A smallish, neo-Gothic structure, the church dates from 1930 and is the work of the noted ecclesiastical architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. It is beautifully appointed, with a carved English oak reredos and ten exquisite stained glass windows. These are just a couple of the many treasures contained inside the church, which is modeled on English cathedral design. Detailed information is given on the parish's elegant website. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
There is wide breadth to the activities of this parish, including Christian formation, a renowned music program, bereavement ministries, hunger ministries and social justice outreaches. The music program is extraordinary, with four choirs and an extensive concert series. Christ Church choirs have toured English cathedrals, and have sung at St Peter's Basilica in Rome. The range of Christian formation activities is equally broad, including a bookstore, a Center for Spirituality, a labyrinth, and an endowed lecture series. It is an inclusive congregation. There are three eucharists each Sunday morning, at 8.00, 9.00, and 11.15, and often a fourth service at 4.30 in the afternoon (Celtic worship, evensong, lessons and carols, or a concert).
Grosse Pointe Farms is one of five cities known collectively as the Grosse Pointe Communities. They lie east of Detroit, on the coast of Lake St Clair, and together have a population of approximately 46,000. These are highly affluent suburbs of Detroit (and have been mocked as such on The Simpsons). Christ Church is right next to a school, but otherwise is surrounded by high-end single-family homes.
The celebrant was the Very Revd Dr David Dieter, senior associate rector and dean of the Emrich Deanery. Gospeller and homilist was the interim rector, the Revd Dr Andrew MacBeth. Scott Hanoian directed the choir and shared organ responsibilities with Shari Fiore.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist: Rite II.
How full was the building?
I estimate there was room for 240; there were fewer than 35 of us in the congregation. The various ministers and choir added perhaps 25 more.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A very friendly usher greeted me and asked me to fill out a name tag.
Was your pew comfortable?
Quite comfortable. There were individual kneelers under the pews, but we did not kneel in this service.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Alleluia. Christ is risen" to which the congregation responded "The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Hymnal 1982, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version were in the pews, but only the hymnal was used; everything else the congregation needed was in the service leaflet.
What musical instruments were played?
A large pipe organ (4,000 pipes) by Harrison and Harrison of Durham, England.
Did anything distract you?
The celebrant's chasuble, altar frontal, and other paraments were largely white for the season of Easter but with large amounts of black trim. All were strikingly beautiful, but I was initially taken aback about seeing so much black on the Second Sunday of Easter. A few rows in front of me there was a young couple with their newborn baby (most of the congregation was older); I could not believe how well-behaved this young one was, although he/she had had enough by the middle of the sermon and one of the parents had to take him/her out for a breather.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A formal liturgy; in terms of the Episcopal Church, fairly middle-of-the-road. The Revd Dr Dieter chanted much of the service from the offertory on, and did so beautifully. We were given the choice of receiving communion at the altar rail, kneeling; or at a station in front of the chancel, standing.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Dr MacBeth was very low key, but effective. He started out by noting that earlier in the week he had been driving through farmland in West Michigan, and had seen various religious signs, including one that read: "Jesus is coming back." He then realized, he said, that he didn't believe that; it implies that Jesus is not here now.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
HIs text was John 20:19-31 (the risen Jesus appears to the apostles and to the doubting Thomas). Jesus greeted the apostles with "Peace," or "Shalom." Given the behavior of some of the disciples at his crucifixion, one might have expected a more remonstrative greeting. Jesus was no longer confined to time and space he enters through a locked door. But his is also not just a spiritual presence Thomas is able to put his hand in Jesus' side. Jesus gave the disciples no explanations, nor does he give us any now. The disciples formed quite an unusual community one in which all of its members had failed at something. Each of us, too, has failed at one thing or another, and so we should feel right at home here.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
You can probably count on your fingers the number of parishes in North America with music this impressive on what is sometimes called Low Sunday: two movements from a Duruflé mass, a chorale setting by the late 16th century German master Johannes Eccard, and the psalm chanted to a setting by Gibbons. It was all done exquisitely, and we were treated to three Bach chorales as prelude music.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well ... there were so few of us in the congregation that I fear the hymn-singing in the nave was nothing at all to compare to what we heard from the chancel. And there were bulletin gremlins two sequence hymns were listed, but only one of the two was sung; needless to say, I went for the wrong one, and missed close to half of the one that was actually sung. (Even the hymn boards listed two sequence hymns.)
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I sat in my pew and listened to Mr Hanoian's postlude, a fanfare by the Anglo-American organist and composer John Cook, as did another dozen or so congregants. As I walked out after the postlude, most of the congregation had scattered. I ran into the Revd Dr Dieter, who asked where I was from; we chatted briefly. He was quite friendly.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – There is quite a lot going on in this parish, and the range of their social justice ministries is impressive. Their worship is high enough, yet not particularly stuffy. And I would be worshipping in a small enough congregation to feel a sense of community.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Black for Easter! The chasuble and altar frontal.