Incarnation, Dallas, TX (Exterior)

Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, Texas, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Church of the Incarnation
Location: Dallas, Texas, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 May 2013, 11:15am

The building

The "main" Church of the Incarnation is a traditional neo-Gothic space in a cruciform layout. The chancel is home to the high altar (which remains fixed against the east wall); the organ is on the south side, the organ gallery directly across from it on the north side. There are three rows of choir stalls on each side, elevated in the back. The north transept faces the crossing, while the south transept is home to a chapel dedicated to the Good Shepherd and featuring a window of that subject from the former building. This window is artificially lit from the back.

The church

This parish has changed substantially over the years, having gone from a small parish on the fringe of the city of Dallas to a vibrant, growing parish in the heart of the Uptown neighborhood. The parish is in the middle of a $25-million capital campaign effectively to double the size of their campus. Literature on the campaign was available at every entrance and in every hallway throughout the campus. This is easily one of the most diverse Episcopal parishes I have ever seen. The traditional services are incredibly popular with the young 20-something crowd as well as the older generation. The sheer number of worshippers necessitates seven (yes, seven!) worship services each Sunday, all of which include the eucharist.

The neighborhood

The Uptown area is one of the most trendy areas of Dallas. This means that the church draws a wide range of people from the area. There are shops and restaurants galore all within a couple of blocks. I would imagine this makes Sunday brunch very easy for those who attend in the morning.

The cast

The celebrant was the newly ordained (two days earlier) Revd Paul Wheatley. Father Wheatley had previously served at Incarnation as a deacon, and I understand he will be staying on as curate. He was assisted by the Revd Deacon Judy Frizzell. The Revd Harry Hill, assistant rector for pastoral care, served as subdeacon. The preacher was the Revd Matthew S.C. Olver, assistant rector for worship and adult formation, who also served as master of ceremonies. The Rt Revd Anthony J. Burton, rector, and the Revd Joe Hermerding, assistant rector for small and growth groups, attended in choir. There were also a crucifer, two torch bearers, six chalice bearers, and two vergers.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion with the Propers for Ascension Day

How full was the building?

I would estimate that there were around 400-450 people present, many of whom were clearly visitors for Father Wheatley's first mass. The church was relatively full, but not uncomfortably so.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher greeted me at the door, and another usher just inside handed me a leaflet.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews are as comfortable as one can expect for solid wood pews without cushions. They are built on a fairly large scale. The Orthodox Mutt is on the tall side, so it was greatly appreciated. I did notice that the pews in both of the transepts had red cushions, unlike those in the nave.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Mimosas were being served on the front lawn in conjunction with the capital campaign; this probably explains why quite a few people wandered in late to the service. But those who did arrive on time were reverently quiet as the organ prelude (Herbert Howells' Psalm Prelude, Set 1, No. 1) wafted over the sanctuary. A few chatted with their neighbors and greeted newcomers, but all chatter immediately ceased as the introit began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The first words of the service were the proper introit (Viri Galilaei), sung by the choir from behind the last pew in the nave: "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven, alleluia."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Prayer Book 1979 and the Hymnal 1982 were provided in the pews. Only the hymnal was necessary, however, as the entire service was printed in the leaflet. The service followed Rite I.

What musical instruments were played?

The great organ. There were no other instruments used. In fact, there is no place for other instruments in this sanctuary. While I am certainly not complaining, there is not even a piano to be found in the space.

Did anything distract you?

There seemed to be some confusion on the part of the visitors, many of whom were clearly unfamiliar with the seldom-used Rite I. This was particularly evident at the proclamation of the gospel, when many mistakenly used the response "Glory to you, Lord Christ." rather than the prescribed "Glory be to thee, O Lord." A few people were also very late and made something of a fuss while entering. Must have been the mimosas.

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

This was very much a high-church affair. The only thing missing was incense, but considering all the components of the service, I think adding that in would have just been a headache. It was, however, a very comfortable service. It was in no way stuffy as one might expect. The attention to detail was astounding. After the procession back to the altar with the gospel book, the deacon returned to the middle of the chancel to extinguish the Paschal candle in recognition that Christ has ascended. But just behind it, the sanctuary lamp still glowed, indicating that Christ was still present in the Blessed Sacrament. The juxtaposition was very moving. For his first mass, Father Wheatley put in an excellent showing. His chanting was good; he has a nice voice, and he only slipped up once, during the chanting of the preface, but quickly recovered. As deacon at the Easter vigil just a few weeks back, he had chanted the Exsultet note-perfect. Father Olver as master of ceremonies appeared to render very little assistance; he mainly was just there, almost like a bishop's chaplain, in case he was needed.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

16 minutes.

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

9 – Father Olver's sermon sounded very much like a collegiate lecture. It was very insightful, and he justified most everything using appropriate source texts. It comes as no surprise that he will be leaving the parish to pursue doctoral studies.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Christ's Ascension was more than just a fancy exit. When Jesus died, death ceased to exist. Death's hold on us is as trivial as it was to Jesus. Likewise, with the ascension, the barrier between God and man is removed. Furthermore, the removal of Jesus' human presence from his people allows his divine presence to be more clearly present and effectual throughout the world.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

This mass was a full choral mass, which I gather is done about once a month. The choir sang the Francis Jackson Communion Service in G to great effect (though some of the low-church visitors did not seem as thrilled that the service would be prolonged for such extravagance). And the choir did not stop there. This is the only church in Dallas where I have found Anglican chant used regularly. They also sang Gerald Finzi's most famous anthem, God Is Gone Up, albeit a hair under tempo. It was, nonetheless, to great effect. And few things can top a big anthem followed by a powerful improvisation into the doxology (complete with an "Amen" at the end). During the announcements, which preceded the offertory, the rector offered his congratulations to the new priest.

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

One person seated directly behind me insisted on reciting the creed using the Rite II translation, and very loudly at that. I can understand a couple of honest mistakes from those who aren't familiar with Rite I, but he was clearly having no part of it.

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

The postlude was a lovely distraction from the people mulling about the sanctuary after the service. Many people moved forward and sat in the choir stalls or gathered around the chancel steps for a view of the organ console as organist Scott Dettra played the Ite, Missa Est movement from Kenneth Leighton's Dublin Festival Mass. A few people greeted me politely as they passed. A clergy member was available under the pulpit to greet guests and tell them more about the parish.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The pre-service refreshments (see above) were far more interesting! After the service, coffee, iced tea, and cookies were available in the hallway. The coffee was hot and the cookies were soft.

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

10 – I think this service, combined with the service of choral evensong I attended a few weeks ago, may be enough to push me to join! To that end, I suspect this will be my last review of the parish. Woe to any other parish that tries to measure up.

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

I was thrilled to death!

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

The details of the service, so steeped in ritual and tradition.

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