Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, Connecticut, USA

Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, Connecticut, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ Church Cathedral
Location: Hartford, Connecticut, USA
Date of visit: Friday, 21 October 2005, 5:30pm

The building

The building was erected in 1827-29 as a parish church (as it still is). Built of brownstone, it is essentially Georgian with a Gothic tower, interior arches, and windows. The building is a 100' x 70' rectangle with galleries over the aisles and the narthex and with a recessed chancel added in 1879. The east end of the nave is brightly painted with murals on either side of the chancel arch and a heraldic motif extending over it. The building received major refurbishing in the last few years and is now quite bright looking. At the same time, the organ was rebuilt and an antiphonal organ (including a trompette en chamade – trumpet rank mounted fan-like) – was added in the west gallery.

The church

As in many American churches, there are no parish boundaries and the congregation is drawn from Hartford and the surrounding towns. The immediate area is definitely "downtown" – not many residents, and most of these not particularly affluent, but there is an intentional ministry to those who live and work in the area.

The neighborhood

Hartford is the state capital of Connecticut and the headquarters of most of America's major insurance companies. Famous residents of the past include Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and her brother, the Revd Henry Ward Beecher, the noted abolitionist preacher. Like many American cities in the latter part of the 20th century, Hartford has suffered from urban decay, but in recent years a series of renewal projects has attempted to reverse this trend. The residential area in which the church was first built has long since disappeared. It was once a busy shopping area, but much of that too has also gone. But renewal is in evidence: a community college has taken over a former department store, and another has become a hotel. There is an active theater, and a large upscale condominium community is planned for the area as well.

The cast

The officiant was the Very Revd Mark B. Pendleton, dean of the cathedral. The sermon was preached by the Very Revd Richard E. Kilgour, provost of St Andrew's Cathedral, Aberdeen, Scotland, and honorary canon of Christ Church Cathedral. The first reading was given by a member of St Andrew's, Aberdeen, and the second reading by the Revd Canon J. Allison St Louis, cathedral vicar. Music was provided by the choir of St Andrew's, Dr Andrew Morrisson, director, George Chittendon, organ scholar.

What was the name of the service?

Evensong for the diocesan convention (synod).

How full was the building?

The building seemed about half full (about 200-250), a shame since it had been well filled for the business of the convention.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Not really, as I had come in quite early to hear the choir practice. I did have a short chat with the provost of St Andrew's and his wife just at the end of the practice.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, but as so often happens, a little tight for comfortable kneeling. Of course, I am a bit on the heavy side.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The prelude began at 5.20 and a number of people came in about then, talking quite loudly and continuing to do so. Since most of these were convention delegates – clergy and committed laity – I found this particularly disappointing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Cantate Domino..." Psalm 96:1-3 sung in Latin as an introit.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The entire service except for one hymn was in a provided booklet. The 1982 Hymnal was used for that one hymn.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ.

Did anything distract you?

Only the talking during the prelude.

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

It was a traditional Anglican cathedral evensong at or very near its exuberant best.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

7 – The provost spoke well, with a Scottish burr that was clearly noticeable but not at all difficult to understand.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The text was from Ephesians 2 (one of the readings), "You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints..." There has been a long and warm relationship between the Connecticut diocese and that of Aberdeen – Samuel Seabury, the first bishop of Connecticut (and the first Anglican bishop outside of the British Isles) was consecrated in Aberdeen – and the preacher used this as an illustration of the text. He then developed the idea that evensong is preeminently a service of the Word, and that it is this Word that calls us into being as that household.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The music all the way through the service, and especially the anthem, "God is gone up with a triumphant shout," in a 20th century setting that took full advantage of the trompette rank on the antiphonal organ. The soaring blend of voices and organ was perfect, and almost literally lifted me out of the pew.

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

It had to be the chatter during the prelude. I rarely do this, but at one point I had to ask my neighbor (not the worst offender but the closest and thus the most annoying) to please let me listen to the music.

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

People did much better at sitting quietly for the postlude. Afterwards people left with quiet chatter in which I joined.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was no coffee or other refreshment after the service as such. There was a separate dinner and dancing shortly afterwards for convention members who chose to attend, but I did not.

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

6 – There was simply no basis to judge since most of the congregation and most of the leaders of the service were not from the cathedral. I certainly hope to have an opportunity to worship at St Andrew's, though I don't think I'm ready to move to Aberdeen.

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

Very much so. Any faith that can inspire the writing and performing of so much beautiful music to the glory of God is one to be rejoiced in.

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

The music and especially the anthem.

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