Ship of Fools: St Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood, California, USA

imageShip of Fools: St Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood, California, USA

Cool temperature, cool welcome, at this solemn high mass with all the trimmings

Read the full Mystery Worshipper report here


  • Diego FDiego F Shipmate Posts: 2
    The term “greeter,” as used at St Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood, refers, not to the ushers, but to a group of parishioners discreetly charged with making sure that newcomers are made to feel welcome, particularly at coffee-hour. We intentionally do not wear name tags, as we don’t want the greeting to appear official or pro forma. Rather, we want it to seem to be what it is: a genuine manifestation of St Thomas’s sincere warmth. As a greeter, and moreover as one of the greeters on duty the Sunday you attended, I most profoundly apologize that you did not receive the welcome you deserved. Please let me explain, however, that the practice of asking visitors to stand during the announcements exists so that parishioners, not all of whom know everybody, can distinguish new faces and offer a special word of welcome at the Peace. The red gift-bag each standee receives also makes it easier for coffee-hour greeters and others to pinpoint newcomers, approach them, and make them feel at home after the Mass. Most visitors additionally complete a visitor’s card, offered proactively to those who are carrying red bags as they come out of Mass, but available to anyone else who asks. Those who fill out a card receive a note (handwritten by me!) thanking them for visiting us. As I believe the Celebrant pointed out the day you attended, each gift bag contains quite a nice coffee mug. I still have the one I received the Sunday I first visited St Thomas six-plus years ago; it is one of my most treasured earthly possessions. If you do visit St Thomas again—and I hope you will, and soon—please make yourself known to me (Jim Frazier) and I will see to it that you get a mug, no standing required! And I will do my best to make sure that you get properly and effusively embraced. It’s the St Thomas way! In the meantime, many thanks for your review, for the generous remarks you make about our liturgy, and for helping us detect ways in which we might improve in our efforts to act as Christ's Body in the world.
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    I can't speak for the reporter, but speaking for myself, I don't like to advertise myself or be pointed out as a newcomer to a group. "I'm nobody - who are you?" as dear Emily Dickinson wrote, is my motto. And applause in church is something that the devil prods unsuspecting worshippers into doing. I should think that standing by one's self, looking all alone, in a group of people who are otherwise engaging with each other should be sign enough that one is a stranger and in need of being welcomed - no red gift bag required. I do think, however, that your handwritten note of welcome is a lovely gesture and one that would be most appreciated.
  • Diego FDiego F Shipmate Posts: 2
    Thanks, Amanda! Your remarks, too, are most helpful. Perhaps, being in Hollywood, we forget sometimes that not everyone thrives on applause! :) It is good to be reminded.
  • Dumaine73Dumaine73 Shipmate Posts: 1
    Thank you for visiting us. I am glad you enjoyed the mass. Our welcome to visitors mid way through the mass is our chance, by giving a red bag with a St Thomas mug in it, to identify newcomers. This means our parishioners will know who is visiting and help them enjoy our coffee hour hospitality. I am pleased you were able to chat with some of our people. Our rector Canon Ian Elliott Davies, who came to us from All Saints Margaret St.,London has helped to create a beautiful and meaningful Anglo-Catholic service. I hope you will visit us again soon.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Diego F wrote: »
    Thanks, Amanda! Your remarks, too, are most helpful. Perhaps, being in Hollywood, we forget sometimes that not everyone thrives on applause! :) It is good to be reminded.

    I applaud (see what I did there?) efforts to make visitors and newcomers feel welcome. And I know from experience how hard it is to find a balance of what’s welcoming and what’s off-putting. We do mugs and cards too; the cards are handmade by artists in the congregation.

    But I’m another one who recoils at being asked to stand, raise a hand, or otherwise identify myself publicly as a visitor during worship. I’d rather slide under the pew. It’s hard, I know, to figure out what to do knowing that people will react differently.

    What we do is is invite visitors to stop at a welcome table in the narthex (conveniently located near the main exit) after the service. That is announced when visitors are welcomed. We also do that thing—maybe not as common in Episcopal churches as it is among us Presbyterians—of passing a register down the pew that everyone, member and visitor alike, signs. That gives others in the pew notice of who is a visitor (and a name), but in a low-key way. There’re places to check if one would like to speak to a minister or would like more info, and there’s also space for contact info. And if someone passes the register along without signing it, that’s okay.

  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    I never sign a register, and never would! I'm reminded of the Johnny Cash song: "There's a man goin' 'round takin' names!"
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    I never sign a register, and never would! I'm reminded of the Johnny Cash song: "There's a man goin' 'round takin' names!"
    Heh. Yes, I understand the sentiment. I think you and I may be cut from similar cloth, Ms. Amanda.

    I only mention the registers because I find them less uncomfortable than being asked to publicly identify myself by standing or raising a hand, etc. If you pass on signing it, no one notices except others in the pew (if they're paying attention). And if the others in pew are genuinely hospitable, you have just given them information that can be helpful in welcoming you in a way you're comfortable with.

    And granted, part of it may be that I'm more accustomed to it. I've never seen visitors asked to stand or raise hands in a Presbyterian church. (And to be honest, this MW report is the first I've ever heard of it in an Episcopal church.) Registers to pass down the pews, on the other hand, aren't ubiquitous in Presby churches, but they are common. I'd say there's a 50-50 chance of encountering them unless one is in a small church where no one needs to be told who anyone else is or who's visiting. (We use them in our church, but since I'm in the choir, I get to avoid them except in our summer months off.) I've encountered them among the Methodists and Lutherans, too. Again, I don't recall ever seeing them in an Episcopal church.

    I guess by experience I've learned that it's generally safe to write my name and check the "visitor" box, but not give an address or phone number.
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    I've been known to give a false name, address and phone number when being "encouraged" to sign the guest book, but then again I'm often naughtier than that (but not in church). :yum:
  • I wonder whether, in Ukland, and Yurrup, these days, asking peeps to sign some sort of register doesn't infringe the latest Data Protection legislation?

    I, for my part, would resolutely refuse to sign any such register, visitors' card, or whatever. If peeps want to speak to me after the service, let them do so - my aspect is not especially Frightening...
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    I sometimes say, "I don't believe in telling my name. It's a sin of pride." That generally sets them aback.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Being given a small gift, and a round of applause, does not sound to me to be a cool welcome. Certainly not a style I'd like any more than Miss Amanda would, but it seems a genuine attempt to say hello.
  • With one exception, the only churches where I've seen newcomers asked to stand and identify themselves have been in the US, generally in medium-sized (60-100) congregations where people seemed to know each other. I've encountered this perhaps a half-dozen times-- perhaps one in 2 churches in my mother's wintering zone in Florida. I have found that hiding by a pillar often helps to escape this, but cowering near an interesting window is also useful. Some of us really are uncomfortable with this, but it's a feature of social congregations, and is generally well-meant. Perhaps Amanda B R could just call out "Witness Protection Program" and duck? That would at least give the sidesfolk something to talk about.

    I like the different-colour mug routine as after thirty years of wearing name-tags at events, I have developed an allergy to them, and the red mug would perhaps lower the anxiousness some of us feel at being singled out.

    Above I mentioned one exception--it was in Jamaica, where the four white congregants (myself included) stood out in the huge parish church in Brownstown IIRC. As none of us stood as instructed and were doing our best to look invisible, the rector then told the congregation to welcome their Canadian guests. Much genial laughter at our expense, and after the service, a full half-hour of being told by various people where their sister etc lived in Manitoba etc. Two of the four cadged a ride back to Saint Anne's with me, while the other was taken away by new acquaintances for lunch.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited May 2019

    I suspect that the best way to deal with Afro-Caribbean welcomes (and the genial laughter!) is simply to 'go with the flow'..... :wink:

    BTW, that is NOT a racist remark, but based on personal empirical evidence!
  • :lol:

    I suspect that the best way to deal with Afro-Caribbean welcomes (and the genial laughter!) is simply to 'go with the flow'..... :wink:

    BTW, that is NOT a racist remark, but based on personal empirical evidence!

    It was great fun, and I recommend that travellers in warm countries attend services, as I have almost always received the warm and spontaneous welcome about which Canadian (and likely US and UK) churches can only hold workshops and dream of delivering. And which of our parishes pours out Blue Mountain coffee and serves black guinness cake for the fortification of the faithful?
  • O, there are plenty of Afro-Caribbean churches in the UK where such welcomes are to be found!
  • Box PewBox Pew Shipmate
    I remember Fr. Ian when he was a curate at All Saints Margaret Street, in central London - he had a very fine singing voice for singing the gospel.
  • Hookers_TrickHookers_Trick 8th Day Host, Admin Emeritus
    Count me among those with phobias about being asked to stand as a newcomer, and also fairly resistant to swag bags in church. Whilst I can completely see the practical benefits of providing newcomers with some identifying token for outreach purposes, the contradictory practical reality for me is if I am a newcomer I am literally a visitor, present that Sunday because I am traveling, so unlikely ever to return, and in little need of anything extra to keep in a hotel room or pack to take back home.

    That quibble aside, the service sounded lovely.
  • The only services I've ever attended where newcomers have been invited to introduce themselves have been full-on charismatic ones or else the ex-pat American Church in London during a visit 30-odd years ago.

    It seems like a very 'American' thing to do.

    I'm also taken aback by the Presbyterian register practice. What the ...?!

    How that can be seen as in any way unobtrusive is beyond me. I've seen plenty of churches in the UK where there have cards around for people to leave contact details if they wish but I've never seen a register thrust beneath someone's nose.

    I had to chuckle. As well as a register I'd imagine some Presbyterians including a tick-box survey to assess how 'sound' or TULIP the recipients were ...

  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited May 2019
    At the Sunday Eucharist at the Lutheran Church of St Anne and St Agnes in London, quite a few years ago, the custom was to ask visitors to stand up and introduce themselves (during the announcements just before the final blessing), if they wished to do so.

    There was no pressure, but it was interesting, and instructive, to learn how cosmopolitan a congregation this was (and, hopefully, still is).

    The Church of my Yoof, even further back, was what would now be termed 'open-evangelical'. The then Vicar proposed the idea of actually asking (i.e. by personal approach) any newcomer or visitor to fill in a card with their details, but was roundly defeated by the PCC.

    As Gamma Gamaliel records, the contact cards were, however, provided in the pews for any who might wish to use them.
  • AnselminaAnselmina Shipmate
    My first experience of a 'stand up and be welcomed' church was 20 years ago at a high Anglican, mainly Afro-Caribbean congregation in Birmingham (UK). We were theological students at the time so we weren't allowed to be anonymous! We'd have loved gift bags!
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited May 2019
    Depending on the circumstances, this sort of thing could indeed be rather FUN (especially in an A-C Afro-Caribbean church)...

    Advice from one Who Knows Whereof He Speaks - 'go with the flow', and ENJOY the wonderful post-Mass food!
    :grin: still don't have to give anyone your personal details, if you're just visiting, or whatever. If you should be so attracted/entranced/mesmerised/moved by the Spirit as to become a member of that congregation, fair enough.

    But, if that does happen, and you perhaps fall sick, be prepared for visitors bearing FOOD...
    :grin: :yum: :joy:

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