Mystery Worshipper: Virginia Kneeling
Church: Church of the Incarnation
Location: Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 16 April 2017, 10:00am
Formerly an auto parts store that was known locally as the ugliest building in Harrisonburg, it has been reworked into a trim little worship space with auditorium by Blue Ridge Architects, a local firm. There is not a great deal of auxiliary space for offices, nursery, or other uses. The outside has been stuccoed and a modernistic steeple was added a couple of years ago. There is a fenced play yard adjacent. The auditorium itself is rather spare but has been reworked to have excellent acoustics. Because the church is a great supporter of the arts, there is wonderful art on the walls that apparently changes every so often. Today it was flower paintings, which were truly gorgeous and in keeping with the season.
They appear to be mostly a younger community, with many young families and lots of children and college-age people (not surprising, as James Madison University is nearby). But there was a healthy sprinkling of older members as well, so I didn't feel too out of place. I noted not only racial diversity but considerable lifestyle diversity, with people ranging from well-dressed modern to hipster to long-skirted head-covered types. However, they all seemed to mesh and mingle. Incarnation is very active in evangelism, having already sponsored a church plant in nearby Elkton, some 20 plus miles east of Harrisonburg. They are a church that is big on "small groups," and membership requires not only the completion of an Essentials course, but a one-on-one meeting with the pastor and the signing of a membership affirmation.
The church building is on the edge of downtown Harrisonburg, near the old downtown, which has been and is still being redeveloped very successfully since the 1990s. Redevelopment has not quite reached Incarnation's neighborhood, however.
The Revd Aubrey Spears, rector, celebrated, preached, and performed the baptisms. The Revd Drew Dilday, curate, opened the service and led the first part of it. The musicians were not listed by name.
What was the name of the service?Worship with Baptism and Lord's Supper
How full was the building?
Full to the walls.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The people who sat next to me said "Good morning." Turned out they were visitors also and Roman Catholic to boot!
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a folding chair, and padded, but not particularly comfortable. However, we stood for a good portion of the service, so except for the sermon it wasn't a problem.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Loud! People were talking everywhere and everyone was trying to be heard. Hard to get in the mood for worship with all that going on, but it was Easter, so I was pretty much in the mood anyway.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Alleluia! Christ is risen!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Only the worship booklet. The words to all the hymns were in the booklet and everyone seemed to know the tunes.
What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, violin, and guitar for all the hymns. A trumpet accompanied some, a drum for others, and for a couple of them, a gentleman wearing a kilt played small pipes.
Did anything distract you?
The nursery for the smallest ones was in the foyer, and there were some very unhappy little folk out there making their displeasure known quite loudly.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I would call it upbeat liturgical worship. Definitely liturgical, but the entire style was upbeat. The eucharistic prayers were borrowed from a Kenyan liturgy and I loved them. The music was joyous and most of the hymns were of the well-known variety; those that weren't known to me were easy to pick up because they were sung with such verve and conviction by the congregation.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The rector is from a Southern Baptist background and it definitely shows up in his preaching, He did preach from notes, holding an open Bible, but since this church has neither a pulpit nor a lectern, that's understandable!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The meaning of the Resurrection and how we should apply it to our own lives. When we are lost, in despair, Jesus calls us by our name to a new relationship with him. When we establish that relationship, we do not cling to him we are to go and tell our sisters and brothers and then are to go out and do the work he commands us to do to heal the world.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Well, the baptisms, of course. I love baptisms, and there were five children baptized, ranging from small infants to a beautiful young girl who looked to be about 10 or 11. But mostly the singing, and especially "All Creatures of Our God and King" accompanied by small pipes. That gave me the shivers. Or maybe it was because ...
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
... the air conditioning was on full blast and I was absolutely freezing, even though I had on long sleeves! The rector finally commented on it himself and something was done about it.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It was impossible to leave because of a logjam of people at the back of the church where coffee and bagels were set up. Besides, there were children running around all over, so I couldn't move, basically. I just let myself be swept with the crowd toward the coffee, eventually. Several people said hello and asked me if it was my first time there.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good hot coffee in styrofoam cups. No idea where it came from. Bagels were available, as was cream cheese to spread on them.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I like the atmosphere and the music, and the people seem friendly and very enthusiastic, but I am a bit put off by a couple of things. One is that I'm not a huge fan of the Anglican Church of North America, which can probably be put down to my Episcopalian upbringing. The other is the required "personal interview" with the rector before membership. I've always felt that one's faith is pretty much one's own business, and that feels a bit like prying. If I were joining a monastic community it would be one thing, but church membership seems quite another.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The small pipes accompanying "All Creatures of Our God and King."