Mystery Worshipper: Eutychus
Church: Christ Church
Location: Vienna, Austria
Date of visit: Sunday, 14 November 2010, 10:50am
A brick-built Gothic Revival building dating from the late 19th century designed by central European architect Viktor Rumpelmayer. Its interior has plain white walls. The majority of windows are clear glass, the originals having been destroyed at the end of the Second World War. The east window, however, does have stained glass and carries the inscription: "Dedicated to the Glory of God by the British Troops in Austria 1945-1948". It was designed by Frederick W. Cole, who had served during the war as a captain in the Royal Engineers designing camouflage but who was also chief designer for stained glass makers William Morris and Co.
This Anglican chaplaincy in Vienna serves people in Austria, Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia. They describe themselves as an English-speaking family of around 500 Christians from many nations. The church building is owned by the Church of England but further facilities have been created thanks to the community efforts of the Christ Church Support Association. The church holds several services a week, including on Sundays Holy Communion (BCP) at 8.00am and a eucharist at 10.00am. There are also morning services on Tuesdays and Wednesdays alongside various special services. Other activities include house groups, a Bible group and a Sunday School.
The church is situated in Landstrasse, Vienna's third district. In the southeast of the city with just over 80,000 inhabitants, the area is known mostly for Belvedere Palace, originally built for Prince Eugene of Savoy in the early 18th century (today it houses a museum and art galleries) and the Hundertwasserhaus, an expressionist building featuring undulating floors and trees growing inside rooms, built in the 1980s. The church is set adjacent to a number of embassies, including the British embassy.
The Venerable Patrick Curran, Chaplain and Archdeacon of the Eastern Archdeaconry of the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, assisted by the Revd John Dunbar Koch, curate (who is also known as "Jady Koch").
What was the name of the service?Remembrance Sunday Service
How full was the building?
The church was full – about 100 people. Many nations were represented, albeit informally, including Austrians, a Chilean, Czechs and Germans as well as Nigerians and a Beninese.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed by two or three people, none of whom had any obvious official role, and was handed a service sheet. There was an unusual amount of activity, as there had been a 10.00am eucharist and a number of people were leaving that service as I arrived.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was hard and wooden, which filled me with Puritan glee, but there was adequate room for kneeling at the appropriate points.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Although a number of people were leaving the previous eucharist as I arrived, there was a reverential silence in the moments leading up to the service itself.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We are here to worship Almighty God, whose purposes are good, whose power sustains the world he made, and who loves us, though we have failed in his service."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The service was contained on the printed booklet, though there were copies of The English Hymnal in the pew.
What musical instruments were played?
A fine, small organ, with ten stops on two manuals and pedal, which was built by the Quebec-based organ builder Latourneau in 1987.
Did anything distract you?
The only distraction was a large Union flag draped across the left-hand side of the altar. In normal circumstances this would have troubled me greatly, but since it was a Remembrance Day service it was an understandable, if distracting, addition.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Mainstream Anglican hymns set to traditional melodies with a hint of early church music, including an organ prelude by Byrd. The choir were seated in a gallery beside the organ console and the members were of a professional standard. Music, particularly the choir, plays an important role in the liturgy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The archdeacon spoke fluently, with a gentle Canadian accent.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based loosely on Luke 23 (the burial of Jesus) but referred to the sacrifice of many during the world wars, Iraq and Afghanistan. It extended the Remembrance theme to recent wars, including those with no British involvement, and carefully wove in themes of freedom and democracy, including the release from house arrest of the Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi the previous day.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There were three memorable and moving events. "The Last Post" was sounded by a uniformed trumpeter from the Austrian army: a symbol of reconciliation and unity. The service sheet carried an illustration of the National Monument to the Women of WWII. This had unusual poignancy that even now I struggle to explain. Maybe it being so far from Blighty, but the words of the hymn "This is my song, O God of all the nations" (Finlandia), particularly the lines:
"My country's skies are bluer than the ocean
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The embarrassment I felt singing the British National Anthem while sitting between an Austrian and a German. They clearly felt no such pain and joined in more lustily than I ever could.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Both the Austrian (who turned out to be Danish by birth) and the German initiated conversations at the end of the service. The whole congregation were invited to a reception at the British embassy, so there was a mass exodus in that general direction as soon as the organist had finished his rendition of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C minor.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Magnificent! There was actually no coffee, but instead unlimited quantities of wine, orange juice, gluhwein (mulled wine) and beer with hot and cold canapes. I was told, however, that the normal fare was generally less substantial.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – It being Remembrance Sunday, the service was an exceptional event. However, I felt welcomed and at home despite the obvious diversity of the congregation.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The warmth of the congregation, the quality of the music and the straightforward yet thoughtful preaching were challenging and comforting in equal measure.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The after-service "coffee".