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3289: Sacred Heart, Punta Gorda, Florida, USA
Sacred Heart, Punta Gorda, FL
Mystery Worshipper: Roamin Catholic.
The church: Sacred Heart, Punta Gorda, Florida, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Venice.
The building: It is a very large, Florida style building, with several side entrances and a large central set of doors. It sits on a large piece of property in a primarily resort town.
The church: The parish looks very large, and was fairly aged. The overwhelming majority of the assembly were over 65. They have a number of ministries well described on their website, including children and youth ministries, a bereavement ministry, a prison ministry, and many others. There are three morning masses each Sunday plus one late afternoon mass, and the usual Saturday vigil mass. One mass is celebrated each weekday, with a novena in honor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help held on Wednesdays.
The neighborhood: Punta Gorda lies about two-thirds of the way down the Florida peninsula on the west coast. It is the only incorporated municipality in Charlotte County. Once known for phosphate mining, tourism is now its chief industry. In 2004, Hurricane Charley caused massive devastation, but the city has been rebuilt. The church is located in an area featuring many one-way streets that can be a little tricky to navigate.
The cast: The Revd Mario Kono, parochial vicar, presided. He was assisted by two very old adult altar servers. The music was led by a chorus of five teenage girls with one old man playing the piano.
The date & time: Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday), March 11, 2018, 4.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Laetare Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?
One-half full. All the pews were taken, but each was about half empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. As I walked in the door, I spotted two women wearing baker's hats. They stared at me as if I was out of place. They said nothing to me. I look quizzically at them. They stared at me more. As I walked in, I saw they were doing some sort of a "no-bake bake sale." I don't know what that means. No one else greeted me either. As each pew was at least partially occupied, I had to crawl over a woman to get into one. Apparently no one would ever dream of sliding in, or of stepping out to let someone in.

Was your pew comfortable?
Once I sat down, I found the pews well padded and spacious.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I missed it! I was running just a bit late and came in only as the processional hymn had started. But see above for somewhat of an idea.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The combination missal/hymnal Breaking Bread by Oregon Catholic Press.

What musical instruments were played?
The old man at the piano (who also intoned the psalm) and the five teenage girl choristers were actually quite competent and reverent in their singing.

Did anything distract you?
Pleasantly so. The lector was a young man who looked to be college aged. He read very well, with great care and pronunciation. He was in sneakers, but otherwise dressed well. A part of me hoped maybe he was discerning a vocation to the priesthood!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Neither. The people sang along a bit, but fairly quietly. The hymn choices were contemporary (and not particularly good contemporary) but they were well executed. After the song after communion (which wasn't particularly the musicians' best) a few people clapped for them.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – The priest had a strong accent, but that was not the problem. I believe with 90 per cent certainty that he was reading a "stock" homily. It was presented with no enthusiasm or energy, had no practical application to our lives whatsoever, and was not at all insightful. There was no explanation or encouragement.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He went through the readings individually, acknowledging the role of Jesus in mercy. He said that the psalm is negative and lamenting, but that the fact that it is Laetare Sunday means that we should rejoice.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Nothing stood out as exemplary.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing was that unpleasant. I was particularly annoyed, however, by the fact that almost half of the assembly left before the final blessing and dismissal. I will never understand why pastors allow this. It's so incredibly rude. Also, there is a quite unattractive mosaic of the Sacred Heart of Jesus behind the altar. It is huge and modern and kind of hippy looking.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one spoke to me. I knelt and prayed for just a couple of minutes in the pew while things cleared out. Then I went into the narthex, where the Knights of Columbus were peddling tickets to a St Patrick's Day dinner. I made my way through the aging crowd. As I left, I saw the lector and told him what a great job I thought he had done. He thanked me, but that was the extent of any acknowledgment of my presence.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none – it was an evening mass.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – It was what I would call entirely average. But there were a lot of old people and not many young families.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The eucharist always does.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Old people leaving early.
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