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Presbyterian, Richmond, Virginia, USA
Presbyterian, Richmond, Virginia, USA.
A strikingly beautiful Gothic Revival structure dating from
1848, the work of the famed New York architect Minard Lafever
– his only building in the American South. Noteworthy
are its pointed Gothic diamond-paned windows, tall Gothic doors,
high cruciform roof, a distinctive Gothic ironwork along the
front of the façade, and a 120 foot bell tower with four
stone pinnacles – the bell, however, was not hung until
1995! Cruciform in shape, the sanctuary has red damask covered
pews, balconies that wrap around the room, and a quite elevated
pulpit backed by a spired reredos. The beautiful Gothic dark
timber roof trusses are uplit, making the room even more inspiring.
The stained glass was badly damaged during the Civil War and
was not fully restored until 1973.
The congregation split off from First Presbyterian in 1845.
During the Civil War, General Thomas Jonathan Jackson (better
known as Stonewall Jackson, one of the most gifted tactical
commanders of all time) was a member of the church; his pew
is marked by a small brass plaque. Today, while the trend in
Richmond has been to move out of downtown for the suburbs and
wealthier neighborhoods, Second Presbyterian seems to be committed
to urban/center city ministry. Their many activities and outreaches
are well documented on their website.
Richmond has been the capital of Virginia since colonial days,
and was the capital of the Confederate States of America during
the Civil War. Many important Civil War landmarks survive to
this day. The area of downtown Richmond in which Second Presbyterian
is located is undergoing something of a renaissance. With the
completion of a new performing arts center and loft-style condos,
the area seems to be very lively. Also, there is an Irish pub
across the street from the church – favored, I understand,
by some members of the congregation for "extended communion."
The Revd Alex Evans, pastor; the Revd Gail Monsma, associate
pastor. Mr Tom Jefferson served as lay reader; and Ginger Evans,
director of Christian education, gave the children's sermon.
The date & time:
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 26, 2010, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Worship for the Lord's Day.
How full was the building?
The sanctuary was about two-thirds full, although I couldn't see the corners of the transepts from where I was sitting.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted many times. First, by three people as I entered
the church from the parking garage. Pretty much everyone was
friendly and said "Good morning" as I passed. Then, by
everyone sitting around me in the sanctuary. At the end, as
I was leaving, another person was very friendly and invited
me to worship at Second again.
Was your pew comfortable?
My pew was as comfortable as a lumpy-padded 165-year old pew
could be. The proof that the human race is evolving to be larger
and larger can be seen in the pew spacing at Second Church,
as there is relatively little leg room. Surely the people who
built this church and spaced the pews were of smaller carriage
than the modern human!
How would you describe the pre-service
The pre-service atmosphere was friendly. As people trickled
in from Sunday school and arrived for church, there was more
chatter and over-the-pewback conversations. When the organ prelude
began, the volume of conversation increased noticeably to compete
with the instrument.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning and welcome as we gather to worship God."
What books did the congregation use during the
The Holy Bible, the Presbyterian Hymnal, and
the bulletin for the worship service.
What musical instruments
Music accompaniment was provided by a beautiful pipe organ.
Doing some research, I found that the organ was built by Noack
Organ Company of Georgetown, Massachusetts, and installed in
1996. It is a tracker instrument of 30 stops and 37 ranks. As
an organist (albeit a not very good one), I have to say I was
blown away by the organist at this church. The registrations
were well-chosen, the performances crisp, and the hymns well
Did anything distract
Two things distracted me. First and foremost, the sound system
was terrible! Both pastors seem to be soft-spoken and there
were times where they were inaudible. The sound projected through
the speakers that were visible throughout the sanctuary was
too soft and was very muffled. Second – and this is just
a personal rant of mine – if you are going to wear a digital
wristwatch to church and have lost your hearing in the upper
register, turn off your alarm! For the last two minutes
of the sermon, everyone in the sanctuary (except, obviously,
the wearer of said digital watch) heard beep-beep, beep-beep,
beep-beep. Very, very annoying and distracting.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Traditional. The worship service was typical traditional Presbyterian liturgy. Being Presbyterian, I personally find the traditional liturgy comforting. I admit it. I am proud to be one of "God's frozen chosen."
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Pastor Evans is a solid preacher. I wish he would project
his voice more, but that feeling might be a result of the fact
that the sound system in the room was awful. While I truly enjoyed
his sermon, he gesticulated a good bit. I did find myself watching
his hand gestures more than listening to his sermon at times.
It's not a huge issue, though. It was an excellent sermon.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
"Practice makes possible." He opened with Kierkegaard's "parable
of the ducks", which got laughs. Essentially, in the parable,
ducks waddle to duck church every Sunday, where the duck preacher
reads from the duck version of the Bible and tells his congregation
that God has given them wings, that they can fly, that nothing
can hold them back, that no obstacle is too great. Amen! they
reply, and then waddle back home. We have been given the gift
of grace and have been showered with blessings from God. If
we do not share them generously and serve God and each other
as we are called to do, then we are wasting that which we have
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The most heaven-like part of the service was the anthem: Almighty
and Everlasting God by Orlando Gibbons. It blew me away!
The choir were magnificent! If they are a volunteer group then
they need to go on tour! It gave me goose bumps!
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
Not that I want to sound like a broken record, but the sound
system stank! So did the beeping digital watch during the sermon.
Also, the whole cell-phone-in-church thing is really getting
old. People, almost every cell phone manufactured since, say,
2001, has either a silent or vibrate mode. Use them! Also, this
is a total personal thing that comes from being a minister's
kid, but I find it annoying when a minister or priest makes
some weird gesture to indicate to the congregation to either
stand or sit. The associate pastor here uses a weird stiff-armed
action figure gesture to do this. I find it less distracting
when a worship leader simply says, "You may be seated."
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I wasn't able to stand around looking lost. Several people greeted
me and thanked me for worshiping with them and encouraged me
How would you describe the after-service
OK, this is where I fell down on the job. I got swept up in
the down-the-aisle-and-out-the-door rush. I did, however, see
the setup for the after-service coffee upon my arrival on my
way into the sanctuary. Looked to be standard cookies and coffee
fare. Also, in the next room over (a dining room?) a luncheon
was being set up. I later read in the bulletin that it was a
luncheon for new members.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 Solid, meaningful preaching. Great music. Social justice
oriented. Engaged center city/urban challenge ministries. For
someone like me who is involved in his own church, this is the
kind of church I would choose.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The music was utterly memorable. The architecture is memorable. The preaching was also very good.
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