Restoration Anglican, Arlington, VA (Exterior)

Restoration Anglican Church, Arlington, Virginia, USA


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Restoration Anglican Church
Location: Arlington, Virginia, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 October 2015, 11:00am

The building

They meet in the former Trinity Baptist Church, which they acquired when that church disbanded in 2010. It's a decades-old building that has been extensively renovated to look brand new and high end. They received their certificate of occupancy in September 2014, and the church was dedicated and consecrated the next month. The brick exterior is fronted by a porch with neoclassical arches. The interior is bright and open, with touches of the old (traditional church chandeliers and pews) blending with the modern: a large open platform on which the altar rests, illuminated by strategically placed ceiling lighting and backed by the ubiquitous projection screen. They had a really good architect for this place, someone who could make woodwork and interior design say "church" and "classic" as well as "modern." The altar rail was especially well done.

The church

A conservative remnant in one of the bluest areas of the state. They sponsor groups for men, women and children and partner with numerous outreach groups both locally and abroad. They have two morning services each Sunday plus an evening service.

The neighborhood

Arlington is located just south of Washington, DC. The church sits in a triangle formed by US Route 29, a major commercial strip in northern Virginia that ultimately extends all the way to Florida; and Interstate 66 (not to be confused with the historic US Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles), the only Interstate highway connecting Washington with northern Virginia in a westerly direction. It's a quiet residential neighborhood with large stately older homes, very well kept. An affluent area, "connected to systems and structures of privilege" as the church itself says on their website. There is no parking provided at the church except for cars displaying handicapped plates or decals – it's not that parking is forbidden on the side streets; it's that the church, as a good neighbor, strongly discourages parishioners from taking up spaces that residents and their guests may want to use. There is a public lot about a six minute walk from the church; a shuttle bus is provided for those who don't care to walk.

The cast

The Revd David Hanke, rector. Matt Hoppe, director of worship arts, led the music.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Worship (but it's a Prayer Book eucharist).

How full was the building?

Half full. I believe it can hold about 400 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We parked in the public parking lot (see above) and walked six blocks to the church. We fell in with another man who also had parked and was walking to the church, and had a brief conversation with him regarding current politics.

Was your pew comfortable?

Lovely new wooden pews.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of coming and going.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

I'm afraid they were swallowed up in the pre-service hubbub!

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Nothing. Everything was projected up on the big screen, which was the width of the altar area and hung above the cross. There are pew Bibles, so you can look up the text.

What musical instruments were played?

Cello, two guitars, bass, drums.

Did anything distract you?

I found myself admiring the extensive alterations that had turned the old church into a new building: splendid cork/wood flooring (I'll come back in five years to see how it wears), the handsome and clearly very expensive HVAC system, the custom solid-wood (and supremely expensive) doors. All in a clean modern millennial kind of style – this a place that God could build if only he had the money and an unlimited line of credit at the local hardware emporium. Their website shows that the total cost of the renovations was about $4.8 million and that about $2.7 million had been pledged, the remainder carried in a mortgage.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Modern. No vestments. The candles were electric; the eucharist was pita bread. On their website they say that "our service follows the same pattern each week, using a mix of old, historical elements and our own new ones ... it’s energetic, un-stodgy, and life-giving."

Exactly how long was the sermon?

33 minutes. Thirteen of those minutes were consumed by a review of how much fun everybody had at last week's church retreat (followed by applause) and a profuse apology from the rector for his sermon of two weeks previous, which must have been a humdinger! Judging from his summary (the entire sermon is posted on their website, but I did not play it), he had said that marriage on earth is a preparation for marriage to Jesus in heaven, and so we should be careful to court a prospective spouse who follows Jesus, not one who does not, as that would have "consequences."

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

5 – I appreciate the fact that the rector had the courage to admit that he had been harsh in his words, and even wrong – apparently there had been numerous complaints. But even though he spoke clearly, it sounded at times like he was reading from a script, and a rather wordy one at that, rather than preaching from the heart. He could have cut the sermon time in half and it would have delivered the same message.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The text was Genesis 29:21-30 (Laban gives his daughter Leah, not Rachel, to Jacob, but then after seven days gives him Rachel to be his wife). This was not "a last-minute switcheroo", but Laban had probably been planning the switch for a long time. This seems like a horrible idea – if this was God's will, can we really trust God? Right from the first chapter of Genesis on, we see what happens when we stop trusting God and doing instead what he commanded us not to do: everything becomes broken. Eventually God came among us in the person of Jesus, so that those who trust him can be with him forever. This has always been God's purpose as revealed in the Bible. Marriage is just one of the tools God uses to accomplish this. Like Jacob, all of us have had "something done to us" whether we are churchgoers or not. That "something" must not become the operating principle of our life. We must not descend into chaos or uncertainty. But Jesus asks: "What do you want me to do for you?" How will we answer that question? In the words of the old hymn: "Guide me, o thou great Jehovah."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Very child-friendly. This congregation trends young. Kids were running around during communion, quiet but active, entirely comfortable.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

I cannot help feeling that they're awfully interested in who marries whom – not that Leah or Rachel had any say in the matter.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

No one addressed us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There were snacks on offer after the service, but we were going with friends to lunch and so did not partake.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

2 – No, I would not fit in.

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

I cannot imagine that they are going to win a lot of souls. Arlington County is one of the most Democratic regions in the state. This church would be more at home in central Tennessee. There's being a faithful remnant, and then there's burying your head in the sand.

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

The skill with which the renovations had been carried out. In fact, if any church in the region is looking for a redesign, it needs to see this building!

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools