Christ Church, Cambridge, MA (Exterior)

Christ Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ Church
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 June 2012, 7:45am

The building

A colonial-era wood frame church resting on a granite foundation. After the American Revolution the church stood empty for many years but was eventually reopened. It was expanded in 1857 and redecorated in 1883, but in 1920 the interior was restored to its original simplicity. The floor plan is that of a classical basilica, with two aisles separated by rows of columns, and an apse at the east end. The choir is placed in the front of the nave. There are large clear windows and a bell tower that provides an entryway.

The church

In addition to parish work, the church provides an active chaplaincy to the Anglican community at Harvard University. They are a member of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and the Harvard Square Churches Meal Program. They also support missions in Cuba (in conjunction with the Episcopal Church of Cuba) and Honduras. They run a thrift shop, proceeds from which go to the upkeep of the building.

The neighborhood

The church is across the street from the Cambridge Common, a public park that was the seat of much rebel activity in the early years of the American Revolution. Many of the surrounding buildings are part of Harvard University and Radcliffe College.

The cast

The Revd Joseph O. Robinson, rector, was the celebrant, and the Revd Jonathan T. Eden, assistant rector, preached. Stuart Forster, organist, provided the music.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist

How full was the building?

We counted 32, about 10 per cent full but quite respectable for an early liturgy.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Not on arrival, but several people welcomed us cordially at the peace and after the service.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews are cushioned and were comfortable but not luxurious. They were well spaced out so I could kneel without contortions – a definite plus.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Much more quiet and reverential than my home parish.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The entire service, including music, was in the printed leaflet. There were Prayer Books and hymnals in the pews, but no need for them on this occasion.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. The pipes of the church's original organ, by John Snetzler of London, were melted down for bullets during the American Revolution. Beginning around 1845 a variety of replacement instruments were installed over the course of several decades, culminating in 1940 with an opus of the venerable Æolian-Skinner Organ Company of Boston, which was never completely finished. The present instrument dates from 2006 and is by Schoenstein & Co. of San Francisco. It is a substantial instrument, and the organist, Mr Forster, played most excellently.

Did anything distract you?

The main distraction was the occasional substitution of excessively (to my mind) inclusive language for Prayer Book texts.

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

It was pretty straightforward and mostly by the book, but not distant. The clergy spoke to be heard and understood, and the people joined actively in the responses and the singing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

7 – The Revd Mr Eden would come close to a 10 for delivery, but unfortunately neither Mrs Liturgist nor I could figure out what his sermon was actually about!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He began with a discussion of skipping stones, which led into a consideration of the geology of the Maine coast. Then came a reflection on the riches of creation, which segued into Ezekiel 17:22-24 (God will plant a cedar sprig that will bear fruit). Then all of a sudden he was talking about using cedarwood to replace some of the clapboards on the church building, saying that cedar provides shelter.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The organ music – both the instrument and the player; and the fact that the congregation actually sat still and listened (both before and after the service). What a welcome contrast to my home church!

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

It's one thing to advocate equality, but quite another to substitute one's own wording for the official Prayer Book text.

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

Once the postlude ended and we got up to leave, we found ourselves in several conversations on the way out. Mrs Liturgist is a change ringer, and a chance remark led to a discussion with several people on the topic. We also got a direct invitation to go up for coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

But unfortunately we had to pass up the coffee for the same reason we chose an early service to start with, namely plans for later in the morning.

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

6 – I would visit there again, especially if I had to go to an early celebration. This is one of the few Episcopal churches to include music at that hour. There are other churches in the Boston area that have greater appeal to Mrs Liturgist and myself for a main service, however.

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

Yes it did. There was much to like in the people, the worship, and the music.

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

Two things: the music and the way the people sat quietly to listen; and wondering what the sermon was actually about.

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