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2920: St Mark's, Honolulu, Hawaii
St Mark's, Honolulu
Mystery Worshipper: Meet and Right So to Do.
The church: St Mark's, Honolulu, Hawaii
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Hawai'i.
The building: The present early 1950s church replaces an earlier wooden chapel dating from 1911. It was erected out of 15,000 hollow-tile bricks that were made by the parishioners themselves; the brickwork is lovingly exposed in the interior of the building. If truth be told, though, the exterior rather resembles a squarish whitewashed box with a large red cross attached. Likewise, the interior is visually distracting, as the brown wooden furnishings take away from the architectural style. The altar was fashioned out of the same hollow-tile bricks as the building. There is some colorful stained glass. The parish banner is prominently displayed and features the Hawaiian crown and the initials QE, representing Queen Emma, whose husband King Kamehameha IV established the Church of Hawaii as the state church. Queen Emma died on St Mark's Day in 1885. The Lady chapel features a triptych rich in symbolism; the panels are closed during Lent.
The church: St Mark's has been a bastion of Anglo-Catholic tradition right from the start. They describe themselves as an inclusive parish (which Episcopal church isn't these days?), but they take it one step further – the rectory is home not only to the rector but also to his same-sex partner! The parish ministries include groups for the homeless and hungry, at-risk youth, seniors, and a prison outreach. The church also runs a well-regarded preschool for those with young children. There is morning prayer and mass each weekday, with evening prayer each weekday except Saturday, when the Rosary is said instead. Sundays include morning prayer and three masses.
The neighborhood: When the parish was formed in the early 20th century, the Kapahulu district of Honolulu was an agricultural area with chicken coops, duck ponds and garden patches, and houses little more than shacks. Today the area is a thriving mix of shops and restaurants of every kind. The church is located between Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach, two of Hawaii's most iconic landmarks. Waikiki Beach, where most visitors stay, is about 15 minutes away by foot.
The cast: The Revd Paul Lillie, rector, wearing an alb and chasuble; Samuel Lam, Mus.D., organist; and Mike Dupre, choirmaster. An unidentified clergyman assisted the rector. There was also an elaborate altar party for the procession and recession, including a crucifer, thurifer and other acolytes, all wearing classic Anglican choir dress.
The date & time: Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost, September 13, 2015, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Solemn High Mass.

How full was the building?
The 25 congregants scattered across several rows of pews in the nave gave the church a very empty look. This was, however, the last of the three morning masses.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was given a service booklet upon entering by one of two ushers, but neither of them said anything. The closest to a newcomer welcoming I received was a "Welcome, brother!" during the exchange of peace, which, unlike in some Episcopal churches, didn't drag on forever. But I will add that, harking back to the "inclusive" stance of this church, I thought I noticed more than one pair of eyes focused on – well, let's just say it wasn't my Prayer Book!

Was your pew comfortable?
There was plenty of legroom – more than I had on my Hawaiian Airlines first-class seat – but the back of the pew wasn't angled enough to be particularly comfortable. The kneelers, which weren't heavily used (as many congregants simply stooped over the edge of their pew), were pretty typical, with medium amounts of padding under vinyl covering.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As contemplative as it could be, with choir and organ rehearsal directly above the rear of the nave in the loft.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Hymnal 1982 was in the pews and used for all hymns. A 12-page service booklet, specific to solemn high mass for the day, contained all of the liturgy, including the readings. While drawn from Rite II of the Episcopal Church's 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the liturgy had some slight reordering as well as homebrew liturgical additions, including the Orate fratres, inspired by, if not taken word-for-word from, the Roman mass.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, a Henry Willis tracker instrument.

Did anything distract you?
The inconsistency arising from the liturgy's mix of contemporary language and semi-traditional or even traditional language. For such a high-up-the-candle parish, one would have expected to find a thoroughly traditional language service or, as they call it, solemn high mass. The use of Roman liturgy was also distracting and somewhat unsettling.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
St Mark's is extremely up the proverbial candle, even for a self-described Anglo-Catholic parish church. As a high churchman himself, albeit in the reformed tradition, this Mystery Worshipper found it probably the closest thing to a pre-Reformation solemn high mass one could find, albeit in the vernacular rather than in Latin. I doubt you could find a Roman parish as high as this. There was so much incense that I'm tempted to call the place Smoky Mark's. Sanctus bells jingled. But most of the congregation remained mute because they had decided either that they couldn't carry the tunes or that they couldn't compete with the choir.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The sermon, which was called a "homily" in the service booklet, was delivered by the rector with the aid of what appeared to be a brief outline.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He briefly drew upon the gospel reading (Mark 8:27-38 – "Who do you say I am?") before transitioning into an historical lecture on Holy Cross Day, which commemorates when the True Cross was purportedly discovered St Helena on September 14 in the year 326.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The unrobed choir's stately singing and the large amount of incense.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The inclusion of liturgical elements from sources other than the Book of Common Prayer – some might say it bordered on heresy!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I listened to the postlude for a few minutes as many others were getting up to leave. I joined them and found the rector stationed at the doorway. He wished me a good morning and asked where I was visiting from. No other pleasantries or dialogue occurred.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A close re-reading of the service booklet revealed that refreshments were being served on the lanai (whatever that is – Wikipedia calls it "a type of roofed, open-sided veranda"). But I couldn't find it, and besides, I hadn't been invited.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I'm a high churchman – a former Archbishop of Canterbury once gave my Episcopal parish church a 9.99 up a candle of 10 – so part of me is naturally drawn to St Mark's. But the unreformed nature of the worship made the Protestant in me uncomfortable.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
If anything, it made me wonder what a fellow newcomer must think when they walk in and experience what could be called a faux Roman service.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Being given the "once over" by certain pairs of eyes.

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