Me and the Sunday Gospel Service at St Augustine’s Church, New Orleans

“Oh happy day,
oh happy day!”

I got up and went to church yesterday!

new orleans st augustines

Yeah, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. I mean, I’ve been to church before, sure. School Christmases and Easter, Remembrance Sunday, those friends who suddenly decide they’re religious when it comes to wedding time… but never on a Sunday to watch (or is it take?) Mass. But I’m in New Orleans and seeing as the semi-famous St Augustine’s Church (damaged in Hurricane Katrina, star of Shake the Devil Off film) was just up the road from my hotel I decided it would be an interesting anthropological study for me, to see how they do Catholicism here.

The church was beautiful from the outside. Judging by the tour buses lining up outside it’s definitely a ‘thing to see’ in New Orleans.

Inside the windows were stained glass, the altar super fancy, the usual pews and religious statues lined the room… and there was a full band on stage, saxophonist and all.

I pulled up a pew at the back, with quick access to my escape, until a few seconds before it started and a couple came and pushed me up to box me in. Stuck for the full service.

Order of service

As I said, I haven’t been to Sunday mass before so I don’t know what’s normal but the quick rundown of what followed is this…

– We have to stand, for ages.

– The choir sing some ‘praise hallelujahs’ up front while the priest comes round flicking water at everyone. A parade of people with a cross walk down the aisle.

– More gospel singing up front. Love it.

– Priest does a 30-minute sermon on how when life goes wrong it’s usually because you’ve strayed too far from Jesus. In my mind I replace ‘Jesus’ with love and/or intention (as in yoga) and what he says all sounds okish, common sense really.

– During his whole sermon there was a woman sat to the side just agreeing with everything he said, loudly. ‘Mmm hmmm’, ‘yeah, that’s right’, ‘yeah!’. Imagine that in a loud southern drawl managing to carry across a congregation of about 200.

– He finishes by acknowledging that the church has done wrong in the past, but it needs forgiveness. Just like us. Interesting.

– He then invites anyone who has a birthday to come up and they get the best ‘Happy Birthday to you’ song ever.

– Then it was the time for anniversaries. One couple were on their 10th and another on their 23rd, they briefly renewed their vows. ‘You may now kiss your spouse’, and they walked back up the aisle to the Wedding March. It was very sweet, and emotional, for them.

And then the choir really started…

The saxophonist brings it, the lead vocalist is going for it with every space in her lungs and the front row, and randomly dotted others, have brought their arms up in praise reaching to the heavens. I find myself swaying to the song too, feeling the music through me.

And then, an amazingly fast two hours after it started, the service was over. The young priest, super cool with sunglasses and all, was stood outside waiting to shake our hands.

I hung around to people watch for a bit.

I may have watched too much Little House on the Prairie (which as my Google search just taught me was the Midwest, not the Deep South), or got mixed up with Maya Angelou’s upbringing (again, Missouri, not New Orleans) but I sort of thought that everyone would be wearing bonnets and best dresses at church here. I think my presumptions were a few decades out.

Turns out my pink top, black trousers and green cardigan combo was perfectly surpassable.

  • St Augustine’s Church Sunday Mass
  • 10-12
  • Free (there was a collection box but I don’t give to religious organisations)

Not sure I’d go again but for a once in a lifetime experience of a gospel church in the Deep South, loved it!

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12 Comments

  1. by robin on April 4, 2016  4:38 pm Reply

    I'm glad you stayed for the whole thing - as a Harlemite, church tourism is a very very very sensitive subject. Also glad to see you dressed appropriately too! <3

    • by Vicky on April 4, 2016  4:52 pm Reply

      Oh that's interesting. Do you get annoyed at people just coming to gawp while you're actually trying to experience the service? Might've just answered my own question there. Quite a few people left this one while they were still in full flow – they missed out on the singing though!

      • by robin on April 4, 2016  10:44 pm Reply

        absolutely! it's very disrespectful IMO - it's like they're observing zoo animals and once it gets to the part that bores them, they leave. the part which happens to be the most important in our eyes. not to mention people being inappropriately dressed like they're going to the beach (shorts and flip flops, etc). I used to attend a church that got almost 100 tourists a service, which is highly distracting.

        • by Vicky on April 9, 2016  4:39 pm Reply

          Ah that is annoying. Need to show respect, just like the way people cover up when they go into temples in Asia.

  2. by Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren on April 4, 2016  11:17 pm Reply

    Really interesting! I might do this when I'm in New Orleans in the fall. Thanks for sharing, Vicky!

    Happy travels :)

    • by Vicky on April 9, 2016  4:38 pm Reply

      It was an interesting experience – I'd definitely recommend it!

    • by R C ARMITAGE on December 4, 2019  8:46 pm Reply

      You should have donated...whether or not you believe what they do-you certainly availed yourself of what was on offer.... which was Christian fellowship, community and communion. Do you think the atmosphere would be so special, and so attractive to you as a visitor, if those people shared YOUR beliefs and behaviour?!
      Contribute! Pay your way!

      • by VickyFlipFlop on December 5, 2019  1:26 pm Reply

        2019 VickyFlipFlop totally agrees with you on this. I should've.

        If I went in and enjoyed the experience, I should've given money. You're right.

  3. by Rebecca on April 5, 2016  10:02 am Reply

    This sounds like such an interesting experience and I also love how you have written about a potentially controversial subject and your experience which is AWESOME and a big reason why I love reading your posts. To me, visiting a gospel church in Southern America would be something I would definitely do and just like visiting any other religious sites and ceremonies as long as your respectful and considerate to whatever customs there are then why not!

    • by Vicky on April 9, 2016  4:37 pm Reply

      Yeah religion is a big aspect of life here and I wanted to see how they carry it out. Was a really cool experience, going to a different one this Sunday! Thanks for reading :)

  4. by Ella on August 5, 2016  6:45 am Reply

    Hi,
    Thanks for the info here, but I have to say... I think you were a little rude... you're happy to go along and have the experience but you're not willing to make a donation?
    Sure, you don't believe as they do, but I believe they have good intentions & I'm sure they do a lot of good within their community... to me it would be an act of gratefulness & appreciation for the experience... that you would make at least a small donation.

  5. by Vicky on August 13, 2016  7:57 am Reply

    Hi Ella, you could be right there. I guess it depends if you look at it as a tourist attraction or a religious institution. Maybe I should have concentrated on the attraction side of it, especially as I wrote about it as such. I was just focused on the fact I didn't want to give to an institution I don't believe in.

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