Christ Church, Cranbrook (Exterior)

Christ Church Cranbrook, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ Church Cranbrook
Location: Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 February 2016, 9:00am

The building

A Gothic Revival edifice dating from the 1920s, with elements of the Arts and Crafts style. It was designed by Oscar H. Murray of the New York firm of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, whose famous churches include St Thomas Fifth Avenue, the Cadet Chapel at West Point, St Bartholomew's, St Vincent Ferrer, and dozens of other churches, plus the Los Angeles Public Library and other public buildings throughout the United States. The church has an impressive collection of stained glass windows, a notable fresco in the chancel, and carved wooden reredos. Exterior statuary depicts Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Columbus, William Tyndale, Lord Archbishop Cranmer, William Penn, Abraham Lincoln and others.

The church

They describe themselves as "an Episcopal expression of the Christian faith" with an "inviting, inclusive, and welcoming community." With approximately 900 families on its rolls, the parish is the largest in the Diocese of Michigan. A typical Sunday has three services: Rite I and Rite II eucharists and evensong.

The neighborhood

Bloomfield Hills is a super-rich suburb in the southeast portion of Michigan, about 20 miles northwest of Detroit. The church is located within the precincts of Cranbrook, an exclusive educational community that includes a prestigious boarding school – the Eton College of Michigan – as well as a post-graduate art and architectural college.

The cast

The eucharist was celebrated in the presence of the Most Revd Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, who preached and assisted with distribution of communion. The Revd Canon Dr William J. Danaher Jr, rector of Christ Church, celebrated, vested in purple chasuble. The Revd Joyce Matthews, senior assistant rector, served as liturgical deacon. Christopher Wells and Joshua Boyd were the organist and assistant organist, respectively.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist Rite II.

How full was the building?

Standing room only.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very typical, with it being about as reverent as one would expect with so many people – many of whom knew each other. A carillon recital preceded the service, after which the organist struck up a Bach prelude and fugue.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Bless the Lord, who forgives all our sins."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A service booklet contained the liturgy, which was taken from the 1979 American edition of the Book of Common Prayer.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, an opus of the EM Skinner Organ Company, refurbished and augmented over the years.

Did anything distract you?

The feeling that I was probably occupying someone else's seat in the pews.

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

Broad and typical of a contemporary language Episcopalian Rite II service. The altar bore a purple frontal, with purple veiling concealing the crucifix. Choir in cassocks and surplices; altar party and bishop entered behind the processional cross, veiled in purple; and the flags of the United States and the Episcopal Church. The bishop wore the classic choir dress of an Anglican bishop and carried a simple crosier. The psalm was chanted antiphonally to a Gregorian psalm tone. No incense, no bells, no other chanting, but all the customary service music was sung beautifully. After the exchange of peace, the children’s group came forward to receive a hug from the bishop, after which they presented him with their group’s t-shirt (in his size, one would hope).

Exactly how long was the sermon?

24 minutes.

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

9 – The presiding bishop is as good as an Episcopal preacher comes. Apparently this view was shared by the congregation, who gave him a standing ovation – a first for me. He spoke very animatedly and with several personal asides, some of which raised a chuckle or two.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

All of us are one in Christ Jesus and have an obligation as baptized members in the Jesus movement – the movement of God's love in this world – to change the world and to change us from being merely humans to being the human family of God in all of its diversity.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The stately organ and magnificent singing of the choir.

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

The feeling that I was intruding in an exclusive social club.

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

I was all but ignored.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Their website said that Bishop Curry would join the congregation in the hospitality center for a very special coffee hour. However, I didn't get an invitation.

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

3 – Rite II isn't my cup of tea, liturgically speaking. But setting this aside, I would want a more intimate congregation. Christ Church felt more like a large cathedral than a parish church.

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

As much as any service can, I suppose.

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

The dynamic preaching of the presiding bishop.

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