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680: Old North Church, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
Christ Church, Boston, Massachusetts
Mystery Worshipper: Ralegh.
The church: Christ Church, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal.
The building: Christ Church is a brick church with white wooden steeple, built in 1723 "in the Georgian style following Christopher Wren." White box pews with names inscribed on metal plates, and the carved wood pulpit with sounding board stand out as features in this classic new England style church.
The church: This church is commonly known as "The Old North Church" (in fact, the church has trademarked the name). It is the church where the sexton Robert Newman hanged two lanterns to signal to Paul Revere that the British regulars were advancing up the Charles River to seize colonial military stores in Lexington. The neighborhood has changed over the years, and now most of the congregation comes from outside the parish. However, because of the church's high historical profile, it appears to remain vibrantly active.
The neighbourhood: Located in Boston's northern section, the neighborhood is primarily Italian American with many restaurants, pastry shops and food stores. The church itself is on Boston's freedom trail, a walking tour of various sites within the city linked to the Revolutionary war. As a result, the church is visited by 500,000 plus tourists every year.
The cast: Celebrant, Rev. Stephen T. Ayres. Preacher, The Rev. Canon Jonathan F. Young. Lessons read by Eleanor Lowrey. Intercessions, Richard Paul. Organist, Dr. Libor Dudas.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist, rite 2.

How full was the building?
Maybe 20 per cent full. However, the weather may have kept many people away. The pastor congratulated those of us who had braved the cold in our attendance.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A young woman looked at me expectantly as I came in, and in response to my request directed me to a restroom. Upon my return, a man wearing a tag reading "Greeter" indicated I should follow him as he led me to my pew, where Mrs Ralegh was already waiting, service pamphlet in hand.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a simple wooden box pew, no cushions. There was a padded kneeler, which was tucked under the seat; however, there was no kneeling during the service, so I didn't get to try it out. Each pew had a name on the door, but they may be there just for historical reasons. Certainly, no one came by claiming we were in their pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The priest was rehearsing the baptism ceremony quietly with the family as we came in. People arriving for the service greeted each other briefly and then waited quietly for the service to begin. Generally peaceful and quiet.

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?
The pamphlet handed to us contained the entire service. A couple of hymns were in the pamphlet, and the rest were in the 1982 hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Beautiful pipe organ located at the back of the church and on the second floor.

Did anything distract you?
The priest invited any children in the audience to come up and watch the baptism. This resulted in a couple of children running up and down the aisles while the baptism was proceeding.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Generally low episcopal: no incense, no crossing of themselves by the parishioners, no kneeling. The people for the baptism appeared not to be church regulars and fumbled about through the service. The children added a bit of life. The regulars were very formal and serious, some looked like Boston Brahmins (upper class WASPs whose families have lived in the city for generations).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
6 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The Rev. Young was the epitome of the older Anglican priest (including the British accent). For a moment I thought I had stumbled into the shooting of a BBC mystery. Although his sermon was provocative, his delivery lacked spirit.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He used the story of Naaman, Aram's army commander from 2 Kings, as the starting point: People get so caught up in competition, striving to win, that they forget what is really important in life. Even now, in these difficult times, our leaders seem so determined to win, to come out on top, that they fail to consider what will be the costs and final results of their efforts to defeat their enemies.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing of the small choir and the music from the organ coming from above.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing hell-like inside the church, but outside the temperature was about nine degrees fahrenheit. This bitter cold got us into the church early and made us reluctant to leave.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The pastor was there waiting, and the same friendly greeter took me in hand to validate my parking ticket and directed me to coffee at the building next door. Once we arrived, a number of folks engaged both Mrs Ralegh and myself in conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee kept warm in a thermos was served in paper cups. A nice spread including cranberry scones, grapes, three types of cheese (havarti, camembert, and cheddar) and crackers.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – The people were very friendly, but the service didn't quite click with me. I prefer a bit more high church service.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it's always nice to see children in church, and a baptism gives you faith that people still care enough to put their children through the sacraments. I remain a trifle sceptical, however, since many people seem to get their children baptized as a way of hedging their bets and then seldom return to the church.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The bright blue pacifier that filled the mouth of the infant being baptised, through most of the service.
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