Mystery Worshipper: Episcopus
Church: Church of the Atonement
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 August 2021, 11:00am
A large Gothic Revival church; from what I could garner from the video recording, its layout is typical of late 19th-early 20th century Anglican churches. The focal point of the church is certainly the large crucifix affixed to the east wall, as opposed to the reredos perhaps more common in Episcopal churches of that vintage. In keeping with the Atonement's Anglo-Catholic heritage, much of the chancel was richly decorated: the choir pews and free-standing altar had gold leaf accents, and the pulpit contained beautiful icons of the four evangelists.
The Atonement bills itself as distinctly Anglo-Catholic, and the liturgy itself had no shortage of smells and bells! Their website touts a robust choral program and the church plays host to several Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups during the week.
The church is located in the upscale Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, two blocks from Lake Michigan. Wikipedia notes that Edgewater has a high concentration of LGBTQ+ households, and Atonement bills itself as an affirming congregation on its FAQ page.
The rector in full eucharistic vestiture was celebrant and homilist, assisted by a deacon and subdeacon vested in dalmatic and tunicle, respectively, as well as a complement of acolytes. A vested choir provided musical leadership.
What was the name of the service?Solemn High Mass for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost.
How full was the building?
Mostly full, or at least as much as COVID-related protocols would allow.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Online, no. But the rector did make intentional references to the online community as a gesture of welcome.
Was your pew comfortable?
My chair ... is what it is. It's not necessarily the best suited for worship, sadly.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The opening words of the hymn: ‘All people that on earth do dwell.’ As for the service itself: ‘Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
From the camera's vantage point it seemed that there were copies of the Hymnal 1982 and Book of Common Prayer 1979 in the pew, but the service bulletin contained all the texts needed for the service.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, opus 25-SH of Casavant Brothers, dating from 1915 and substantially rebuilt and enlarged in 1965.
Did anything distract you?
As the choir were chanting the psalm, the lectern microphone suddenly went live – picking up an exchange between the lay reader and the sacristan. (This was quickly realized, whereupon it was muted.)
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Nosebleed-high Anglicanism. For example, despite the presence of a free-standing altar, the entire antecommunion was celebrated ad orientem. (Indeed, the billing of the service as ‘Mass’ itself sets off Sanctus bells in my head!)
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 — The rector's preaching style was animated and engaging. She speaks with her hands very fluidly, though – I would not want to be the chorister who sits right behind the pulpit!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
‘Eat something.’ It's often a platitude that is offered when someone is feeling unwell. The parish has recently been publicly offering daily prayer on their street corner for an end to gun violence in Chicago after a shooting literally right outside the church a few weeks ago, and often the idea of offering public witness and prayer seems like a mere platitude. This view often stems from the fact that grace doesn't look like what we want, or even what we expect it to be. And so, this prayer must lead into action – grounded in faith and sustained by eating something at Christ's table.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The rector's exceptionally good chanting! (I've heard my share of off-key priests attempting to chant to varying degrees of success.)
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
From what I could tell, the choir were not mic'd – which wouldn't be a problem in the acoustically-live church. But in the digital environment, there were times when I could just barely hear the choir and congregation above the organ. Also, the aforementioned live gaffe with regard to the chanting of the psalm of the epistle.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
YouTube timed out the stream, but the rector had noted that in-person worshippers would be treated to coffee hour in the parish hall.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It sounded good, but I don't drink coffee and was a few hundred miles away. Thus, I can't speak to theirs.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 — I hope that if I find myself in Chicago on a Sunday morning in the future, I will make a trip to Atonement in person.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Chanting, smells, and bells!