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869: Grace Episcopal, Chicago, Illinois, USA
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Grace Episcopal, Chicago, Illinois
Mystery Worshipper: Anglicub.
The church: Grace Episcopal, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA (ECUSA).
The building: Grace occupies a brick office-style building (Grace Place) in downtown Chicago, in the center of "the Loop", where the lines of the city's elevated mass transit system converge. The worship space itself is on the second floor in a loft-style area, made more church-like by means of a circular wall that surrounds the space. This wall is pierced with a series of window-like open spaces which give it a feel more like that of a monastery's ambulatory than an office building. The decor is uncompromisingly modern, though; the altar is in the rear center of the circular space on a slightly raised dais, and the rows of pews are arranged in front of it, giving the whole sanctuary a very intimate feeling. The cross above the altar is one of the riveted steel panels which ties the beams of the building together.
The neighbourhood: The area is in the heart of the city, and consists mostly of office buildings, hotels, restaurants and coffee shops, catering to the professionals who work there and the visitors who come for conferences and business.
The cast: John Dally, a member of the parish and a priest, was filling in for the rector, who was on a retreat.
What was the name of the service?
Communion with music on the day of Pentecost.

How full was the building?
There were about 25 people present; the space could have seated about 125 if they were really packed in.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted on the second floor by a lady who gave me my hymnal, bulletin and liturgy booklet. One of the wardens (who later read the lessons) welcomed me as well with a friendly "Good morning!"

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a basic wooden pew, quite short, but comfortable. The pews had built-in kneelers, but we didn't use them.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The five member choir was practicing the offertory anthem accompanied by the piano. After that, there was mostly silence.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning! Our worship today begins on page two of the booklet."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used the Hymnal 1982, a service bulletin with the psalm, and a booklet titled A Sung Liturgy for Easter Season, which mentioned in its notes that it was compiled from authorized ECUSA sources. The liturgy was mainly the 1979 Rite II with elements from ECUSA supplements, together with excerpts from A New Zealand Prayerbook. We spoke most of the sung liturgy as the rector was away, but looking at the booklet, it seemed like it would be quite a joyful liturgy when sung.

What musical instruments were played?
We were accompanied by a piano.

Did anything distract you?
During the eucharistic liturgy, I noticed by looking up through a skylight that it was pouring rain. As I'd walked from my hotel without an umbrella, I was distracted by thoughts of my wet return. I also noticed that a neighboring building's window opened directly between the sanctuary and a residential living room. I thought it would actually be quite nice to look out my window and into a church, though I can imagine that wouldn't be everyone's idea of a good view.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was very relaxed and casual. The only vestments in evidence were the stole that was worn by the celebrant during the eucharistic liturgy, and the stole that was draped over the music stand used as a lectern for the lessons. (Both were red for Pentecost, of course.)

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – His message was concise and well-delivered. I was a bit distracted by his method of delivery, which consisted of sitting down on the steps in front of the altar, much as I'd imagine the late Mr Rogers might have given a sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Spirit that was given to the church often leads us to work for change; the preacher focused on the habit of institutions to say "no!" to the Spirit's "yes!" He illustrated this by referring to Chicago's labor struggles in the 19th century, the fight for women's suffrage, the civil rights movement, and the current movement for lesbian and gay marriage in Massachusetts and the struggle within the church regarding this latest development.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The feeling of welcome and of Christian community that the small congregation radiated.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The walk back to my hotel after the service was probably the worst part: the rich man in Jesus' parable begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue, but in my personal "other place" the sidewalks were flooding onto the street in the deluge.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I made a run for it soon after the service, alas, as there was a momentary break in the floodwaters. From my initial welcome, I expect I wouldn't have looked lost for long.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was to have been a cake for the 153rd anniversary of the parish's founding which was also being celebrated that day, but as mentioned above, I missed it.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I loved the welcome and the simplicity of the service, and the social justice focus of the congregation, but as my tastes run more towards the Catholic end of the Anglican spectrum, I would miss the other sensory inputs that make worship fuller for me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Certainly. I left thankful for the gift of the Spirit.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The celebrant preaching from the altar steps.
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