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||1449: Atonement, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Misericord.
The church: Atonement,
Chicago, Illinois, USA.
The building: Henry Ives Cobb, designer of the Chicago Opera House
and the University of Chicago as well as a consultant for the design of
New York's Carnegie Hall, was the architect of this English Gothic style
parish church dating from 1898. Inside, the nave is all stone and stained
glass with a wood-beamed ceiling. A parish house is attached to south, and
the parish owns an adjacent three-flat apartment building next door.
The church: They sponsor the Atonemen, a group of Anglican men dedicated
to active spiritual formation, Christian hospitality and service, and Daughters
of the King, as well as outreaches to the homeless, a jobs/careers ministry,
and the usual church groups. Like so many older urban Protestant houses
of worship, they have had to struggle to keep membership up but appear to
be doing well for themselves.
The neighborhood: Chicago's Edgewater community is particularly diverse
and has in recent years welcomed immigrant people from Africa, Russia, Poland
and Bosnia, among others. The many hi-rise condominium towers along the
lake front are favored by older retirees and single folk, while families
prefer the also dense but lo-rise blocks to the west.
The cast: A big cast, featuring the Rt Revd James Montgomery, retired
bishop of Chicago, as celebrant. Assisting were the Revd John David van
Dooren, rector; the Revd William Johnson, associate rector emeritus; and
the Revd Thomas G. Harris, deacon, organist and choirmaster. The Revd John
Owens, pastoral assistant, preached.
The date & time: Feast of Corpus Christi (transferred), June 10,
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Comfortably full for the third service on a warm day – probably 250 people
or so at what was to be a two hour service. Many of the ladies wore hats.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. An usher handing out service sheets wished me a good morning.
Was your pew comfortable?
Fine old wood pews with kneelers, but no cushions.
How would you describe the pre-service
I arrived in plenty of time, and the pews were filling up, with folks praying,
sitting quietly, or exchanging quiet greetings. Then the bells began to
toll and peal, and the music started up: a brass choir with tympani, organ
(loud), and (I'm not kidding) bagpipes and drums. Some of these overlapped
in time, so the general cacophony (along with the whirr of electric fans)
What were the exact opening words of the
Following a hymn and chanted introit, the bishop said: "Blessed be God:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the
1982 Hymnal, but the service sheet had everything we needed.
What musical instruments were played?
What had been described to me as the loudest organ in Christendom, augmented
by the aforementioned brass quartet, tympani, bagpipes and drums. The organ
case to the right of the sanctuary virtually explodes with pipes, including
massive 32-foot dispasons, full-mounted mixtures and copper horizontal trumpets.
The organist and choir are fortunate to be some distance away in the west
Did anything distract you?
How distracting are bagpipes, I ask you? And every so often I heard an electronic
chime over toward the wheelchair entrance, whereupon someone would dash
over there to assist whoever was arriving. A few small children had a go
at crying, but between the music and the electric fans they really had no
chance to disrupt anything.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Atonement is noted for its ultra-high Anglo-Catholic tradition, and this
service was pretty high church, I'd say. Smells and bells, crossing and
bobbing, not one but two thurifers, no fewer than three different sets of
processional candles, two different monstrances, umbrellino shielding the
Blessed Sacrament during the Corpus Christi procession – in short, the
works! The gospel procession alone took eight people.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 Father Owens got the job done, and his message was clear, concise
and on-point for the feast day. But his style was textbook-dry. He could
have been reading an essay prepared for a seminary class. I am rather used
to anecdotal and personal homily styles.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The Judaeo-Christian tradition is one of faithfulness, from the story of
Abraham and Isaac, through God's call to Moses, culminating in the New Testament.
Although the Hebrew people broke faith with God, that faith was restored
by the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Which part of the service was like being in
The fullness of worship (there were at least 16 on the altar with clergy
and acolytes). At the moment of consecration, the church bell tolled the
noon hour just as the sanctuary bell was being jingled. Nice effect! After
mass, we processed fully around the block along streets that at mid-day
in June were teeming with people and traffic. This took us around the intersection
of Hollywood and Sheridan where Lake Shore Drive ends, along a very busy
beach replete with joggers and rollerbladers. What fun! And bagpipes are
more enjoyable outdoors, of course.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The cacophony was glorious but was also a major distraction. And if you
have a paid choir doing a Langlais mass setting, should they appear to be
doing crossword puzzles during the sursum corda and Lord's Prayer?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No getting lost there on such a festive day! The procession, with its bishop
and clergy and all the glitter and gold, was followed by a short benediction.
We were then dismissed to the north yard to pose for the parish picture,
in which visitors were heartily encouraged to include themselves. After
that we retired to the parish hall, where a veritable feast had been set
out for us. I was greeted by quite a few folk, parishoners and other visitors
alike, and was introduced to the rector.
How would you describe the after-service
A table groaning with sandwiches, hot dogs in chafing dishes, cakes, fruit
cut into bite-sizes and arranged on trays. There were even floral arrangements
for the buffet!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I'd be pretty good with this place but would miss the music at
my own parish.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Oh yeah. They seem to be all over the ideas of community and celebration
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The church bell tolling noon in conjunction with the sanctuary bell.
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