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960: Grace Episcopal, Amherst, Massachussetts, USA
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Grace Episcopal Church, Amherst, Massachussetts, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Quaerens.
The church: Grace Episcopal, Amherst, Massachussetts, USA.
Denomination: Episcopalian Church in the USA.
The building: A fine, stone neo-gothic building dating from the mid 1860s. It is a replica of St Michael's Church, Oxford.
The church: This seemed a very vigorous community, with lots going on. We were particularly impressed that, according to the bulletin, there are ushers appointed for the 8.00am Sunday eucharist! There was a happy sense of family about everything we saw.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in central Amherst, right on the village common. The town is pleasant and bustling, reflecting the presence of four or five universities or colleges in the immediate vicinity.
The cast: Celebrant, Rev. A. Robert Hirschfield (rector). Preacher, Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jones. Deacon, Rev. Alan Kittelson.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist with Choir.

How full was the building?
Seven-eighths full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. An usher gave us a service leaflet as we entered.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, as pews go.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The pre-service atmosphere was what I would describe as a happy but reverential hubbub.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
We began right away, without introduction of any sort, with the hymn "For all the saints". When that was done, the celebrant intoned: "Blessed be the one, holy and living God."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The church was in the midst of a four-month experiment with a new liturgical text; this was provided in a booklet. Apart from that, we once made use of the Book of Common Prayer. And, of course, we used the hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ.

Did anything distract you?
The east window was not worthy of the rest of the architecture and furnishings: mostly grisaille with a few emblems set in.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was good middle-Anglican worship – no lace or incense on the one hand, but on the other no chatty informality. There was great energy in everything, and we particularly appreciated the complete lack of verbal instructions: no hymn numbers were announced, no page numbers were announced, no editorial comments like, "We will now recite the Nicene Creed, which all Christians since 325..."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
18 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – It was pleasant and forthright.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
This was the parish's celebration of All Saints' Day. The sermon bore on the place of saints in our lives – not so much the church's official saints as our own personal ones. It opened with reflections on some of the writings of Alice Walker (which I don't think you'd get in too many churches). This theme was tied in with that of unity, the unity of the church and of all creation, in God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing of the hymns, with the choir performing spine-tingling descants on some verses. Moreover, these were all great rousing hymns – "For all the saints", "Let saints on earth in concert sing", "O what their joy and their glory must be", "Ye watchers and ye holy ones". Nothing dreary and hard to sing here – it was enormously satisfying!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was nothing truly hellish about it, but the choir seemed really unequal to the Vaughan Williams offertory anthem that had been chosen; this seemed strange, given that their performance in the hymn descants was so extraordinary.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The several priests at the door were engaged in talking to parishioners; we waited for a while, but there seemed no end to their conversations in sight, so we eventually left ungreeted.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We didn't go.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I would want to be part of such a vigorous community, with such an energetic but classically formal liturgy. It should be noted that there are three eucharists on Sunday, one at 8.00am, one at 10.30am, and a contemplative eucharist (with incense, silence and Taizé chant) at 6.00pm.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh yes, definitely. If only it were usually so rewarding to be one!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The choir's descant on "For all the saints."
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