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2431: Chapel of the Cross, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
Chapel of the Cross, Chapel Hill, NC Photo: Ildar Sagdejev and used under license
Mystery Worshipper: Honeydripper.
The church: Chapel of the Cross, Chapel Hill NC, USA
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of North Carolina.
The building: The present sanctuary was designed by the early 20th century American architect Hobart B. Upjohn, known for his churches and elegant private homes, and completed in 1925. It is joined by a cloister to the original, smaller building, consecrated in 1848. Both buildings are rather free expressions of English Gothic architecture.
The church: The church adjoins the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina, and is one of several churches that have historically served the university community. The de facto Episcopal chaplain has her office in the parish house.
The neighborhood: The town of Chapel Hill does indeed sit atop a hill where once stood a small Anglican chapel of ease. The town is home to the University of North Carolina, which plays an important role in the town's economy and culture. Also located there is the Morehead Planetarium, training facility for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts. In front of the planetarium is a rose garden featuring a giant sundial. The church is on Chapel Hill's main street between a dormitory and the planetarium. Behind it is an arboretum, and fraternity and sorority houses are across the street. The large downtown Methodist and Presbyterian churches are within a block, and the Baptists not much farther.
The cast: The celebrant was the rector, the Revd Stephen Elkins-Williams. The preacher was the Revd Tambria Lee, associate for university ministry (the de facto chaplain mentioned above). They were assisted by two other priests, a deacon, and assorted lay functionaries.
The date & time: August 26, 2012, 11.15am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist (Rite 1).

How full was the building?
Perhaps slightly more than half full, with 150 or so in the pews. But the congregation were spread out, so it did not look half empty. (It should be added that this was one of five Sunday services, and one of two large ones. An earlier "family service" may have had at least as many in attendance.)

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I was greeted and handed a service leaflet as I entered.

Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pew. Perfectly comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
With very few exceptions (see below) the congregation prayed and/or listened in silence to the organ voluntary.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

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

What musical instruments were played?
Very fine organ, well played. It is a three-manual opus by the firm of Detlef Kleuker of Bielefeld, Westfalia, Germany.

Did anything distract you?
Unfortunately, a couple of the exceptions to the rule of quiet reverence were seated near me: two women who conversed sotto voce through the voluntary – and then again during the offertory!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Formal, dignified, but not stuffy. What I still think of as mainstream Anglican (despite the chasuble).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The sermon was intelligent, serious, well-stocked with apt illustrations, and firmly anchored in the gospel for the day. I wish I could hear more like it.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on the gospel reading, John 6:56-69 ("Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them") – i.e., it was basically on the meaning of the eucharist. The preacher ably related the scripture to her pastoral work and to some observations from a recent trip to the Holy Land.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music, which was first-rate: excellent organist, rousing congregational singing, and a fine choir. The most heavenly part for me was a Vaughn-Williams motet O taste and see during communion.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The prayers of the people were a little tedious, with endless lists of people and things being prayed for – what a friend calls "telephone book prayers," except that the telephone book gives last names. How could anyone know which Sally was sick or which Jim was having a birthday? Far better, in my view, to list those to be prayed for in the bulletin and stick to the prayer for the whole state of Christ's Church. But maybe that's just me.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My neighbors spoke to me, as did the preacher, who was shaking hands as I left the building.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee and juice. Cheese on toothpicks and little bites of brownie and lemon square. Perfectly adequate, but don't go for the food.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Dignified liturgy, good preaching, great music – who could ask for more?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did. And, specifically, it made me glad to be an Anglican, which by no means always happens at American Episcopal churches.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The music, for sure – and, mirabile dictu, quite possibly the sermon.
 
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