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||1309: Christ Church, Waterbury, Connecticut, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Björn Egan.
The church: Christ Church, Waterbury, Connecticut, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Christ Church looks more like an old courthouse or
city hall, or maybe even a condo, rather than an Episcopal church. I had
already driven past it twice before my companion noticed the sign out front
(the sign is of the type that one would expect to see hawking a car wash
or exotic dancers). Anyway, once inside, one finds an absolutely superb
sanctuary, very simply and elegantly done. It almost has the feel of a Methodist
church or a Quaker meeting house. I understand that the building dates from
around 1927 and was originally the parish hall, and the congregation never
got around to building a church proper. And so they have been using the
parish house as their church since the beginning.
The church: They run a community day-care center and a meals for
the needy program, but I was not able to obtain any more information about
either program or any of their other ministries.
The neighborhood: Once the major clock and wristwatch manufacturing
center of America, Waterbury was sort of the Switzerland of America. Among
other industries that thrived in the area was the brass industry –
indeed, Waterbury's motto is Quid Aere Perennius, which means "What
Is More Lasting Than Brass." Small machine shops and tool works still
dot the area. Waterbury was also the site of Holy Land USA, a theme park
representing a miniature Jerusalem and Bethlehem. A popular tourist attraction
in the 1950s and 60s, the park closed in 1984 and now lies in ruin.
The cast: The Rev. George Bogdanich was the celebrant. Carol Blake
was chalice bearer and Michelle Beck provided the music.
The date & time: Sunday, July 23, 2006, 9.00am (although the service
time advertised on the church board, the local newspaper, and the church's
recorded telephone message was 9.30).
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist and Homily.
How full was the building?
There were exactly 23 people in attendance, including the priest, chalice
bearer and organist. The service was held in the basement of the building
due to the heat of the day – pity, as the sanctuary was one of the most
elegant I've ever seen. Even my companion, who is not prone to noticing
sanctuaries, remarked on its beauty. The room was about three-quarters full
when we arrived. It didn't look empty, although 23 people can hardly be
called a mob. If the service had taken place in the sanctuary upstairs,
I would have described it as practically empty.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Secure in the knowledge we had gleaned from the church board, newspaper
notice, and the church's own telephone, we arrived at what we thought to
be 15 minutes early and spied an empty sanctuary. Just then we heard some
voices downstairs, and a woman came running up the stairs to tell us that
the service was going on in the basement and motioned us to follow her.
And so we did. She told us to sit anywhere and handed each of us a service
leaflet, readings for the day, a Book of Common Prayer (1979) and
Hymnal (1982). All this 15 minutes into the service, in the middle
of the sermon no less!
Was your pew comfortable?
The basement is an auditorium, not meant for services. There were eight-foot
long folding tables with metal folding chairs around them arranged diagonally
along both walls, creating an aisle down the middle. The chairs were comfortable
enough, especially since there was a table to lean on. And because of the
diagonal alignment, it didn't matter which side of the table you were seated
at – you didn't need to crane your neck to see the altar.
How would you describe the pre-service
Since we got there so late, we never had a chance to experience the pre-service atmosphere.
What were the exact opening words of the
Again, despite putting in a reasonable effort to nail down the service time,
we arrived far too late to record any opening words, hymns or readings.
What books did the congregation use during the
The aforementioned Prayer Book, Hymnal and service leaflets.
What musical instruments were played?
The organist played a portable Casio keyboard (we were, after all, in the
basement). Ms Beck is a talented keyboardist, and she played the keyboard
very softly and sang in a delightful light voice. All in all, very nicely
done, considering what it could have been had she accidentally pressed the
Did anything distract you?
Unfortunately we had gotten a glimpse of the sanctuary before heading down
to the basement. With that elegant sanctuary in mind, the basement auditorium
with its pipes crossing the ceiling, the linoleum floor, the 1970s era kitchen
in the back, and the folding chairs and tables added up to a major disappointment.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
The service was dignified and respectful. It's quite obvious that everyone
there knew each other quite well and were comfortable with each other's
company. During the peace, everyone in the room made it a point to greet
the two strangers in their midst.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
18 minutes from the point at which we arrived to the end. I don't know how
long he had been going on before we got there.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 Father George's technique was to take the Gospel reading and explain
it in minute detail, sentence by sentence. He would read a sentence from
the Gospel and then explain what that sentence meant. And then he did the
same for the New Testament reading. And then for the Old Testament reading.
I had resolved to myself that if he decided to parse the psalm, I would
run screaming from the room. The other problem, which is admittedly petty
and really only proves my own small-mindedness, is that he spoke with a
rather thick Eastern European accent. I couldn't help closing my eyes and
imagining the Count from Sesame Street up there delivering the
sermon. When he was talking about the 200 denarii, the five loaves and the
two fishes, I'm afraid I very nearly laughed out loud.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Part of the sermon was about selflessness. Despite how tired Christ and
the apostles were from their work, and after Christ told them to come away
and rest, they still ministered and preached to the thousands who gathered.
But there was no one unifying theme to the sermon, and after the first ten
minutes I was so confused by the preacher's jumping back and forth in the
three texts that I lost the thread of the whole thing and ended up out at
Which part of the service was like being in
After the service had ended I went back upstairs and sat in the sanctuary
for a few quiet moments. The peace and tranquility were heaven-sent.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
This is apparently a church that does not expect outsiders. They are all
comfortable knowing what time the services are, and are not worried that
strangers will show up and be confused about the time. My companion tried
to point out that it was just a simple oversight, but I was moved to anger
nonetheless. And I didn't like sitting in the basement, hot church or not.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This was not an issue at all. The kitchen was probably 15 steps or so from
where the altar stood. There were only 23 people in attendance and we (the
two strangers) stood out like sore thumbs. Just about everyone in the room
waved us over to the back of the room as soon as the service ended.
How would you describe the after-service
Neither one of us noticed any coffee at all, but the day was hot, sticky
and muggy and so hot coffee would not have been refreshing. We saw only
a large plate of excellent cookies, a jug of iced tea, and a jug of some
type of citrus juice.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 I spoke with several people after the service and they said that
the sermon was typical for Father George. I would not be happy listening
to rambling, unfocused sermons like that. However, despite the meager numbers
at this service, there is obviously a thriving congregation at this church.
The building itself is in excellent condition inside and out. There are
classrooms everywhere for both adults and children. There is an active feeding
ministry going on. The people at the service were very friendly. And there's
obviously a lot of community involvement.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Whenever I am in the midst of a group of people who are determined to follow
God's command to love thy neighbor and do the right thing, whether they
be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or whatever, I am glad that I am one of the
Christian representatives in the group. These people are doing their part
to better their community and help whoever reaches out his hand in need.
I am glad to participate in this.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The simple beauty of the sanctuary.
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