The chapel is by the 20th century American master architect Ralph Adams Cram. It dates from 1936 and is in the French Romanesque style. It is essentially an early Christian basilica but on a much smaller scale. The walls are of local granite with limestone columns. The roof beams were once part of a bridge that spanned the nearby Mystic River.
The Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE) is a monastic community of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. It is the oldest Anglican order for men; its members are often referred to as the Cowley Fathers, after the English village in which it was founded. The Cowleys are maybe best known to readers as the inspiration for the Fordite monks in the Starbridge series of books by author Susan Howatch. They follow a monastic rule that includes vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. The monastery in Cambridge was established by monks who arrived from England in 1870. They also run a retreat house in West Newbury, Massachusetts. There is a full program of retreats at both locations for individuals and groups. The monastery grounds include a guesthouse with meeting rooms and twelve bedrooms. The chapel is open each day except Monday for morning prayer, eucharist, noonday prayer, evening prayer and compline.
The monastery sits on prime real estate right on the Charles River, just a short walk from Harvard Square. Thick walls shield it from the hustle and bustle of traffic along Memorial Drive. The drive is closed on Sundays except in the winter and given over to biking, skating, walking and other recreational activities.
Brother Curtis Almquist was the celebrant, assisted by Brother David Vryhof as deacon and Brother Nicholas Bartoli as subdeacon. Brother Jim Woodrum was the preacher. James Woodman, monastery organist, presided at his instrument.
What was the name of the service?Blessing of Palms & Holy Eucharist.
How full was the building?
Around 70-80 people though it was difficult to count. Not a large place, so three-quarters full, I would estimate.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, a monk with a big smile at the door.
Was your pew comfortable?
Though aesthetically pleasing, the wooden chairs were not particularly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fun. As this was Palm Sunday, there was a good humored rehearsal of sorts that included where we would process, when we would sing, and when we could shout.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Lord be with you."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Hymnal 1982.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, an eleven rank mechanical action instrument built in 1975 by Philip Beaudry of Boston.
Did anything distract you?
A woman sitting in front us pulled out a gallon sized water bottle and regularly drank from it. Though it's good to stay hydrated, it really was distracting. That said, as the service ran for two hours, I was parched by the end and could have done with some water myself.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
High church through and through but not stiff at all. Rather, it was comfortable and warm.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The style of the preacher contrasted with the rest of the service in that it was a little over formal and structured. I think this was due to nerves and a reliance on notes.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was a reflection on the time the preacher spent in the Holy Land. The Messiah who was expected was not the one who arrived. Rather than a king on a horse come to wage war, he was a king on a donkey come to bring peace.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The last verse of "Alone thou goest forth" that the congregation sang together unaccompanied.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I timed my exit to the procession badly and was stuck for what seemed like an hour behind an elderly person with a walking stick and steps to navigate. Yes, I know, there but for the grace of God, and all that, but had I stepped out into the aisle five seconds earlier...
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My wife had her palm frond fashioned into a cross by a brother at the altar. He had informed us at the end of the service that he had brought his scissors just in case.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I'm pretty sure that was no coffee on offer. If there was, it was well hidden and unannounced.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived in Cambridge I would be a regular visitor for sure. I was totally charmed by the service and the worship team.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The charming but impish smiles of some of the brothers.