan so that we may be blessed.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The communion hymn was "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" by Thomas Andrew Dorsey, "the father of black gospel music." Dorsey wrote the hymn, probably the most famous of all gospel songs, after losing his wife in childbirth (the baby dying two days later). Knowing the context and how rarely I hear it in Catholic churches, it always gets me.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
In spite of a very good organist and a selection of very good hymns, the congregational singing was spartan.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We had actually stayed for mass after having attended a wedding in the church earlier that afternoon. So we thanked the priest for the nice sermon and headed to the wedding reception.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Catholic churches rarely have coffee, but we made up for it at the reception!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – It's a nice parish. I was particularly impressed by the quality of the music. My home parish uses about six hymns in tight rotation week to week. It's very nice to see someone dig into the book.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"Precious Lord, Take My Hand." It has been recorded by all the great gospel and country singers, including Albertina Walker, Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, BB King, Jim Reeves, Roy Rogers, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Johnny Cash, to name only a few.
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