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2466: Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, Texas, USA
Incarnation, Dallas, TX (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Preacher's Kid.
The church: Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, Texas, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Dallas.
The building: This cruciform Gothic church is one of several in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex all designed by the same firm. It looks like a church ought to look. The ceiling is about 65 feet above the floor. Various additions and remodelings have been done, but the only noticeable addition to the church itself is a cloister leading from the central building alongside the south wall. Over the years carpets were removed and replaced with slate, the ceilings were hardened, and cushions removed, so that the building now has a reverberance truly characteristic of the its style.
The church: Many of Incarnation's members are quite wealthy and influential, not only in Dallas, but also in Texas and the country. The people themselves are quite loyal to the parish, and many drive significant distances from all over the metroplex to worship. There are many young families in the congregation, and the church has responded with contemporary services that they call "Uptown Church."
The neighborhood: The area around the church is now officially called Uptown. When Dallas was small, the area lay well outside the city limits and was home to those who were unwelcome closer in, namely Blacks and Hispanics. But what was once a remote backwater is now completely engulfed by the city of Dallas. Urban renewal transformed the area beginning in the late 20th century, and virtually nothing remains of its former self. Today Uptown is a warren of condominiums, trendy restaurants and local and chain retailers. Even though it is one of the most densely developed sections of the city, it is also one of the most pedestrian-friendly.
The cast: The Rt Revd Anthony J. Burton, who resigned as Bishop of Saskatchewan, Canada, in 2008 to answer the call as rector of Church of the Incarnation, was the preacher. The Revd Joe Hermerding, assistant rector, was the celebrant, assisted by the Revd Deacon Paul Wheatley. Also participating were the Revd Matthew S.C. Olver, assistant rector; the Revd Harry Hill, assistant rector; and the Revd T. Gregory Methvin, vice rector. The music was provided by Scott Dettra, choirmaster and director of music; Julane Swank, interim assistant organist; and Robert Dicks, organ scholar.
The date & time: First Sunday of Advent, December 2, 2012, 11.15am.

What was the name of the service?
Choral Eucharist with Great Litany in Procession.

How full was the building?
The building seats around 700 and was about 95 per cent full. Texans take church seriously.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We arrived at the church rather early. The usher crew for the service were arriving and they greeted us warmly. The choir were having their warm-up from the chancel and it was a treat to have a preview of what was to come. Bishop Burton was in the narthex and he gave us a friendly welcome.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews are traditional oak, with leather-covered padded kneelers, not very different from many other similar churches.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Having arrived early, we had an opportunity to observe the congregation as they gathered. Most everyone entered quietly, knelt, and awaited the commencement of the service. A few people recognized each other and there were hugs and handshakes here and there.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Unto thee, O Lord, I lift up my soul: O my God, in thee have I trusted."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A special edition leaflet that included everything needed. The service itself was taken from the Prayer Book 1979 and Hymnal 1982.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The original EM Skinner organ was rebuilt in the early 1990s by Noack Organ Company of Falmouth, Massachusetts, and is unique in that it combines an electronic console with slider wind chests normally found in tracker instruments. There is a rank of herald trumpets on the back wall. The tower bells were rung during the elevations.

Did anything distract you?
There were some small children in front of us who simply weren’t tolerating the service, much less the procession. Their father wisely removed them. A gentleman in front of us slipped out of his shoes while he was kneeling – in point of fact, not a bad idea!

Incarnation, Dallas, TX (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This is just about as high-church as you can get in Texas, short of the few-and-far-between Anglo-Catholic churches (the Kid only knows of one, but perhaps there is another somewhere). The service music for the core of the eucharist was William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices. Every participant, including the congregation, knew the service and appeared to delight in it.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Bishop Burton is a magnificent public speaker and a truly knowledgeable homilist. His delivery is casual without being condescending. He knows how to use humor to make a point. The Kid could listen to him every Sunday.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Because it was the First Sunday of Advent, we were reminded that this was New Year’s Day for the Church. But we cannot just look forward to Christmas without understanding that Christmas leads on to the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This service was as nearly perfect as human worship can get. The sermon was great, the chanting was on pitch, the congregational singing was heartfelt. The choir in this church are among the best-trained and best-disciplined the Kid has ever known – and this goes back over a period of at least 20 years. They just get better and better.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The peace. This is personal, but the Kid was taught to use that short period of time after the benediction to reflect upon the prayers just said. The Kid thinks that the meet-and-greet can wait until the coffee hour.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The Kid spotted someone he knows who has recently joined the parish, and we had a nice conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was slim. I was told that the great hall, which previously was used for coffee hour, is now utilized for the "Uptown Service", so the coffee urn and iced tea pitcher (remember, we are in Texas) were set out in the hallway outside the bookstore.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – The Kid has known this church for a long time. Even though he no longer lives in Dallas, he has made a point of attending services here every time he is back in town. Over the course of years, many staff and clergy changes have occurred, and but for a couple of retired clerics who participate in activities of the church, none of the "old timers" are here any longer. However, the growth, not only size-wise and spiritually, but liturgically, is remarkable. If the Kid were to move back to Dallas, he would be here in church on his first Sunday in town!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The great litany in procession.
 
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