St Paul's Cathedral, Detroir (Exterior)

Cathedral Church of St Paul, Detroit, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Cathedral Church of St Paul
Location: Detroit, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 June 2015, 11:00am

The building

Grey limestone dating from 1907, the work of the prolific champion of Gothic Revival, Ralph Adams Cram. It employs medieval Gothic construction techniques, as there is no steel infrastructure. The bell tower remains unfinished. The tracery as well as the stained glass are impressive. A magnificent rose window dominates the west wall.

The church

Not only a "mid-town" ministry in recovering Detroit, but a leader in the local association of downtown churches, a major player in downtown renovation, and an active student ministry for nearby Wayne State University. But the mid-town ministry is in the forefront. We entered on Sunday morning with a rummage sale in progress, in support of the local poor and homeless.

The neighborhood

Known as the Motor City, Detroit prospered in the first half of the 20th century along with the automobile industry. But mergers and increased competition from foreign manufacturers spelled hard times for American automobiles and the city of Detroit. Severe urban decay set in, and by the turn of the century Detroit had the dubious honor of being the poorest city in America and the most miserable place to live. However, an intensive rehabilitation effort has begun to turn things around. The cathedral's parking lot backs up against a sparkling cancer hospital, sponsored by a local donor. Arriving early to take photos, we avoided pointing our camera at the homeless man sleeping amid some rubbish outside the cathedral door.

The cast

The celebrant and preacher was the Very Revd Scott Hunter, dean of the cathedral.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?

At first, it looked like 20 people in a 400-person space – almost outnumbered by the choir and clergy. People filtered in – they eventually came up to about 60. Still, that's roughly only 15 per cent of capacity.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

One of us was greeted and given the extensive bulletin. The other had a conversation while in search of a bathroom.

Was your pew comfortable?

Comfortable pew, with a padded kneeler we didn't use.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet, reverent – with the exception of us two tourists taking pictures.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Please stand for the processional."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Hymnal 1982, Book of Common Prayer 1979, and the Revised Common Lectionary 2007 Edition. There was also a 12 page handout.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, played with spectacular skill by organ scholar Aaron Tan. The schola cantorum was under the direction of Jeremy David Tarrant, canon precentor and director of music. The chancel organ is opus 23 of DF Pilzecker & Company of Toledo, Ohio. The gallery organ, also by Pilzecker, is still under construction for want of funding.

Did anything distract you?

Awe at the complex place, depression at the lack of attendance.

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

High church – formal liturgy.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

19 minutes.

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

9 – The dean spoke informally from the space in front of the steps to the sanctuary. His sermon was conversational. Dean Hunter is from South Carolina, as was evident from his use of the intimate second person plural pronoun "y'all."

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Today begins "ordinary time," and it seems reasonable to turn to the everyday work of the Church and to consider that the Episcopal General Convention is about to start. The convention would do well to heed today's reading from Samuel: "Listen to the voice of the people" (1 Samuel 8:7). As the convention turns to organization and performance metrics – all necessary – Paul's advice to extend grace and increase thanksgiving (2 Corinthians 4:15) will define the real task. The function of the people of God – baptize, heal, love – may seem perverse, even insane. But the fear that made the Israelites want a king ("to fight our battles for us") is incompatible with the responsibilities of the people of God. Life is short, make haste to be kind.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Such a list: the sermon itself, the beautiful singing of the schola cantorum, the light coming through the extensive stained glass windows.

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

The depressed downtown, the tiny congregation, the fear that they can't keep this going.

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

We took more pictures. The place was too beautiful not to take photos.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There wasn't any. We went off to the art-noveau Fisher Building for more pictures and a late lunch.

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

10 – Except we might have to support ourselves in downtown Detroit.

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

Yes. In spite of the worries about the future of the building and congregation, the faith they showed is a better bet than economic projections.

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

"Life is short, make haste to be kind."

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