|498: The DeKoven Center, Racine, Wisconsin|
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Mystery Worshipper: Emerson.
The church: The DeKoven Center, Racine, Wisconsin.
The building: The DeKoven Center is now a very active Episcopal retreat center. In its century and a half of life, the buildings have housed at different times an Episcopal seminary, a boys' prep school, a college, and a home for Anglican nuns. Mass on this day was celebrated in the historic St John's Chapel, built in 1864. The spectacular collegiate styled chapel invites awe among those who enter. Its long narrow center aisle leads to the steps of an impressive altar and is flanked on either side by pews facing the aisle. A magnificent organ and choir loft are at the rear of the nave, and a set of full length apostle windows adorn the side walls above the pews.
The church: This mass was held to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Feast of Blessed James DeKoven, headmaster of the school for many years, who died on this same date in 1879. Because of the festive nature of this anniversary, many from the "DeKoven Family" came from several states. Present were students who had once been enrolled there, two orders of Anglican nuns who had deep DeKoven roots, numerous priests who had first been to DeKoven for their own presbyterate discernment retreat, and scores of people who at various times had participated in retreats and/or Quiet Days in the serene atmosphere of this sacred place.
The neighbourhood: Several buildings make up the DeKoven Campus. Taylor Hall is the principal building with its St Mary's Chapel, several libraries, dining room, private and corporate meeting rooms, and private rooms for overnight retreatants. St. John's Chapel is the larger worship space and continues to be used by the DeKoven community and also by many in the Racine area who use it for weddings and other special events. The recently redone Guild Hall is at the front of the property and sits directly across from expansive views of Lake Michigan. The ministry also owns an indoor gym and pool. The grounds are lovingly landscaped and tended, and their proximity to the shores of Lake Michigan make this all the more an inviting place.
The cast: Celebrants: Rt. Rev. Roger White, Bishop of Milwaukee, and Rt. Rev. Russell Jacobus, Bishop of Fond du Lac. The Rev. Travis DuPriest, Director of The DeKoven Center, was Coordinator of the day's activities.
What was the name of the service?
Feast of Blessed James Dekoven.
How full was the building?
St John's Chapel seats 200, and it was virtually filled for the mass. A few scattered seats remained, but not that many.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Four ushers were handing out programs and greeting people as they entered the building. The entire service was printed in the commemorative booklet so one did not need a prayer book or any other liturgical material to feel very much a part of the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
The church seating is comfortable. However, remember that this worship space was designed for young men and boys. The pews are a bit narrow and kneeling space, at least for those of us who have a few years tucked under our belts, is somewhat sparse. But the beauty of the space far outweighs any physical inconvenience.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The inside of the nave was quiet and respectful as people gathered. Since many of those who came for this special day knew one another, sometimes from years before, there were friendly conversations, handshaking, and hugging on the lawn as they entered the building. Everyone was inside and seated for the solemn procession at the beginning of the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Bless the Lord who forgives our sins." This was, after all, Lent.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The congregation had the specially printed booklet for this day, and it contained all of the readings and responses. The congregational hymns were on a handout that people also received together with the booklet.
What musical instruments were played?
Music was ably provided by the organ and a guest choir. A guest soloist sang Panis Angelicus for the Gospel gradual. The music was lovely and the congregation joined in enthusiastically for the congregational hymns. A classical guitar played softly in the background during communion.
Did anything distract you?
No. Everything was peaceful, reverential, and proper. A verger and master of ceremonies kept things moving smoothly in the sanctuary and helped shaped the processional in and the recessional out.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was dignified and stately with a somewhat Anglo-Catholic bent. The two bishops entered wearing copes. Incense was used at the appropriate times during the mass, as were sanctus bells. Two deacons moved to the altar at the Institution to assist the bishops and subsequently to offer congregants the chalice.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes. It was given by Rev. Sam Portaro, the Episcopal Chaplain at the University of Chicago.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 Fr. Portaro read his sermon in dignified fashion from the foot of the sanctuary steps. He had no need of amplification as his strong voice could be heard throughout the nave and into the choir loft.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
In recognition of the occasion, Fr. Portaro spoke of the importance of place, of spiritual place. He reflected on how the ministry he now heads at the University of Chicago had its origins at DeKoven and how subsequently a participant of that ministry in Chicago came to be active in the Julian Order that would for many years be seated at DeKoven. His sermon asked listeners to recognize those special spiritual places and their preciousness.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The entire service was lovely and moving. One felt somehow totally in touch with the thousands of persons who have worshipped in this space for the last 150 years. The phrase "the communion of saints" took on an entirely enhanced meaning for me during this service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing. Even the Wisconsin weather, which had been bitterly harsh the day before, turned warmer and the sun broke through.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the dismissal hymn, people in the congregation followed the sanctuary party outside to the grave of Blessed James DeKoven for a special litany of prayers and blessings. People remained in a reverential mood but quietly greeted each other after the dismissal at the grave site.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
This special day ended with over 140 of those present joining together in the Guild Hall for a lavish champagne lunch. There was much visiting and greeting before the food service began and after dessert was served. Rev. Travis DuPriest, Director, made official announcements and acknowledged many of the people who had contributed to the success of the day and the success of DeKoven itself.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 The DeKoven Center is not a parish church, but a retreat center. It does have a noon eucharist every Tuesday. Were I closer to Racine, I would certainly make that eucharist a part of my regular worship experience. The place "just feels good."
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 moving procession entering St John's Chapel, a procession of bishops, priests, nuns, and lay persons all products of, or devoted to, The DeKoven Center.