|102: Christ Church, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Music Man.
The church: Christ Church, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal (USA).
The building: A small Gothic church with attached bell tower. Both church and tower are made out of rustic-looking grey limestone.
The neighbourhood: Christ Church is in the middle of Blacksburg, a rather typical American University town. It is a five minute walk to the campus of Virginia Tech, the largest University in Virginia.
The cast: Jack Mitchell, lay leader for this service. Cantors: Beth Obenshain, Leigh Anne Taylor and Tom Wilson.
What was the name of the service?
Ecumenical evening prayer in the style of the Taizé Community.
How full was the building?
Service was held in the parish hall, and at 40 people, the room was probably about two-thirds full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes... with a smile as I was handed the service booklet.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Some people sat on mats on the floor, some sat in old church pews which had recently been removed from Christ Church's mission church, before it was torn down.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Peaceful, awe-filled. Most were involved in meditation or interested in looking around at the transformation of the parish hall meeting room into a "holy place". Borrowed icons were arranged around a central altar, on a screen to the side of the altar, and on small tables in the midst of the people on pallets. One beautiful icon/cross with the four evangelists pictured on it was hung on the lectern a very appropriate symbol for the place where the Gospel was read. Two additional "icons" that were not planned on: the ceiling fans were perfect even-armed celtic crosses.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"I'd like to welcome you all here tonight."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. A detailed service booklet containing the music.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard (using the organ and guitar stops), clarinet, cello, recorders. We were also played a recording of the bells of Taiz as a call to worship.
Did anything distract you?
Watching the reactions of other people in the congregation. It was particularly amusing to see one man who was evidently wrapped up in the joy of meditation while his wife was checking the nearest exit sign.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
None of the above. Mainly, just meditative and peaceful.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon. Instead, we had approximately 10 minutes of silence for meditation.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The palpable feeling of community, despite the fact that the 40 worshipers represented seven different denominations. The peacefulness of the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
None of it. Some of the purposefully repetitive music, however, was repeated so much that I began to get a taste of what eternity might be like.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Since I knew the people in charge of the service, meeting people was not a problem.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No refreshments. At 9.00pm most people were either going out to eat or had already eaten.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 or 9, if I didn't live two states away!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The atmosphere of peace and the beautiful transformation of what had been an ordinary church assembly room.