Ship of Fools
  Bulletin Boards
  Mystery Worshipper
  Caption Competition
  Gadgets for God
  The Fruitcake Zone
  Signs & Blunders
  Born Twice
  About Ship of Fools
  Support us!
  Contact us!
781: Duke University Chapel, Durham, North Carolina, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
Duke University, Durham, NC
Mystery Worshipper: ChemicalGrl.
The church: Duke University Chapel, Durham, NC.
Denomination: United Methodist.
The neighbourhood: The immediate neighborhood is the university – the chapel appears to be the centre of campus. Naturally, all the other buildings around the chapel are built in the same style, so it looks like you've just stepped into a Gothic community.
What was the name of the service?
University service of worship.

How full was the building?
It appeared that all the pews (at least, those not closed by construction and scaffolding) were filled with people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not really, although I ran into the preacher and asked him how to get to the nave, as, in my zeal to explore the chapel before the service, I had ended up in the underground tunnels. He was helpful and told me how to get up to the nave.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was your standard hard, wooden pew. No kneelers though; however I haven't yet been in a Methodist church that had any.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The pre-service atmosphere was quiet and solemn. There was a rather long organ prelude, played on the Flentrop (Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in G minor) and people were quietly listening to these pieces, performed very ably by the guest organist.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to our service of worship here at the Duke University chapel."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
All of the hymns, psalms and prayers came from the United Methodist Hymnal. Bibles were available for those who wanted to follow along as the readings were being proclaimed.

What musical instruments were played?
Believe it or not, three of the four organs listed above were used for this service. The Flentrop was used for the prelude, and the Aeolian for most of the service. One of the choral anthems was accompanied by an oboist. For the communion service after the main service was completed, the Brombaugh was used for the ordinaries as well as a postlude after the communion service was done.

Did anything distract you?
Frankly speaking, just the majesty of the building is enough to distract anyone. During the sermon, which in my opinion was a little long, and contained an awful lot of repeated themes, it was all too easy for the eyes to wander off toward the stained glass windows, and other architectural features.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship seemed rather formal. No clapping, swaying, anything of that sort. The music was very formal, the anthems put forward by the summer choir were definitely on the contemporary side – good contemporary, though (Craig Courtney and John Ness Beck).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – He was enthusiastic enough, but my goodness, he just went on forever and ever and ever. In my humble opinion, he could have effectively delivered his sermon in around 10 minutes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon centred on one's abuse of power, and how one can be corrupted by it. The biblical example given was when Nathan tells the story of the poor man who sacrifices his beloved lamb for a prestigious guest while the rich man's large herd grazes in the valley below. David recognizes the selfishness of the rich man, and Nathan points out that David is that rich man. The preacher related this scenario to modern day experiences, comparing David to Kobe Bryant, Bill Clinton (especially with regards to the Monica Lewinsky incident), and George Bush's infamous 16 words from the 2003 state of the union address. The take-home message: everyone needs to find someone who would be willing to tell them the truth to make them a better person.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was wonderful. The organ music was glorious, the summer choir's offerings added to the ethereal beauty of the whole thing. You also get a sense of sacredness and beauty from the building itself, by just looking at the architectural features of it, and especially with the stained glass windows.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sermon was a little bit over-long. The preacher could have made his point in about half the time.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There were heaps of people, and so it was very easy to be lost in the crowd. No one approached me as they seem to assume that if you just hang around, you're a tourist who wants to take in the building. It does state in the order of worship that if you want a tour, you should meet the Docent near the front steps of the chapel.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't stay for the after-service coffee, if there was any at all. I ended up taking the tour of the chapel with the other tourists.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – Well, if the service didn't seem incomplete to me, then I would have given higher marks, and I wouldn't mind worshipping here. However, I'm used to something more liturgical. It's just so weird to have everything come to an abrupt halt right after the offertory. But I guess that's just how the Methodists do things.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It did, actually. It was the music and the beauty of the building that did it for me.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I would have to say the glorious music. I love hearing good organ music, and I especially love hearing a choir offer good, solid anthems.
The Mystery Worshipper is sponsored by, the internet service provider from Christian Aid. By offering email services, special offers with companies such as and, surefish raises more than £300,000 a year for Christian Aid's work around the world.

Click here to find out how to become a Mystery Worshipper. And click here if you would like to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Top | Other Reports | Become a Mystery Worshipper!

© Ship of Fools 2004
Surefish logo