Life isn't like the movies (which is usually a good thing), so as we visit churches this month that were featured in movies, we deal with Movie Church expectations that aren't met in real life. This week was no exception. St. Joseph's was used for the church exteriors in the Western classic, High Noon, but if you were hoping for any of the following things, you'll be sorely disappointed if you visit this small church in the foothills of gold country.
- There were no horses tied in front of the church, and no buggies parked. I suppose this shouldn't be surprising as the film is set in New Mexico Territory in the late 1880's, sometime after the arrival of the railroad. The church was built in 1908, so it wasn't quite in the era of the Old West, but it was close. The pastor, Father John Fitzgerald, has been serving at this church for 23 years, and it was not until his tenure that heating and air-conditioning was added to the facility.
- The church in the film seems to be a Protestant church of some variety, which is not the case here -- as you can see by a glance at the name of the church. Among the morning's hymns, though, was "I Sing the Mighty Power of God" by Isaac Watts which was sung in plenty of Protestant churches in the Old West.
- The service was not interrupted by a sheriff asking for volunteers to face a vengeful killer and his brothers arriving on the noon train. In fact, I didn't notice anyone entering the church after the service began, which isn't that common. At the other Catholic services we've attended, a good number of people have come in late. We have no explanation for these facts (we didn't notice any train tracks in town, either, but we doubt these things are connected).
We were quite thankful not to be late for church. We'd spent the night in Bootjack with friends (more than an hour's drive away), so we left their house around 7:00 in the morning. When we pulled up in front of the church, it was easily identified as the church from High Noon. We thought we were an hour early, since we'd thought mass started at 10:00 am. But we saw the sign reading "9:00 am Mass," and we heard the bells ring. We entered just minutes before the service began (so again, no movie reenactment here).
An elderly woman was lighting the candles at the front of the sanctuary. She turned to the congregation and said, "I need a man to help with these candles!" Knowing the sorry example of cowardly men in the film High Noon, men too cowardly to volunteer to help Gary Cooper, I volunteered immediately. I went forward and could see that the high candle she was trying to reach was, in fact, already lit, though the flame was small and blue. Though she couldn't see it, I assured her it was lit.
The service began. Soon I was experiencing a frustration I've experienced in every Catholic service we've attended this year. I really have a hard time following the order of service, the readings and the songs. Entering the service we were handed a folder with three different books in it. We switched off between those three sections without being told at any time which section we were using. You need to look up the day's date at the beginning of the book to know that on that day, November 15th, was the 33rd Sunday of ordinary time (I think). Father Fitzgerald reminded us it was almost the end of the church year (Advent is the beginning). The numbers of the songs could be found on a board on the wall. But finding the responses and songs still was a challenge. Even lifelong Catholics must get lost on occasion.
The Scriptures, especially the passages from Daniel and Mark, focused on the End Times, the Second Coming of Christ. Father Fitzgerald spoke of the tribulation Scripture foretold, "Once we thought persecution was just in the past, but today, particularly in the Middle East, it is quite upfront." He said, "The Second Coming has the warning of judgment, but greater is the promise of consolation that will come with Christ's return."
During this weekend of the terror of the ISIS attack in Paris, it was good to look at the hope found in the promise that history is in God's hands. Father Fitzgerald made a point that we, as Christ's disciples, must live in the present, but we are able to do so because of Scripture's promises for the future.
After the service I went to talk to the cantor, the woman leading the music. I needed to ask her what instrument she was playing. I thought it was a mandolin, but I have little experience with mandolins. It was. Then she told me I had given her an example of faith that morning. She hadn't been able to see the light of the candle either. But she trusted my word and later watched the flame grow.
The flame of St. Joseph's Church in Tuolumne City has been burning for over a century, and I trust it will continue to burn. I hope until Christ's return.
Service Length: 1 hour 2 minutes
Sermon Length: 13 minutes
Visitor Treatment: we were greeted and given the worship binder (with three different books in it) at the entrance. During the passing of the peace, the people around us greeted us, and after mass, Father Fitzgerald made a point of meeting us.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 44
Probable Ushers' Count: 50
Snacks: donuts and coffee cake, coffee and hot chocolate (which was welcome on a chilly, rainy morning)
Musicians: three women singing (one with mandolin)
Songs: "I Sing the Mighty Power of God"
Psalm 85 chant
"Glory be to the Father"
"Lord Jesus you are the hope" chant
"Lord Have Mercy"
"Lamb of God" chant
There were several chants that aren't listed here, and I missed the name of the last song
Miles to place: 289
Total California Miles: 16,105
Church website: omnsanct.org