High Mass as Evangelism

Hi, my name is Susie.  Many of you have seen me serving as an acolyte or in some other capacity at our Sunday High Mass or at Evensong, or during one of the many other beautiful services we celebrate here on feast days throughout the church year.

On my first visit to this church to attend High Mass I was greeted at the door by an usher with a very friendly and smiling face who asked if I was a visitor and encouraged me to let him know if I had questions.  Later I learned this cheerful usher’s name was Derrick Shimabukuro.  And I did eventually ask him many, many questions which he always happily answered!

As the High Mass service began, I was immediately struck with the beautiful sounds of the choir and organ, and the solemnity of the priest and the acolytes, and the careful choreography of the liturgical procession which was carrying a cross and a thurible which was burning incense.  Real incense!  I was in complete awe at this beautifully mysterious and sacred scene!  I felt like I was participating in a truly sacred and ancient ritual!  And, although new to me, the whole experience of High Mass on my first visit to St. Mark’s felt very welcoming and very comfortable, and just like home.

Many months later, when I began to serve here as a torchbearer, I was still feeling that initial sense of awe and mystery at every High Mass service I attended - especially the ones that were celebrated on weekday evenings for what were special feast days as I would come to learn.  As a torchbearer, I felt a little overwhelmed by my lack of understanding of the Anglo-Catholic tradition of worship.  Every single detail of the mass became something that I wanted to understand better:  from why the altar candles are lit in a particular order to what different colored vestments signified.  And the more I understood about the details, the richer and more profound my worship experience became, and the more reverence I felt when I served with my fellow acolytes at the altar or when I worshipped in the pews with the congregation.

While learning the historical meaning and cultural significance of these various details, I also learned, by watching and listening and getting to know my fellow parishioners, about how much time and effort go into just preparing for our worship services here.

If you don’t already know, let me tell you that there is an incredible amount of work to be done at St. Mark’s before even turning on the lights and the air conditioning!  And amazingly, so much of it is done by a few very dedicated and talented volunteers and by the generous giving of our congregation.

As I came to understand the more operational types of details of preparing for our daily worship services here, such as how our buildings are maintained, how our own Michael Ida organizes the volunteer acolytes, and how our Treasurers Suzanne Kagawa and Michael Ida keep track of all the checks and dollar bills and quarters that we receive in the offering plates, my worship experiences became even more enriched and were made even more profound because it became clear to me that this was a place where the Holy Spirit not only inspired awe in the practice of an ancient liturgy but also inspired people in our own local community to come together and give of their time and talents and resources so that we could share God’s loving message through our celebration of the High Mass.

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to join a group from St. Mark’s on a pilgrimage to Israel and the Holy Land.  During this pilgrimage the group of us attended Mass at many different churches and cathedrals.  Father Paul had explained to us before the trip that even where a different language was spoken the Mass would mostly be easy for us to follow because of how we worship at St. Mark’s.

As our journey in the Holy Land came to an end we attended the Sunday High Mass at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in the occupied territory of East Jerusalem.  Most of the service was conducted in English and followed all the same rubrics that we follow from the Book of Common Prayer here at St. Mark’s.  But then, at the moment in the liturgy when we all recited the Lord’s Prayer, every voice in the Cathedral reverently spoke the words in the familiar cadence and rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer that we all know so well, but in their own native language:  mostly that was English and Arabic.  It was as holy, and as awesome, and welcoming as my first experience several years ago at St. Mark’s High Mass!

Witnessing the work of our volunteers here and understanding what really makes High Mass at St. Mark’s possible, combined with what I have learned about the lives that our volunteers, such as Derrick and Michael and Suzanne and many others, lead outside of this church, and knowing that what we practice in our worship is still so rooted in the traditions of churches far away in the Holy Land, are what continue to inspire me to give as much of my time and talents to St. Mark’s as I can spare so that others who come here can have a richer and more profound worship experience.

I am so grateful that the Lord has blessed each one of us here with wonderfully unique talents and life experiences, and has blessed each one of us with hearts that are so willing to share these talents with each other.  Our music, our liturgy, our fellowship, our volunteers, and all of the details behind their work continue to make my own worship experiences richer and more profound.

Susie Graeb