All Saints, Indianapolis (exterior)

All Saints, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: All Saints
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 November 2016, 10:00am

The building

The Gothic Revival building of red brick was dedicated as the Cathedral of All Saints in 1911; it continued to serve as the pro-cathedral for the diocese until 1954. The original plan of early 20th century architect Alfred Grindle, who designed churches, schools and private homes primarily in Indiana, was never fully realized due to financial reasons. Only the nave and crossing were built, with the chancel being enclosed in somewhat of a makeshift wooden structure. Declared unsafe in the late 1950s, that structure was replaced by an apse and sacristy of dark red brick. Although stylistically dissonant with the Gothic Revival nave, the curved surface of the apse greatly enhances the acoustics of the building. Even so, my first impression of the east wall of the church was not favorable. It seemed stark, but by mid service I rather liked the red brick backdrop to the altar. Chapels in the transepts (a Lady chapel in the north and St Michael the Archangel in the south, which chapel also has the only stained glass anywhere in the building) provide some welcome color.

All Saints, Indianapolis (Lady chapel)

The church

On January 1, 1977, the Revd Jacqueline Allene Means was ordained a priest at All Saints, the first woman to be regularly ordained in the United States (earlier ordinations carried out before approval by the General Convention having been declared irregular). They appear to be quite inclusive, welcoming all to worship with them. There are several groups in which parishioners can participate, including the usual ministries of acolyte, altar guild and choristers, but also Arts at All Saints, which includes concerts and recitals, lectures, dance, and the visual arts. There seem to be a lot of ways to become involved in the fabric of the congregation. All Saints had an active ministry to the homeless community in the 70s and 80s and this ministry has now become the Dayspring Center, an institution sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis. They are known as a bastion of Anglo-Catholicism, embracing (quoting from their website) "the mysticism of the ancient liturgy." There is a solemn mass each Sunday (again quoting from their website: "We are the only parish in the diocese that regularly offers this liturgy, and we offered it for 30 years of Sundays before the Prayer Book declared the eucharist as the principal act of Sunday worship"). There is also an earlier low mass only in the summer months, and a low mass on Wednesday evenings. Compline is sung on the second Thursday of each month.

The neighborhood

The church is in the Old Northside, the upscale neighborhood of the late 19th century. Former residents include Benjamin Harrison, 23rd president of the United States; novelist Booth Tarkington; and other notable figures. From about 1910 onward, the neighborhood went into decline as families moved away and old buildings were either demolished or fell into disrepair. Tarkington, in his novel The Magnificent Ambersons, wrote: "Everything was damply streaked with the soot: the walls of the houses ... the dirty cement and unswept asphalt underfoot, the very sky overhead." But urban renewal and gentrification set in beginning around 1975, culminating in the area being declared an Historic District. Demolition has ceased, once derelict buildings have been painstakingly restored, and today Old Northside is one of the most prestigious and sought-after addresses in all of Indianapolis.

The cast

The Revd E. Suzanne Wille, rector, presided and preached. She was assisted by the Revd Deacon Brantley Alexander. Janette Fishell, D. Mus., was organist and choirmaster.

What was the name of the service?

Solemn High Mass

How full was the building?

With 10 in the altar party, 13 or so in the choir loft in the west gallery, and 120 or so in the nave, it looked nicely full but not packed.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was greeted with smiles and nods. After the service, people introduced themselves to me and invited me to join them at coffee hour in the parish house.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was quite comfortable. So was the kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverential. With brick walls, stone floor and wooden pews, there wasnt much to absorb sound and one could discern more than a little whispering, but it wasnt terribly distracting.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The choir sang the introit. Thus says the Lord; I have plans for your welfare and not for harm.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal 1980. There was also a pew card with the Richard Proulx Community Mass that the people used.

What musical instruments were played?

A pipe organ, usually (see below) well played by the music director and choirmaster. The original instrument, an opus of Henry Pilcher and Sons of Louisville, Kentucky, was rebuilt in 1964 by Aldo J. Bertorelli and Associates of Indianapolis and again in 1986 by the LD MacPherson Co., incorporating pipes from organs that had formerly graced several churches throughout the country.

Did anything distract you?

The church was a little chilly, perhaps. I was close enough to the chancel that I wondered if heard bells on the thurible. I decided it was simply the censor striking the chains. It had a pleasant sound reminiscent of a cowbell.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It was nicely formal. I found it to be that balance of liturgical beauty without being overly fussy.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – The rector seemed to preach a sensitive, pastoral prayer to a congregation who were deeply troubled about the US Presidential election days before. There were violent political protests in Indianapolis the very night before this service. Ordinarily, I would not quite approve of a political sermon, but this wasnt politic; it was addressing her peoples hopes and fears and spiritual well-being.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Even in times of trial and adversity, there is hope in and through God. Deep wounds cannot be denied, but we are called to love, even fierce love, and courage. We were reminded that the Book of Lamentations tells us that though we are bowed down by affliction and bitterness, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, and his mercies never end.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The incense was heavenly. It took a little time for the fragrance to make its way into the nave after the altar was censed. It was full and richly fragrant for the censing of the gospel book, too. The perfume wasnt overly sweet. The choir anthem, Beatus Vir, was particularly beautiful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Though the organist played beautifully for the voluntaries before and after the service, the organ was much too loud during two of the hymns, particularly Isaac Watts' "Come we that love the Lord," sung to Vineyard Haven, which I find to be the ugliest tune in the hymnal. The disagreeable noise was so bombastic, I could not have heard Ethel Merman if she were seated in my pew. Pity – my favorite hymn sung to my least favorite tune.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

During the announcements, the people were invited (and given easy directions) to coffee hour. I followed some congregants and they engaged me in conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was a table with grapes, crackers, a selection of cheeses, and some cookies. The coffee urn was at a nearby table and had ceramic mugs. During coffee hour, two parishioners made a brief presentation on aesthetics and the theology of beauty, as the parish is considering a stained glass project for the church.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

10 – This group of Christians looks like the band of Catholics in the Episcopal Church I joined years ago. Room for everybody. There is authority, but it is the authority of love and service.

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

Yes. The people worship God in the beauty of holiness.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The conversation at coffee hour and exchange of ideas about beauty.

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