|1099: Cadet Chapel, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, USA|
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|Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Cadet Chapel, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, USA.
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The building: A massive granite structure, something of a cross between a Gothic cathedral and a battleship, the Cadet Chapel sits high on a cliff overlooking West Point's grounds. The long, tall, narrow nave is lined with American flags from various periods in history as well as US Army regimental flags. Intricate and colorful stained glass windows depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments. A small choir leads to the sanctuary, where a marble altar and reredos dominate. A baptistery sits off to the right.
The church: One of four chapels at the academy, the Cadet Chapel ministers primarily to Protestant cadets and faculty, but is also open to the general public for worship.
The neighborhood: The United States Military Academy at West Point is the principal training school for commissioned officers-to-be of the US Army. Its grey granite fortifications rise cliff-like from the west bank of the Hudson River about 50 miles north of New York City. Spectacular views of the Hudson valley can be had from almost anywhere on the grounds. The academy is a city unto itself, with stately old faculty residences, cadet barracks, academic and social buildings, maintenance facilities, athletic fields and parade grounds.
The cast: Most of the service was led by Chaplain Maj Keith Goode, associate pastor. The preacher was Chaplain Maj-P James R. Carter, senior pastor. Both were vested in black Geneva gowns and white stoles. A guest choir, the Deer Park High School Chorale from Deer Park, Texas, provided the music. The choir wore formal concert dress impressive, I thought, for a high school chorale.
|What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The chapel holds about 800 and was completely full. There was about an even mix of cadets and civilians.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A woman dressed in civilian clothes bade me a cold military hello as she handed me a service leaflet. A civilian gentleman in my pew smiled and said hello. Two cadets also entered my pew but said nothing. There was, however, an exchange of peace, during which all of the nearby cadets and civilians alike offered handshakes.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were bench-style with red cushions. Basically comfortable, although the angle of the back was a little severe.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The choir rehearsed a bit and were fussed over by family and friends, and then remained quietly in the choir stalls while the congregation entered. The congregation visited rather noisily until the organist began his prelude, at which point they became quiet. The men's and women's sections of the choir separately offered three short anthems.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Christ our Savior is risen indeed."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New International Version; The Book of Worship for United States Forces; service leaflet. The Book of Worship is a hymnal, its contents running the gamut from traditional to modern, with some service music included. I was tempted to pilfer a copy to take home with me, but behaved myself.
What musical instruments were played?
A magnificent pipe organ the chapel's organ is claimed to be the largest church organ in the world. A praise band of keyboard, two guitars and saxophone led some of the songs.
Did anything distract you?
The sight of so many young cadets in their grey uniforms set old Miss Amanda's heart aflutter, she's afraid.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
For the most part it was your typical conservative Protestant hymn sandwich. After the exchange of peace, the praise band played a few modern happy-clappy worship songs. Some of the cadets were getting jiggy with it, but most of the congregation stood patiently waiting for it all to end.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Chaplain Carter spoke clearly and somewhat animatedly, and made good eye contact with the congregation. He referred often to scripture.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The chaplain preached on the words "deliver us from evil," one of a series of sermons on the Lord's Prayer. During World War II, Winston Churchill vividly described the evils of war to the British people, and yet they were willing to shoulder the burden and follow him to victory. As Christians we fight a specific enemy Satan who attacks daily. Satan is not that cartoon character with red suit and pitchfork he is a living being, the captain of evil with a squad of lieutenants to do his bidding. The greatest threat to Satan is the Christian who integrates his beliefs into his everyday life. Our spiritual readiness program must include God's holy armor. Clothed with righteousness we can say, "Be gone, Satan!"
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was heavenly. About 80 voices strong, the Deer Park High School Chorale sang as well as any professional choir I've heard. Their offerings included a mixture of traditional anthems and spirituals, and the overall sound quality was round and mellow. The praise band was good, too I even felt myself getting jiggy along with the cadets.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There were no restrooms anywhere to be found. Having driven for over an hour, I was badly in need of one. I was forced to squat behind my car door and hope some surveillance camera wasn't trained on me.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone made a noisy, hasty exit, paying no attention to the organist's postlude. I remained in my pew and smiled at some of the cadets, but no one smiled back.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 If I were the commandant of West Point, my standing order of the day would be "Smile at the visitors and make them feel welcome!" If I lived in the area, I might consider attending services at the chapel now and then, for a change of pace. If I were a member of the faculty, I would like to check out the Catholic chapel before settling on this chapel as my regular.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The chaplain's sermon let me know which side I'm on.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Worshipping with uniformed West Point cadets.