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576: Christ Church, Winchester, Virginia, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine, St. Augustine, Florida, USA.
Mystery Worshipper: Eagle Eye.
The church: Christ Church, Winchester, Virginia, USA.
Denomination: Episcopalian.
The building: Christ Church is a lovely red-brick building set at the edge of the Historic District of Winchester, Virginia. It is the only ante-bellum church in town that continued to be used as a church through the Civil War. The interior has apparently been painted as it might have appeared when Victoria was on the throne with the exception of the altar area, which, judging from its appearance, is a more recent addition. The rear gallery contains a massive pipe organ and the choir loft. There are large Victorian stained glass windows on the sides and two newer ones flanking the altar. The floor is carpeted in an unfortunate pale olive color, although marble flooring is used at the altar. The pulpit and lectern are on the opposite side from the norm, with the pulpit on the congregation's right. The church parish hall and offices are in an adjacent building which has recently been renovated into a very fine facility. The exterior continues to look historically accurate while the interior is modern and new.
The neighbourhood: The church sits in a block of mixed use, with business, office and residential buildings surrounding it. The tree-shaded sidewalks are brick as are most of the buildings. Within sight of the building is the beginning of an upscale street of large, fashionable homes bordered by manicured lawns and lush shrubbery. The town is in the midst of a large apple growing region, near the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge.
The cast: Rev. Douglas McCaleb, rector; Dr. James A. Kriewald, organist. One of the readers was Mrs Therese Evans, Mayor of Winchester, England.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist, Rite II, sixth Sunday of Easter, Apple Blossom Sunday.

How full was the building?
Well filled. I would estimate that the church seats about 375. There were at least 275 folk in attendance, spread around to make the place appear nearly full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, the usher handed us a service leaflet with a hearty "Good morning"; we were greeted at the passing of the peace; and there was a man planted at the main exit who made it a point to introduce himself and then call you by name as you left.

Was your pew comfortable?
About 150 years old but perfectly adequate.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty. There had been the annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in the town the day for several days before this service (which accounted for the English mayor being in attendance for her apparently annual appearance) and most of the parishioners had evidently been involved. It would be hard not to.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to Christ Church on the sixth Sunday of Easter."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1982 Hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Actually a couple of things. There were several children clomping around in the back and occasionally chatting out loud. The preacher did a fine job on the sermon, but just as he was making his point, there was an interruption by one of the children and I fear that all attention was momentarily diverted to thinking "Why don't the parents do something about those kids?" The moment passed and the sermon ended almost abruptly thereafter, although it seemed that this was the intended stopping point. The second distraction came from one of the windows flanking the altar which appeared to have an angel with her wings held on by some sort of "cross-your-heart" contraption. The effect was to make one wonder about the intent of those bands and what they were there for. I was sure that I was mistaken. I later asked Mrs Eye if she noticed it and she said "Certainly not", but, anticipating that remark, I captured the angel on film and you be the judge.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Standard middle-of-the-road Episcopal, using Eucharistic prayer C, commonly referred to as the "Star Wars" prayer. The excellent music and sung psalm made the service seem more high church than it was, but the priest was determinedly low church: no crossing himself, no genuflections during the prayer of consecration. The crucifer did his bit to make it high church: a solidly built young man, he held the processional cross by its base, making it tower several feet above the procession and at one point appeared to be heading for a low chandelier off to the right side of the altar, but he lowered the cross at the last minute.

angel window

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Ten minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8.5 – Effective delivery, well prepared and very nicely done, aside from the interference mentioned above.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The gospel was John 15:1-8. "I am the vine, you are the branches". He made it clear that we can do nothing unless we abide in Christ and he in us. He also mentioned that we must constantly strive to abide in Christ and if we do, he will indeed abide in us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Unquestionably the music. Christ Church has a remarkably talented organist and a beautiful organ. This congregation sings its heart out. The processional hymn, All Creatures of Our God and King, was notable for the next to last verse in which the congregation fearlessly launched into the melody in the face of an accompaniment which did not line out the hymn at all, trusting that organ, choir and congregation would join together in the final verse with a robust and rousing conclusion. Not everything was bombastic. There were a couple of solos and some very expressive softer passages. It was all done with style and it was all first rate.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing. The closest that the service came to anything hellish was the clomping children mentioned above.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It couldn't happen here. They really seek you out to say hello.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We were invited, but unable to stay, although it appeared that most did.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10. If I lived in Winchester, this is where I would be every Sunday.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, absolutely.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The music. And maybe that window.

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