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|2632: St Philip's,
Durham, North Carolina, USA
Philip's, Durham, North Carolina, USA.
Episcopal Church, Diocese
of North Carolina.
The 1907 church was designed by the early 20th century American
architect Ralph Adams Cram, noted for his hundreds of Gothic
Revival churches, public buildings, schools and private residences
(Cram's birthday, December 16, is commemorated on the liturgical
calendar by the Episcopal Church). It is a very successful building
in the style of a village parish church, with tower, aisle on
the north side only, separate chancel, etc. The churchyard is
completely enclosed, but there is a strong feeling of openness
and welcome. I encountered no locked doors. I noted that the
air conditioning units were all protected by heavy steel gratings;
my companion said that they had earlier been stolen for their
St Philip's is Durham's downtown parish, drawing its very diverse
congregation from the whole city. It is unabashedly gender-neutral,
color-blind, and LGBT friendly. St Philip's is active in the
outreach community, while trying to be as gracious as possible
in the face of the problems associated with those who often
benefit from its charity. Their many ministries are detailed
on their website; I will mention here only their Wednesday night
program that consists of eucharist, dinner, fellowship and study.
Durham is one of the cities comprising the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel
Hill metroplex, which altogether boast a population of about
two million. Originally a thriving agricultural region thanks
primarily to tobacco, Durham grew into an important textile
manufacturing center during the early 20th century. Tobacco
and textiles are long gone from the region's economy, but today
Durham is known for culture and sports. It is the home of Duke
University, a private school affiliated with the United Methodist
Church that enjoys a reputation as an academic and research
powerhouse. During the 1950s, Durham figured prominently in
the civil rights movement, and is widely regarded to be the
site of the first sit-in ever to be organized. The church's
location adjoining Urban Ministries of Durham is one of its
The Revd M. Jonah Kendall, rector, was the celebrant. He was
assisted by the Revd Deacon Jill Staton Bullard and an assortment
of chancel assistants, i.e. verger, crucifer, acolytes, etc.
One of them carried, immediately behind the processional cross,
a festive "jingling johnny," homemade from two small tree branches,
lots of little bells, and numerous ribbons in various shades
of blue. I am told the parish has another one, with red and
white ribbons, for Easter and Pentecost. The organist was Eddie
The date & time:
Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2013, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist with Lessons and Carols for Advent.
How full was the building?
Eighty-five per cent full; a good house.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I was greeted and handed a service leaflet as I entered.
At the peace, the other people in the pew made it clear that
they recognized me as a stranger and made me welcome.
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pew. Totally appropriate.
How would you describe the pre-service
Reverent but lively and alert. There was a brief organ prelude
that included Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, from Bach's
What were the exact opening words of the
"The Lord be with you."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
Almost the entire service, from the Prayer Book 1979
and Hymnal 1982, was printed in a 16 page letter size
booklet, illustrated with seasonal art created by local artist
Celeste Gardner; the originals were on display in the parish
What musical instruments
Organ by Goulding & Wood, of Indianapolis, Indiana, well played
by Eddie Abernathy. The choir, conducted by Abernathy, was about
as strong as a parish choir could be. They sang the seven "O
Sapientia" antiphons and the Herbert Howells setting of "A Spotless
Did anything distract you?
Nothing; that's right, nothing. I did have some little daydreams
about visiting here in the early 1960s with my college roommate
and his family, but no distractions in the smoothly flowing
service. There was a verbal toddler in the back, but such as
they are the hope of the church and I find their talking a good
sign. There were no screaming babies and no cell phones.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Very solid Prayer Book, with an actively participating congregation.
There were extra members in the chancel party because of the
special nature of lessons and carols. Both the principals in
the chancel and the congregation all comported themselves with
relaxed dignity and comfortable self-assurance. Nothing looked
like "we practiced this a lot," but there were no slip-ups or
awkward pauses, or people falling all over each other. The vestments
were all traditional, not a cassock-alb to be seen. And the
choir looked as crisp as the clergy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon. There were five lessons, five collects, and carol
commentary, on the theme of the Coming; then the gospel was
Matthew 3:1-2, Jesus's baptism in the River Jordan.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
I have never been in a better, more cohesive service, surrounded
by enthusiastic worshippers who loved me and each other. You
will know they are Christians...
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing! (And that's never happened before!) I was totally uplifted
and elated. Hard to believe, especially coming from Mr Grumpy,
oops, I mean Polypheme.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was a gracious invitation for any newcomers to join the
congregation in the parish hall (a lovely new modern room),
with concise and clear directions on how to get there. I exchanged
pleasantries with the people in my pew before heading for the
How would you describe the after-service
Coffee in china cups and saucers, and juice in glasses. Tiny
homemade pastries. Conversation around tables. Perfect. Based
on St Philip's excellent social stance, I'm guessing that the
coffee was fair-trade.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
Easily 11! – Prayer Book, great music, careful liturgics without
being precious, a loving and diverse congregation – who could
ask for more? If I didn't live 130 miles away, I'd have them
write for my letter of transfer at once. It's enough to make
one consider moving to Durham!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, it did. And, specifically, it made me glad to be an Episcopalian.
And glad what some call chance plopped me down in a pew at St
Philip's this Sunday.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The diversity, the love, the music, the feeling that everybody was glad to be there.
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