Monday, December 19, 2011

St. Thomas the Apostle

Here is how a longtime member of the St. Thomas the Apostle congregation described his church to me: "We're the church of bells and smells."

We'll start with the bells -- according to the church literature, the organ features more than 4,000 pipes. That's a lot of pipes. It equates to a lot of bells. 

As for the smells, this church really likes incense. They use the shaky-shaky delivery system and spread incense whenever the priest walks and/or whenever the Bible is moved from place to place. Sometimes they spread incense for other moments, as well, such as when we pray or when we kneel or when we stand. That's a lot of incense. It equates to a lot of smells. 
Of course, the church is more than that, and I'd contend the reason these elements are the focus is because they call back to a series of ritualistic behaviors seldom seem in this age. The church boasts a well-balanced choir of voices capable of singing in Latin, a skill demonstrated several times throughout the service. I confess, I like elements in the original Latin. 

In this church there is a ritual for everything. All parts of the worship service are deemed of equal import, and the result is a focus on details other churches overlook. I have to admit, I found the experience to be interesting but exhausting. It felt like every few seconds you had to bow or make the sign of the cross or my doused with holy water or breath in the smoke from the shaky-shaky incense thing. There were several call-and-response portions of the service, a few in Latin. I can see how some people might be overwhelmed by it all.

I liked it. 

I am prone to distraction, and I have had a lot on my mind lately. This church doesn't really allow for that. Congregants are active, not passive, and the rituals are things the people there clearly took pride in, not for themselves, but as a way of honoring God. By the time the homily was delivered, we were ready for it. 

The head priest, Father Ian Elliot Davies, is as British as his name implies. So not only were there all sorts of rituals dating back to the days of old, but the guy running the show had "ye olde English" accent. It was like stepping back to a time when people celebrated the details and took satisfaction in a good end result. Further, his sermon was more of a history lesson (I've noticed a lot of those lately) about the Council of Nicea and how they worked to structure what Christianity was (and what it wasn't). Immediately after the sermon concluded, all in attendance recited the Nicene Creed, which in this church included reverential bowing and signs of the cross. 

First-time visitors to the church are given a coffee mug and greeted with a round of applause; not a nod to any past tradition, but -- hey -- this is Hollywood so swag is a given. It is customary for many priests and pastors to shake hands and say hello to people after church. Everyone at St. Thomas the Apostle was hugged. And the conversations were not like the cliche stewardesses at the end of a flight

When deluged with as much ritual and tradition as this church has, there is a tendency to make the actions the focus, but I didn't feel that at St. Thomas the Apostle. I felt like the actions taken were a way of praising God and centering hearts and minds. I'm not sure I could realistically have that much focus every week, but I was appreciative of it in this instance. 


Sunday Scorecard

This will be a regular part of my weekly reviews, a series of short-answer questions about the day's experience.

What is the contact info for the church?

St. Thomas the Apostle
7501 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90046

What was the denomination?


What Bible verses were referenced?

What are the demographics of the congregation?

A good mix of ages, less diverse ethnically 

Was the atmosphere formal or casual?

Very formal in structure and tone

What was the music like?

Organ and choir who sang in Latin

How was the use of PowerPoint?

None, and there was much rejoicing

Being Hollywood, were there celebrities in the congregation?

Yes there were

No comments:

Post a Comment