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  1082: Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, USA

Read this report | Other comments

23 June 2005

Dear Editor

I would like to address some of the comments "Corpus Cani" made in report 1082: Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, USA, my parish home.

In the synopsis of the church the author made some disparaging comments about the aesthetic of the interior. This is a matter of opinion and I will not address it. However, there were a few blaring flaws of fact. In the description of "The building" the last sentence, "As claimed by every other church in Virginia, George Washington is said to have worshipped here," is plainly wrong. He did worship at Christ Church. In fact his Alexandria home was less than two blocks away. He helped build the church. He served on the vestry. My point is his involvement with the parish was more than a simple "said to have worshipped here".

In "The church," the statement, "Compared to Christ Church, just about everybody else is less well-off!" is again a matter of opinion and in my association with the parish, inaccurate. By virtue of geography Christ Church is situated in an upper middle class area of Northern Virginia, but is by no means the most affluent part of the Washington Metropolitan area!

And lastly, in 23 years of living in Alexandria, I have never heard it referred to as the "Chelsea of Washington".

I will move on to the service. I don't want to write a book, so I'm going to keep these brief.

On the question, "Did anyone welcome you personally?", Corpus Cani wrote: "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."

We normally have two or three greeters by the front doors before the service. Ushers inside also greet attendees of the service, hand them a program or order of service, then escort them to a pew (downstairs). In the gallery one seats themselves. I can only assume Corpus Cani arrived a bit after the service had started and seated him/her self during the processional. I have been an usher here since 1983 and we do discourage parishioners and visitors alike from seating them selves during various parts of the service. This might also suggest the reason for the absence of greeters out front.

On the question, "Was your pew comfortable?", Corpus Cani wrote: "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..."

True, the pews downstairs are uncomfortable. Some are original to the church (almost 250 years old), others were added in the 1820s, and were built when people were a bit smaller than we are now. I assure you no consideration was given to intentional discomfort by designing pews that "dig into the thoracic vertebrae" That being said, Christ Church is a national historic landmark, and protected as such. Even if we wanted to (we don't), I doubt we would be allowed to remove and replace the downstairs seating. The gallery seating was added almost 100 years later out of necessity as Alexandria and the parish grew. The gallery is more comfortable and unless one is in the front row, has restricted views of the altar. I would like to add I attend church to worship, not to "be comfortable".

On the question, "Did anything distract you?", Corpus Cani wrote: "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!"

I have witnessed many processions at an equal number of churches. At Christ Church the procession is no more bizarre than any other I have seen, bearing in mind the double aisle configuration of the church and placement of choir seating. I assure you the choir does not "run" to the gallery. Perhaps Corpus Cani could suggest a more effective method to the clergy so as not to distract?

On the question, "And which part was like being in... er... the other place?", Corpus Cani wrote: "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."

I agree. Ovations have no place in church. I did not attend this service, and therefore can't comment on the applause for the Bishop. I can say applause is not the norm at Christ Church. Now, the second ovation in question is a different matter altogether. Alvin (Ted) Gustin has been the organist/choirmaster for 37 years. He may have missed two to three Sundays a year, but otherwise has been an inspiration for the parish as a whole. He has performed at the weddings and funerals of parishioners. He has also orchestrated performances for the public in Alexandria. In a very positive way Ted has been, and will continue to be, an asset to the community, and when able, perhaps to the church after his retirement. Ted is adored by this parish; he deserved this display of affection from the people he has served so diligently over the years.

On the question, "What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?", Corpus Cani wrote: "I was left looking lost."

I am at a loss on this one. It strikes me odd, because if we meet a new person at Christ Church, we tend to introduce them to our friends in the area after the service. Did Corpus Cani make him/herself available to approach? We are human, and after such a bad experience at the church, a modest scowl might have kept us at bay. I do offer a sincere apology.

On the question, "Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?", Corpus Cani wrote: "Is there a synagogue nearby?"

This answer I found to be the most offensive and sarcastic of the bunch. I have attended services that I did not care for, but I would never suggest their chosen method of praise would cause me to change religion (unless Corpus Cani is Jewish). But the answer to the question is, yes. The clergy at Christ Church would be happy to direct Corpus Cani to it, as we do a great deal of work together with the Inner Faith Coalition.

That about covers it. My feeling is Corpus Cani had the misfortune of attending a service that encompassed a bit more than the norm, certainly more than he/she is accustomed to. Christ Church is experiencing growing pains, as are most of the Episcopal churches in the United States, but remains a vibrant part of the community and an important structure in our history. Perhaps we could get another chance.

Robert Ashley Long
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