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444: National City Christian Church, Washington DC
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National City Christian Church, Washington DC
Mystery Worshipper: The Searching Pilgrim.
The church: National City Christian Church, Washington DC.
Denomination: Disciples of Christ.
The building: National City is one of the most impressive church buildings in Washington. Located on Thomas Circle, its imposing facade and complex was designed by John Russell Pope, who also designed the Jefferson Memorial, the National Archives Building and the National Gallery of Art.
The church: This congregation is housed in the national "cathedral" for the Disciples of Christ. The building is the only Disciples church that belongs to and is supported by Disciples around the world, yet the tone of the day was that this was definitely an active local congregation.
The neighbourhood: Thomas Circle and the nearby Logan Circle neighborhood is going through a major resurgence in popularity, with gentrification occuring all around the church. In addition, numerous condo buildings, retail stores and new hotels are popping up all in the immediate vicinity.
The cast: Dr Alvin Jackson, senior pastor, Rev. Virginia Taylor, associate pastor for Christian education, Dr Gary Reynolds, associate pastor for stewardship, Catherine Hargrove, elder.
What was the name of the service?
First Sunday of Advent – under title of "Advent 2001: Receiving the Gift of Christ".

How full was the building?
The sanctuary was about 50 percent filled when I entered at 10.50am. However, there were many latecomers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The welcome at NCCC was overwhelming! On reaching the outer door of the church, no fewer than 12 people warmly greeted me, said his/her name, and told me how glad he/she was that I had joined them for worship today. The ushers were efficient and friendly, offering any assistance needed. As the service began, the minister asked all visitors to stand and the ushers quickly were dispatched to deliver information on the church to them. While I'd have preferred to remain completely anonymous, I was very curious to see what was in the packet. Following this, all congregants were invited to greet one another and several members made a beeline to me to say hello. Since there were at least 40-50 visitors, I don't think my cover was blown.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews are cushioned with burgundy velveteen bench pillows. They're slightly lumpy, but are comfortable, nonetheless.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As I entered, I was handed a bulletin, a poinsettia memorial order form, and a listing of all Advent activities. Fortunately, the atmosphere was conducive to me orienting myself with these items, who stood where in the sanctuary and chancel, and what books were in the pews themselves. Not many chatters, no unruly children, perfect to get started.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to National City Christian Church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Chalice Hymnal (DOC), Holy Bible (I didn't notice which version).

What musical instruments were played?
The Moller Chancel Organ in this sanctuary is one of the most beautiful instruments I've ever heard and was played along with the gallery organ in a most uplifting way. While it's a massive organ, it was not overwhelming and was excellently played to accompany both the choir and congregation. It's worth a trip to this church just to hear its magnificent voice – they evidently host Thursday lunchtime concerts throughout the year for this purpose.

Did anything distract you?
The sanctuary was decorated with multiple poinsettias and evergreen wreaths. The wreaths were beautiful and well-placed. However, the poinsettias looked like dime store rejects and if one must use them in a display, PLEASE use only one color! For such a glorious building, they really detracted from the beauty. I also noticed an American flag and a Christian flag on the rostrum. Sorry, but I just don't consider these appropriate symbols for any house of worship. The only other distracting item was that they really need to work on the sound system reverb when Dr Jackson is preaching. He's such a powerful speaker that I doubt he even needs amplification, but as his sermon continued, I started to get a slight headache from the echo/reverb bouncing off the walls!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The order of worship was a good reflection of mainstream Reformed denominations in the US. Every aspect of the service had an appropriate place and relevance. I expected this service to be somewhat formal, but when several congregants became "filled with the Spirit" during the sermon, that tone changed. The several shouts of affirmation to Dr Jackson's message were actually uplifting. I came away from the service with the feeling that these people take Christ very seriously but allow themselves the opportunity to be human about it. There were times of laughter and lightheartedness, and it was a most pleasant experience.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Dr Jackson is a most powerful speaker. He's engaging, entertaining and at times captivating. If he could deliver the message without the sound system, I'd suggest he do so. This has to be one of the better sermons I've heard in a while.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was titled, "Why We Can't Wait." When Dr Jackson started out, he used the movie "Waiting to Exhale" as a starting point for his message that we are all sitting around waiting for something to happen or for the correct situation to be presented to us before we truly live as Christ would have us to do. Through biblical examples, he furthered this idea and also included other hindrances such as society, religious denominations and our own creation of objections as to why we don't fully embrace Christ right now... and that it's time to do so.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The warm greeting I received and the music were most spiritually uplifing in this imposing house of worship. The sermon was spectacular!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the end of communion, there was only a brief benediction and then the congregation remained seated for the organ postlude. Well, where was the closing hymn? I wanted to be able to sing my lungs out for God and have a wonderful hymn on which to chew as I left the church. Instead, I was unclear as to whether or not it was acceptable to even get up during the postlude.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Upon reaching the back of the church, I was grabbed by at least three people inviting me to the after-service coffee. As I headed out the door to find it, even more people thanked me for coming and said they hoped I'd return.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Well, this is where I screwed up. I was invited but failed to ask for specific directions and in the massive flurry of people going in and out of the building where I thought it was, I couldn't find the room.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – The urban ministries of this church, as well as those to various minority groups, would appeal to me greatly. I was unable to get a handle on the actual makeup of the congregation or even an idea of the size in terms of numbers. However, I think that anyone who ascribes to the DOC beliefs might find a most well-rounded Christian experience here.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I was elated to be a Christian as I felt I'd attended a service where I was surrounded by fellow believers in a place where the the gospel was not only being preached, but lived.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warm welcome.
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