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  1315: Christ Church, Riverton, New Jersey, USA

Christ Church, Riverton, New Jersey

Mystery Worshipper: Abed-Nego.
The church: Christ Church, Riverton, New Jersey, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: The church was consecrated in 1884 and is a rendering in brownstone of the English Gothic Revival style. There is some lovely stained glass, most notably the Tiffany rose window and the Resurrection window over the high altar.
The church: Their website lists the various church ministries, although the webmaster should check the spelling of altar guild.
The neighborhood: Riverton, on the Delaware River, was founded in 1851 by Philadelphia Quakers seeking summer homes away from the rapid industrialization of their city. Careful, considerate planning and growth marked Riverton from the start. Over the years a small and vital business district has developed in the center of town, but even today Riverton exudes a painstakingly preserved Victorian charm. It is home to the Riverton Yacht Club, one of the oldest yacht clubs in the country. In 1896, Riverton's schools hosted the first public kindergarten to be established in America. In that same year, a series of informal meetings by mothers on residential front porches grew into what was to become the New Jersey Parent-Teachers Association (PTA).
The cast: The Rev. Richard C. Wrede, rector; Edgar M. Newton, organist.
The date & time: Sunday, May 21, 2006, 10.00am. I had visited Christ Church three years ago, after which the rector "corrected" some of the observations I had included in my report. I returned again today, curious to see if I had somehow missed something the first time round.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Baptism and the Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Apart from a family who were there for their little one's baptism, the attendance was rather sparse – considerably fewer than the last time I attended. Those who were there seemed a broad cross-section of humankind. There were a few children who left in the middle of the service, presumably for Sunday school, but I didn't see any of them return for holy communion.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was handed quite a bit a paperwork by two greeters. The order of service contained three inserts but did not include the baptism liturgy. Altogether it was quite a handful!

Was your pew comfortable?
Reasonably so.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a restless anticipation centered around the baptismal family. The rector appeared to be giving them last-minute instructions as late as five minutes before the service. Choir members were flapping about in their cassocks and surplices.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Alleluia, Christ is risen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer 1979 and The Hymnal 1982.

What musical instruments were played?
Just the organ, which sounded a good deal better than the last time I was in the church. The previously out-of-tune reed stop was in better shape, though in truth it makes a gratingly edgy sound. Mr Newton played quite nicely and showed good control of his choir of a dozen or so singers. Sadly they presented only a single anthem, Bach's "Jesu, joy of man's desiring". I was sorry to read in the parish magazine that the organist will shortly be leaving. This small community may have difficulty attracting a replacement with the skill and experience of Mr Newton.

Did anything distract you?
It was odd to arrive at the church and have to work my way through a swarm of choristers. It would have been somehow more dignified if the choir, once vested, had moved in procession from their vesting room to the narthex.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There were remnants of an Anglo-Catholic past, though things seemed a bit confused during the consecration of the elements. The celebrant appeared to want to do this facing the congregation, even though the eucharistic prayer was said facing east.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There wasn't a sermon. Instead, a Mr Donald Deitz made a plea to church members to volunteer to step into vacant church school leadership positions. The absence of a sermon bothered me a lot, since this is surely the moment in the liturgy for the rector to expound the Gospel of the day, not the time to air parochial concerns.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Mr Deitz was quite charming, though very nervous in his new role as a public speaker. But why this whole matter was brought up during a celebration of holy eucharist, I have no idea. Wouldn't it be more productive to make approaches to individuals privately in hopes of soliciting their interest in taking on these vacant leadership roles? I was left with a feeling that Christ Church, Riverton, may be becoming a "sinking ship". I surely hope I'm wrong.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
There were three vacancies opening up, the most important of which was that of youth leader.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Christ Church is a lovely building. It survived this very fragmented act of worship – just!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As if the distraction of Mr Deitz's appeal were not enough, we were treated to some more parochial concerns, this time centered around the church garden. A statue of St Fiacre was presented with much speech-making to someone who'd dedicated a lot of time and skill to the lovely garden that surrounds the church. Again I was left wondering what all this had to do with the eucharist. I felt that the recipient of all this praise would have been happier to accept this honor in a social rather than religious setting. None of this is "hellish", of course – but it certainly made me feel pretty squirmy.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing, absolutely nothing. I really tried to look lost. But no one said a single word to me. It was difficult to leave the church, since Father Wrede's greeting line caused a traffic jam at the only exit. He had plenty of stuff to share with his "regulars". (This priest has a very loud voice and a fulsome laugh.) When I finally reached him, he simply said something like "I'm glad you came to the service" – and that was that!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
And there was no coffee hour. There had been no coffee hour at my previous visit either, but I was hoping that since then Christ Church had become a friendlier place, where Christian people could meet for fellowship after the liturgy. Clearly not!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – This was the coldest welcome I have ever received anywhere. There's probably a very good reason why there are fewer people at Christ Church than three years ago.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes – but only just!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
What a cold church this is – and yet it sits in the midst of a community that seems open and friendly.
 
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