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1082: Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia
Mystery Worshipper: Corpus cani.
The church: Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: A plain, simple, box-like, steepled red brick building in the Federalist style, carefully restored and rather attractive. A large Venetian window at the east end is partially obscured by a very large and quite unattractive pulpit. The altar is conceivably the smallest I have ever seen. There is no center aisle, but two side aisles lead between the ranks of box pews and the seating continues in the galleries above. As claimed by every other church in Virginia, George Washington is said to have worshipped here.
The church: Like many Episcopal churches, Christ Church carries on an active ministry among the less well-off. (Compared to Christ Church, just about everybody else is less well-off!) The parish house includes a vast suite of rooms underneath a local department store, recently purchased by the church.
The neighborhood: This northern Virginia suburb of Washington, DC is chock full of very expensive houses, lots of great places to eat, and some busy shops. Not for nothing is it known as the "Chelsea of Washington."
The cast: The Rt Rev. Peter James Lee, Bishop of Virginia, presided. Bishop Lee was assisted by the rector, the Rev. Pierce W. Klemmt, and a cast of thousands.
What was the name of the service?
Are you ready for this? Confirmation, Reception, Reaffirmation and Holy Communion, Rite II. Trips off the tongue doesn't it?

How full was the building?
Packed to the gunwales.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but a lady near the door shot me a look as though she had just sucked a very bitter lemon when she saw me help myself to a service sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?
No. The downstairs pews are too narrow. Their backs are specially designed to dig into the thoracic vertebrae and there is too little leg room. I sat upstairs, where the pews are a little more comfortable but are arranged collegiate style, forcing one to sit side-saddle to focus on the east end. Even then I couldn't see the altar.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A mild hubbub during a divine Bach fugue.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
A processional hymn followed by "Alleluia! Christ is risen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Prayer, the Hymnal, and a specially printed booklet containing the order of service and the readings.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and choir.

Did anything distract you?
The most hysterically funny procession I have ever witnessed. The choir entered through the southwest door, processed up the south side, across the east, down the north and out the northwest door! Presumably they then ran around the west end to get to the stairs, because they next appeared in the gallery. The whole thing was repeated in reverse at the end. Quite bizarre.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Low Anglicanism, rather pedestrian, with a slight murmur of enthusiasm. Interestingly, the confirmation rite had the bishop laying hands on the candidates and praying for them to be "strengthened and defended" but not "confirmed."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Bishop Lee spoke with great humor, starting with some witty comments about his recent triple bypass heart surgery. This is an easy-listening preacher who puts his message across clearly and concisely.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Heart surgery requires a change in lifestyle and so does Christ. He is with us in suffering, but it is a blasphemy to say that God inflicts suffering on humans.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir's rendition of Elgar's Light out of Darkness. Too stunning for words.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I loathe applause in the midst of worship and this congregation took it to new heights. The rector's welcome of the bishop received a standing ovation, as did the organist's speech after it was announced that he would be retiring.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was left looking lost.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fantastic – coffee and cake, presumably to celebrate the confirmation.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – The liturgy was dull and the welcome almost non-existent. One or two people said hello at coffee and one lady was delightfully friendly, but the congregation as a whole was aloof and rather disdainful. I guess one needs to serve an apprenticeship before being accepted here. The church website's promise of something called "radical hospitality" was sadly unfulfilled. The friendly lady saves Christ Church from a negative score.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Is there a synagogue nearby?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Elgar.
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