|241: Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington, DC, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Leo P. Faith.
The church: Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington, DC, USA.
Denomination: Unitarian-Universalist. The Unitarian-Universalist Association consolidated in 1961 two non-creedal denominations, the Universalists, organized in 1793, and the Unitarians, organized in 1825. Universalists tend to have more traditional, less secular liturgies than Unitarians. The service we attended, for example, included the Lord's Prayer, a Declaration of Faith, readings from scripture, and... communion!
The building: This lovely church, built in 1929, is a liberal interpretation of the Romanesque tradition, with an especially fine chancel. The architects, Francis H. Allen and Charles Collens, designed Riverside Church in New York City and the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago. A very nice trio, indeed.
The neighbourhood: The church is located on the corner of 16th and R Streets, NW, in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC, about half a mile or an easy walk from trendy Dupont Circle. To the west, 17th Street is lined with eating places and coffee shops.
The cast: Vanessa Rush Southern, Minister.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Very Full. It was the minister's last service before moving to Philadelphia and everyone was there to say goodbye.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A friendly hello from an usher when he handed us the order of worship. The 15 minutes before the service are for meditation; the ushers and others, therefore, try to honor this intent.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reverential but still a buzz because of the service's special meaning for the congregation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to the Universalist National Memorial Church. This is a special day for us."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Order of Worship and hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and eight-member choir.
Did anything distract you?
As I mentioned, the chancel is handsome. I found myself trying to read the scriptural quotation on the bas relief of the stringcourse or cordon behind the altar. This involved playing an optical trick on myself similar to looking at a picture that has two images depending on how you focus on it. I regret that I now forget what the quotation was.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A relaxed but traditional service. It was not at all like the usually more secular Unitarian services. First, there was a voluntary declaration of faith, the Lords Prayer, readings from scripture, references to Jesus, and even communion. Keep in mind this is a non-credal denomination. I dont think Anglicans would be uncomfortable with this liturgy; indeed, it would seem quite familiar to them.