|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
Church, Woodbury, New Jersey, USA
Church, Woodbury, New Jersey, USA.
The Episcopal Church, Diocese
of New Jersey. The rector is a member of the Society
of the Holy Cross.
Modest in size, elegantly laid out, and clearly well cared for.
Christ Church is an A-frame building with a central aisle, quite
pretty stained glass, and a lovely if rather small sanctuary.
The pyx above the altar is so burnished it glows! The church
dates back to the mid 19th century and was designed by that
excellent architect of holy shrines, John Notman – he who also
brought into being the magnificent trio of Episcopal churches
in the heart of Philadelphia (Holy Trinity, St Mark's and St
Clement's). The building was consecrated on September 17, 1857.
A fire in 1911 was extinguished before extensive damage could
be done, with the ladies of the parish (according to a contemporary
news account) braving the flames to rescue the Bible, altar
linen and bishop's chair.
The congregation are involved in a number of ministries, including
a mission in Nicaragua; Project Linus, a non-profit organization
that knits blankets for seriously ill or traumatized children;
and the Greater Woodbury Cooperative Ministries, which provides
food and financial support to the needy. Two eucharists are
celebrated each Sunday, with one on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
(Wednesday's being a healing mass), and evening prayer on Friday.
Woodbury, New Jersey, is located just across the Delaware River
from Philadelphia. It was founded by Henry Wood, a Quaker who
left England for the New World so that he might practice his
religion freely. Woodbury is the county seat of Gloucester County,
and as such boasts more than a sprinkling of the kind of administrative
buildings one might expect – including a very dignified old
courthouse. As I was driving in from the north, I noticed a
large hospital that I suspect is a major employer in the area.
I also noticed nearby a startling and horrific burned-out Victorian
mansion – a glorious edifice that had obviously been the victim
of a recent fire. More about that later.
Celebrant and preacher: the Very Revd Brian K. Burgess, SSC,
rector and dean of the Woodbury Convocation. Organist: Richard
The date & time:
First Sunday after Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
January 11, 2009, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Choral Eucharist with Rite of Christian Initiation (three infants
and a young child were baptized).
How full was the building?
Absolutely crammed – between 200 and 300 people. The average
age of the congregation was around 30, but the age range was
extraordinary, with congregants who had probably been attending
this church for decades mixed in with young families and their
children. There were probably 50 or 60 youngsters who were present
from the beginning of the service through the communion; they
were attentive and well-behaved throughout the entire proceedings.
It all felt very natural and as if somehow the entire community
of Woodbury was represented in this cross-section of Episcopalian
Did anyone welcome you
There were four ushers. One gentleman shook our hands and greeted
us with a warm "Good morning." Another handed us the
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was perfectly fine, although some shuffling was required
to cram everyone in. The kneelers were of the fold-down kind
but were free-standing. They tended to take on a life of their
own at unexpected moments!
How would you describe the pre-service
I noticed on the first page of the bulletin in large letters:
"Let quietness... characterize your entrance into the House
of God." The congregation had clearly not read this injunction.
They were rather chatty and sociable. But then there were a
lot of children.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the
The service bulletin contained everything but the hymns, for
which we used the Hymnal 1982. The bulletin was a 12
page document, beautifully laid out, making participation easy
for regulars and strangers alike. All the service music was
there – and in four parts when needed. There was pointed Anglican
chant for the psalms. Rubrics included with the text of the
mass made it easy to know when to stand, sit and kneel. And
finally there were four pages of parish notices.
What musical instruments
A pipe organ with a rather "boxed-in" sound. At first I wasn't sure whether I was listening to an electronic imitation. But according to the church's website, a new pipe organ was installed in 1895, replacing an old hand-pumped instrument. The 1895 organ was rebuilt in 1951 and again in 1968. So during the closing voluntary, I moved further forward towards the chancel area. I looked up and spotted a large, pipe-filled chamber. Would that the whole congregation could hear this perfectly respectable instrument in a more open acoustic! The instrument was played by Richard Kurtz, who proved an excellent executant keeping things moving at a nice clip.
Did anything distract
I couldn't take my eyes off the sanctuary party and the altar.
There were no fewer than six acolytes, a thurifer and boat person,
and two chalice bearers. Apart from the chalice bearers, all
other participants were children or teenagers. And everyone
seemed to know exactly what to do and when to do it! For the
record, the bulletin listed no fewer than 65 lay ministers who
had roles to play in the service, the Sunday school and the
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
It was about as Anglican as it could be. The Mass setting was that good old sing-along Healey-Willan. The congregation managed the psalm chant pretty well. The spoken and sung responses were full-throated. A vested choir led the musical proceedings with plenty of conviction. Mass probably sounded and looked like this 50 years ago in this place, but nothing about it felt tired or passé. Incidentally, the PA system was excellent.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 Father Burgess is a brilliant public speaker. He has
mastered the art of blending just enough humor to keep one's
attention, along with poised anecdotes, memorable phrasing and
a smile that is extremely winning. You feel as if he has something
to say about which he cares deeply. Throughout the sermon he
remained focused on the theme of the gospel and kept his message
simple, direct and uncluttered.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
He opened with an attention-grabbing anecdote about the neighborhood
he lived in during his first parish assignment in Florida. Although
he lived in a house of no note, the immediate area was replete
with ante-bellum homes. His street, a tourist attraction, had
hardly changed since the 1890s. Three houses down the road was
a de-sanctified Roman Catholic church with a "gem of a
graveyard behind." His thoughts then turned to sacred places.
A holy space, he mused, is a promise that the full majesty of
God will be in us. We who are baptized are either in a state
of grace or need restoration. And so we have God's invitation
continually to come home to seek nourishment in holy communion.
That is why we come to mass, for all who can embrace the eucharist
can embrace the life of the world to come. Like that sacred
building just down the road from his first home in Florida,
we should look at each other the way we look at holy places.
Which part of the service was like being in
The whole experience was pretty heavenly. But the parts of the
service that stand out are: (1) The delivery of the lessons
by readers who were obviously well prepared – no stumbles,
no mispronunciations. (2) The teenage girl who carried the thurible
and censed the altar party and the congregation with great dignity.
(3) The peace, which was offered by the celebrant – and that
was it! No hand-shaking, smooching or general visitations. (4)
The little girl in the pew in front of me of me who followed
every word of the liturgy and tried to sing every hymn. She
couldn't have been more than eight or nine years old. Finally,
it was also pretty heavenly to be spared any notices. They were
well laid out in the bulletin and no further reminders were
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Something had to go wrong in such a well-ordered setting. The
communion motet was discomforting. It was not that the quartet
who sang it had bad voices – quite the opposite. But they seemed
to have virtually no grasp of how to perform music from the
1500s. Better that they stick to more standard literature.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance of looking lost; no chance of hanging around. We were
spirited away, not so much to a coffee hour as an adult education
How would you describe the after-service
We had a cup of quite good coffee in a styrofoam cup, along
with a slice of sweet cake. No time to socialize, though. Father
Burgess was soon at the podium giving one and all a slide show
on the history of the Amish. He once again proved his capability
as a public speaker and whisked us through the origins of the
Anabaptists, all spiced with wit and good humor; showing that
he was not only an excellent theologian but also a knowledgeable
historian. Then we socialized!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 This is the best attended and most welcoming Anglo-Catholic
church north of Washington DC that I have been to.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That recently burned-out Victorian mansion we had noticed with
horror on our way to the church. It was the answer to a mystery
we had been pondering ever since we had visited the Christ Church
website. In the January newsletter, Father Burgess had written
a word of thanks to the parishioners of St Patrick's Roman Catholic
Church for graciously offering the use of their building for
the funeral mass of a physician and his wife, members of Christ
Church, who had recently died. It wasn't until my wife and I
got home and checked the internet that we confirmed what we
had suspected – that the burned-out house had been the
home of the deceased couple, who had died as a result of injuries
they suffered in the fire. Father's message stated that Christ
Church will present St Patrick's with the gift of a Vatican
flag as a reminder of the very special ecumenical spirit that
was evident on the occasion.
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.