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  1245: Christ Church, Poughkeepsie, New York, USA

Christ Church, Poughkeepsie, New York, USA

Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Christ Church, Poughkeepsie, New York, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: The parish dates from 1766 and the present church is its third. The sandstone building with belfry sits on a large, shady corner lot. The nave is outfitted with dark rose walls, red carpeting and dark oak pews. A columbarium is located in the rear, to the left. The sanctuary is narrow, with white walls and a communion table that looks too big for the space. Choir stalls and the organ case are in the north transept. The east wall features a stained glass triptych depicting Christ the Good Shepherd, St James and St John. Stained glass in the nave includes scenes from the New Testament and portraits of the great doctors of the Church – St Augustine, St Jerome and St Thomas Aquinas.
The church: Christ Church prides itself on solid liturgy, including the best musical traditions and good preaching. Three masses are celebrated each Sunday, including one in Spanish. Morning prayer and evensong are offered during the week. The church sponsors a Sunday school, youth and adult groups, a summer camp, and outreaches to the homeless and to inmates of the county jail.
The neighborhood: Poughkeepsie's name derives from an Algonquin Indian word meaning "the reed covered lodge by the watering place." Founded in 1687, the city sits on the east bank of the Hudson River about 75 miles north of New York City. In 1847, native sons William and Andrew Smith (better known as Trade and Mark from the package logo featuring their portraits) began to peddle a cough remedy that was to become Smith Brothers Cough Drops. The drops were made locally until 1973, when the brand was acquired by pharmaceutical giant Warner-Lambert. Samuel FB Morse, inventor of the telegraph, maintained an estate in Poughkeepsie that is now a national historic site. Poughkeepsie is also the home of Vassar College, one of the Seven Sisters women's colleges, although co-educational since 1969. Christ Church is located in the city's well-to-do south side, resplendent with large, carefully restored Victorian homes.
The cast: The Rev. Dr Adam Bartholomew, interim pastor, Mr John Sullivan, organist, Dr Laura Ramsey Russell, choir director. Father Bartholomew was vested in alb and stole for the first part of the mass, and donned a chasuble at the offertory. The crucifer and two acolytes wore albs – and, I'm pleased to report, proper footwear. The choir did not vest.
The date & time: Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 28, 2006, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Choral Eucharist.

How full was the building?
About 50 people in a building that can hold 300. To their credit, everyone sat toward the front.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No ushers were on duty, but a man and his wife saw me glancing about for a bulletin and introduced themselves. We chatted a bit.

Was your pew comfortable?
The red cushion pew liners were comfortable to sit on, but the back was at a little too severe an angle.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverent – a welcome change from the usual loud visiting.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Alleluia. Christ is risen."

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

What musical instruments were played?
A pipe organ, in good tune and enclosed in a tastefully designed case. There was also a choir of 12 voices.

Did anything distract you?
Nothing major, but a few things here and there that I'll mention as I go.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A well celebrated Rite II liturgy. Father Bartholomew recited the Gospel from memory and with great dramatic inflection; the effect was as though Christ himself were speaking extemporaneously to us. Someone told me afterward that he did this every Sunday. I thought the congregational hymn singing could have used a little more support from the organ, and as a result was a shade timid. The peace ceremony was the huggy-kissy kind, but since most of the congregation appeared to know each other well, I thought it almost bordered on the appropriate.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Friendly, informal, chatty. I liked Father's style but thought he tended to ramble. He could probably have shaved about 10 minutes off the time if he had stayed more on topic.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
This was Father Bartholomew's last day as interim pastor. He compared Jesus's final prayer before his ascension (John 17:11-19) to what his own final prayer might be for the congregation. He felt that he was just getting going with the parish, as Jesus was just getting going with his followers. Jesus prayed the Father to send another comforter, just as the parish will receive a new rector. He has consoled members of the church in times of sorrow, and rejoiced with them on occasions such as weddings. Every person we meet is a mystery from God into whom we are privileged to look. We hear God by hearing others' thoughts. He concluded by praying that the congregation may remember him with the same sense of joy that he will remember them.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Father Bartholomew's friendly, easy-going, joyful demeanor permeated the entire service. The choir were well trained and well directed, and seemed to enjoy singing the two anthems they offered.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Just a little nit-picking. Father chanted the sursum corda in a delightfully on-pitch rich baritone, but lost his place! As a result, we observed twice that it is right to give God thanks and praise without actually being exhorted to do so. The bulletin encouraged people either to stand or kneel for the eucharistic prayer – half stood, half kneeled. I would have preferred to see everyone do the same thing. The PA system inexplicably switched on and off at random during the eucharistic prayer – a major distraction! And we used the modern language Lord's Prayer, which I think is pointless.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the final blessing, everyone and his grandmother stood up to deliver an announcement or two, despite the availability of a printed announcement sheet tucked into the bulletin. When the dismissal was finally given, we all remained in our pews quietly while the organist played his postlude. After that, several people shook my hand and introduced themselves.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good, strong, hot coffee served in paper cups. There were also fruit juices available, and an assortment of cookies and chips. The two people who had greeted me at the door asked me what I had thought of the service, and I enjoyed rehearsing the draft of my report with them secure in the knowledge that they had no idea of what I was up to.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I lived in Poughkeepsie, this would be my parish for sure! I'd love to join that choir and otherwise become actively involved in such an exuberant, thriving parish as this.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That Father recited the Gospel from memory but lost his place in the sursum corda.
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