Mystery Worshipper: Paterfamilias
Church: Community of Christ
Location: Independence, Missouri, USA
Date of visit: Friday, 2 April 2021, 8:00am
Their building, which is the world headquarters of the denomination, is described on their website as consisting of a ‘1,600-seat Temple Sanctuary, featuring a spiral ceiling rising 195 feet … [and] a Meditation Chapel which overlooks a garden designed by master gardeners from Japan, an award-winning stained-glass window, and a museum filled with historical artifacts … The Auditorium features a 5,800-seat chamber with an expansive domed ceiling rising 90 feet.’ All facilities, however, are temporarily closed to the public due to the pandemic. Today’s service was accessed on YouTube.
The Community of Christ began life in the mid-19th century as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway community from the Mormons; they changed their name to the present one in 2001. Today it is an international church of 250,000 members, with congregations in 59 countries. They hold to a traditional view of the Trinity (‘the one eternal living God is triune’), and emphasize salvation by grace alone. They are more liberal than their Mormon cousins – for instance, they have ordained women to the priesthood since 1985. They do not subscribe to any of the historic creeds. They have eight sacraments, including the blessing of children under the age of eight, which is the youngest age at which they will baptize, and the ‘Evangelist's Blessing.’ The most distinctive feature of the church is that they have an open canon of scripture: the President may bring texts to the World Conference for approval, which may then be added to the volume of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants and regarded as scripture. They have their own version of the Revised Common Lectionary, which includes passages from Doctrine and Covenants.
Independence, on the western edge of Missouri about halfway between the state’s north and south borders, is the largest suburb of Kansas City, Missouri (there is also a much smaller Kansas City, Kansas just across the state line). The city was founded in 1827 and named in honor of the Declaration of Independence. Members of the Latter-Day Saints movement began to settle the area around 1831, and Joseph Smith declared a certain spot within the city limits to be the place where the temple of the New Jerusalem would stand, but local tensions soon drove the Mormons from the area. Members of several branches of Mormonism began trickling back, however, and today Independence is headquarters not only of the Community of Christ but also of the Temple Lot, Cutlerite, and Restoration branches of Mormonism, among others. Independence was the birthplace of President Harry S. Truman, and the Truman Home, Truman Library, and other sites associated with the President, as well as the graves of the President and his wife Bess, are maintained as national historic sites. But, as mentioned, today’s service was via YouTube, so any further consideration of the neighborhood is moot.
There were some 15-16 singers, a group of instrumentalists, and five lectors.
What was the name of the service?Taizé-style Service on Good Friday.
How full was the building?
Materfamilias and I were the only ones in our home. I don’t know how many were watching via YouTube, but they hailed from a variety of locations spread over five continents and brought together digitally.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverent.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Stay with us,’ the opening words of the first Taizé refrain sung (sung in German).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The screen gave us translations of all texts sung or spoken, in English, Spanish, and French.
What musical instruments were played?
Charrango (a small lute-like instrument traditionally made from an armadillo shell), guitar, violins, trumpet, clarinet, flute.
Did anything distract you?
With three translations at all times, the screen was a bit busy.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Quiet, prayerful. Refrains from Taizé alternated with five brief scripture readings: three from the Psalms, one from John's account of the Passion, and one from the afore-mentioned Doctrine and Covenants. Singing was in German, Spanish, French, and English. Readings were in a variety of languages, not all of which I recognized.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music, especially the instrumentalists. The clarinetist, especially, was quite an adroit improviser, occasionally introducing some klezmer-like licks into his playing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The service not being an in-person worship for Good Friday. I admire the effort that was put into this beautiful service, but I long for the end of the pandemic and the chance to worship with other live people again.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Well, given the nature of the event, nothing.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 — I doubt I could be a regular in this denomination – too much Mormonism still in their DNA. But if they have another Taizé service next Good Friday, I don't want to miss it.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The beautiful instrumental playing. Singing wasn't bad, either.