Calvary Episcopal, Louisville, KY

Calvary Episcopal, Louisville, Kentucky, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Calvary Episcopal
Location: Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 November 2014, 11:00am

The building

A Victorian Gothic Revival church, built of limestone, begun in 1872 and finished in 1888. The architect, WH Redin, was known for his churches, private homes and cemetery gates. The asymmetrical west front includes a spire capped by cut stone, one of only two such structures in the United States. Inside, there is no center aisle, but rather three aisles of pews arranged in an octagonal space. Stained glass includes windows from the Tiffany studios as well as the John B. Alberts Studio of Louisville. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The church

They are known for being the high church parish of Louisville, with an affluent membership. They sponsor a wide range of groups and activities for members of all ages, all documented on their website. One that caught my attention is Stout Faith, which is (quoting from their website) "an informal monthly gathering at a local pub to discuss theology and matters of faith." Their outreaches include Help Ministries, which is sponsored by seven local churches (again quoting from their website) "to give direct and personal assistance to residents of the central Louisville community who are in need." There are three eucharistic celebrations each Sunday as well as morning prayer, evening prayer and the eucharist on varying weekdays.

The neighborhood

Calvary is in the area known as Old Louisville, the third largest historic district in the United States and the largest that features Victorian architecture almost exclusively – most of the stately old homes are of brick and many include stained glass. Many have been painstakingly restored to their original grandeur, although others have been converted to a variety of uses ranging from luxury condominiums to student housing. The church itself is across from Spalding University, a Catholic college.

The cast

The Revd Jonathan M. Erdman, rector, was assisted by the Revd Katherine K. Doyle, assistant rector, in the role of deacon. There was also an unnamed subdeacon.

What was the name of the service?

Advent Procession and Choral Eucharist, Rite One

How full was the building?

About 40 per cent. It didn't feel empty because most people were in the center section, but the left and right sections remained empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher said "Good morning" and provided me with the service handout.

Was your pew comfortable?

I was shocked at their level of comfort! One would think a church built in the late 19th century would have hard, wooden pews, but they were incredibly comfortable. But the kneelers were quite another story – read on!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People were quietly talking as the altar party lined up outside the church door.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of Jesus Christ: welcome to Calvary."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The entire service was provided on a handout, which was rather pleasant!

What musical instruments were played?

The organ, opus 283 of Casavant Frères Ltée., St Hyacinthe, Québec, installed in 1965.

Did anything distract you?

In the beginning there were several children who were loud. Their dear mother could be heard pleading with them to quiet down. There were several people who temporarily exited the facility during the liturgy (noticed only because the exit door to the parish hall was to the left of the altar). The rector graciously mentioned during his announcements how important it was to leave if one had to attend to personal matters or crying children, and that people shouldn't be embarrassed to do so.

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

High church, Rite I. So lots of "thees" and "thous." The Advent portion of the service came from the Book of Occasional Services, but otherwise they don't seem to stray much from the Book of Common Prayer. This was billed as a choral eucharist, but their weekly schedule made mention of a solemn eucharist as well. Quite frankly, I can't imagine a eucharist more solemn than the choral one I attended! The celebrant was in a chasuble and was flanked by a deacon and sub-deacon as appropriate at a high mass. I was amused to see that the assistant rector, in dalmatic and alb in her role as deacon, sported velvet six-inch stiletto heels beneath her robes! Black velvet stiletto heels, not liturgically correct purple – a sign of our fallen world, I suppose.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

8 – The rector did not seem to preach from notes and did a great job of accentuating his points.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Advent is a time to be awake. Oftentimes we want to ignore the world around us: injustices, persecution of Christians, environmental disasters, etc. But we are called to make a difference and hold each other accountable.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The choir had about twelve members and was absolutely amazing. They sang Palestrina beautifully. The antiphonal music transported me to an English cathedral rather than downtown Louisville.

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

Oh, those kneelers! They were not at all comfortable, even though they looked very expensive – stiff bunting with leather covers. I would imagine they were expensive to install as well! Also, the extra added Advent bits lengthened the service to over one and one-quarter hours, which was quite a while for me. Finally, I'm not used to singing all six verses of each hymn.

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

I was invited to the parish coffee hour and assured that the food was wonderful. However, because of the length of the service, I had to dash off to other appointments. Several people indicated they were happy to see me and hoped I'd come back.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

See above.

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

10 – The architecture of the church was amazing and the congregation seemed genuinely interested to be there. It struck me as a hidden gem.

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

Yes! I left very happy.

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

The beautiful choir and the assistant rector's velvet stilettos!

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