|477: The Chapel of the Cross, Madison, Mississippi|
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Mystery Worshipper: Fidelis.
The church: The Chapel of the Cross, Madison, Mississippi.
Denomination: Episcopal Church of the USA.
The building: Built in 1848 as the chapel for Annandale Plantation, the Chapel of the Cross is a vision of an English country church in the heart of the Deep South. Itinerant English architect Frank Wills endowed the Gothic Revival brick chapel with a lofty bell tower, tall narrow windows and an arched side entrance. Inside, luminous white plaster walls, warm oak trusses, a carved bishop's chair and an altar rail brought over together on sailing ships, an Italian stone baptismal font and magnificent magnolias visible from the clear windows complete a merger of Anglican and southern sensibilities. Adjacent to the chapel are a parish hall and a new education building designed by David Dillard, in a style reminiscent of England's Cotswolds.
The church: The 150 year-old faith community, which has about 1,000 parishioners, combines a solid orthodox Anglican theology with an emphasis on participation in community affairs and inner-city programs of a new South.
The neighbourhood: The chapel is located on Highway 463 west of Madison in the rural suburbs of Madison County. It is placed on a gentle rise in a glade of magnolia, oak, cedar and dogwood. A cow pasture is across the road.
The cast: Rev. David Christian, Rector; Rev. Marian Dulaney, Priest; Rev. Eilene Warwick, Deacon; Dr Edward Dacus, Parish Musician.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist. The Third Sunday After the Epiphany.
How full was the building?
The chapel, which holds 120 people, was full. There are simultaneous services led by priests in the chapel and parish hall at 8.30am and 11.00am on Sundays.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A parishioner greeted us as we arrived. Two ushers greeted us at the door and handed us a bulletin.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, the antique wooden pew was comfortable. However, the cushion on the kneeler was missing.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reverential, quiet and peaceful with a background of a lovely organ prelude. Several people were kneeling and praying, and others were praying in the pews.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer, 1979; 1982 Episcopal Hymnbook; bulletin with the order of worship.
What musical instruments were played?
A brand new organ which had just arrived.
Did anything distract you?
The priest and organist discussed the fact that the parish was in a quandary as to where to place the organ, which was temporarily on the right side of the church.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a traditional Anglican service, somewhere between high and low church. There was a procession with a verger, priest, acolytes and a choir, but there were no bells or incense. The priest kissed the Bible after reading the Gospel, a formal but touching gesture of respect. The wine was a Mississippi muscadine. The music during communion included the hymn by Mississippian William Alexander Percy, "They Cast Their Nets in Galilee."
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Rev. David Christian's style is confident, casual and sincere. The heartfelt sermon showed a deep love and affection for the parishioners.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The text was 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. The rector exhorted the parishioners to be united in the same mind and purpose. He said that the Christian church as a community is the body of Christ, which consists of many members, and the Chapel is particularly blessed by a diversity of gifts and talents. God has called each of them there for a purpose. He encouraged them to care for one another, pray for one another, and love one another. He concluded: "Let all you do be done to the building up of the body in love to the glory of God."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The offertory, Psalm 139, from the Psalter Hymnal 1927, sung by the choir with the new organ, was beautiful.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing was that bad. However, the sanctus was a little slow and dreary. Also, the priest appeared to rush through the absolution.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several parishioners and the organist talked to us about the new organ and the building. The priest also talked to us at the door.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 We would probably join the Chapel of the Cross if we lived in the area.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it appears to be a very warm and caring community. I got the impression that the rector has a close relationship with Jesus.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The service was beautiful and moving. The sermon was truly encouraging. The ambience of the architecturally stunning chapel in its pastoral setting, the lovely furnishings, pretty flowers and beautiful organ music is unsurpassed.