|231: The Summer Chapel, Highlands, North Carolina, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Orestes.
The church: The Summer Chapel, Highlands, North Carolina, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: The chapel is an old, white clapboard structure of charmingly simple design. Above the central front door is a small bell tower. The interior is starkly plain. Large windows of clear glass open onto the surrounding woods. The ornamentation consists only of a handwrought iron cross mounted on the wall behind the altar and the flags of the United States and the Episcopal Church.
The neighbourhood: The chapel sits at the rear of a small lawn that backs up to a deep forest. From the front yard one views "Whiteside", the sheer face of a prominent mountain of the Blue Ridge. The setting is American pastoral at its very best.
The cast: Rev. Jim Theus.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The chapel seats about 50 and was completely filled.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted at the door by an usher's warm smile and friendly good morning. The friends I arrived with were acquainted with a number of members of the congregation, so there were several introductions and friendly greetings.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews are rustic, but not uncomfortable, with seats of adequate depth and rail backs. There were no cushions or kneelers. Prayers were spoken standing.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A cheerful buzz. It was the penultimate Sunday of the summer season. Many in the congregation were chatting with others about their departure plans. The chapel was filled almost 30 minutes before the service was scheduled to begin.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Is there a bell ringer in the congregation?" In response, a young boy raised his hand and was led to the bell rope next to the front door and allowed to ring the bell.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service booklet (Rite II with Eucharistic Prayer C) and a song book of mostly 19th-century vernacular standards.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, guitar and banjo.
Did anything distract you?
No. The entire setting, the congregation, the music and the liturgy were all perfectly of a piece. Perhaps the seamlessness of the entire experience crossed my mind at inopportune moments.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The atmosphere was reverential, yet cheerful, or rather, joyful. Responses and prayers were spoken forthrightly, and hymns were played and sung with enthusiasm.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 the preacher was relaxed and colloquial in his addresss. It was obvious that he knows many in the congregation well.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The preacher took as his texts the first reading (Joshua 24) and the Gospel (John 6:60-69) to explore the significance of our being people of the covenant, and the nature of the covenant we have entered. It is a bond that we, in our frailty, will inevitably break, but which God, in his strength, never will.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The perfection of the whole the pastoral setting, the charming rusticity of the chapel, the simplicity of the service and the message of the sermon, the genuine, almost palpable, sense of community among members of a seasonal, temporary community.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As I was with friends, there was no looking lost.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. The congregation mingled on the lawn briefly after the service.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10. It would certainly be my regular church if I summered in Highlands. It is, of course, only operated as a "summer chapel" and is not an established parish.
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 sense of well-being created by the entire experience.