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||1210: Christ Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Ralegh.
The church: Christ Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: The church was begun in 1727 and finished in 1744 and
is an outstanding example of colonial Georgian architecture. Tall multi-paned
windows provide a view of the surrounding area from within the church and
let in copious light. There is an impressive wooden pulpit with a gracefully
curved stairway, which was, however, not used during the service.
The church: Around the time of the American Revolution, many delegates
to the Continental Congress attended this church. George and Martha Washington,
Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, Robert Morris and Francis Hopkinson were
all members. When the Episcopal Church split off from the English church
in 1789, the new body's National Convention was held in this church. Currently,
the membership appears to be middle class and involved in many charitable
works, both within Philadelphia and beyond. The church seems to promote
a thoughtful and progressive approach to spirituality.
The neighborhood: The church is in the Old City district, not far
from Independence Hall in downtown Philadelphia. As a result, it is on the
tourist circuit and receives thousands of visitors during the year. The
entire neighborhood is a mecca for tourists with an interest in American
history, and there are a number of commercial enterprises at hand to take
advantage of their presence.
The cast: The Rev. Carol Anthony was the celebrant, and the Rev.
Timothy Safford, rector, preached. Also participating were John Binsfield,
organist, Jen Miller, reader, and Joan Bedell, intercessor.
The date & time: February 5, 2006, fifth Sunday after Epiphany, 9.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist and sermon.
How full was the building?
Lots of empty seats – perhaps 40 people were present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As Mrs Ralegh and I entered, we lingered to gaze at the crypts along the
walkway. A couple walked in behind us, and the woman, who later introduced
herself as Mary Ann, commented, "If you don't fall asleep during
the service, they bury you inside the church." She then took us in
hand and guided us through the church, directing us to the pew "where
Benjamin Franklin slept." An official greeter was also on hand to
give us our leaflets.
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pew, white with black trim with a plaque stating that this was
originally the Morris pew. Red cushions with brown leather kneelers. The
pew itself was OK, but the kneelers were luxuriantly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential. The church was nearly empty about ten minutes before
the service when we arrived, but as people entered they exchanged a wave
with friends and then quietly made their way to their 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
The service pamphlet contained all the words of the service (Rite II from
the 1979 Book of Common Prayer) and the text of the hymns, and
the 1982 Hymnal was handy for those who wished to read the musical
What musical instruments were played?
A beautiful pipe organ built by the Aeolian-Skinner company, originally
constructed in 1906 but renovated a number of times.
Did anything distract you?
Mrs Ralegh, being in a devilish mood, pointed out to me that a number
of the cast looked like notable personalities Dan Ackroyd, Jay Leno,
Gertrude Stein which made it difficult for me to concentrate on what
the look-alikes were saying for the rest of the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy,
Stiff upper lip, although the congregants loosened up a bit during the
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Father Safford started off a bit woodenly, but seemed to relax
as the sermon went along. He joked with the congregation at times and
used some humorous but appropriate examples and illustrations of his theme.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We all possess demons inside us, maybe not in the sense of real living
demons spoken of in the Bible, but demons just the same. This keeps us
from living out the Christian life as well as we might. Sometimes we are
very aware of these demons, but more often we can see other people's demons
better than our own. It is important that we learn to recognize and deal
with these demons or we are doomed to sinful, unfulfilled lives. But we
also have to learn to trust in Christ, and to allow him to carry some
of our burdens for us, if only for a while.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Three voices from the choir four were listed in the service pamphlet
sang a couple of hymns alone that were undisputedly heavenly.
And which part was like being in... er... the
Instead of ascending the pulpit, Father Safford preached his sermon from
the aisle and ended up standing right smack next to Mrs Ralegh and myself,
who were sitting up front. It was a bit like being the kid in school whom
the teacher intimidates by directing the lesson at him or her in particular.
I was afraid we were going to have to prove we were paying attention.
What happened when you hung around after the service
As soon as the service was over, one of the vestrymen came over and introduced
himself to us, and we had a very pleasant conversation. Then after he
left us, Mary Ann came back over to speak to us some more and pointed
out George Washington's pew, among others.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Immediately after the service, Father Safford was to lead a forum on the
Rev. Absalom Jones, who was the first black Episcopal priest and apparently
from this parish. Outside the room where the forum was to be held, paper
cups and thermos bottles filled with coffee had been set out, but no cookies
or cake. They probably didn't want to encourage people to eat during the
How would you feel about making this church your
regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 If I lived in Philadelphia, this is definitely where I would
go to church. The people were friendly, the history is awe-inspiring,
and the progressive attitudes and devotion to community service are right
in line with my thinking.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. This church exemplifies what I love about the Episcopal church.
What one thing will you remember about all this
in seven days' time?
Mary Anne's straightforward friendliness and her entertaining stories.
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