Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: New Chapel, Lee University
Location: Cleveland, Tennessee, USA
Date of visit: Tuesday, 7 December 2021, 7:30pm
New Chapel dates from 2012 and is a mixture of Romanesque and Neo-Gothic styles. It would put many a parish church to shame! A handsome building, with steeple and excellent stained glass.
Founded in 1911 as a Bible training school, they expanded their offerings over the years and adopted the name Lee College in 1947, in honor of the school’s second president. They have expanded further since then, and their website describes them now as offering ‘57 undergraduate majors, 159 undergraduate programs, and 56 graduate programs in its six schools: School of Business, College of Arts & Sciences, the Helen DeVos College of Education, the School of Music, the School of Religion, and the School of Nursing.’ They are especially proud of their music program, which offers (again quoting from their website) ‘expert instruction in music theory, history, literature, and performance, with extensive performance opportunities.’
Cleveland is a city in the southeastern corner of Tennessee, very near the border with Georgia. A major manufacturing center during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Cleveland’s factories still produce a variety of goods under the brand names Whirlpool, Coca-Cola, Mars, Procter & Gamble, Duracell and Rubbermaid, to name only a few – brands whose products grace every American home. Urban legend has it that Cleveland and the surrounding area are haunted by a goblin known as Tall Betsy, who is said to snatch up little children who like to stay out after dark. Tall Betsy has been known to make an appearance during various Halloween festivities.
No one was mentioned by name. The choir consisted of eleven young ladies in blue dresses and ten young gentlemen in tuxedos and white bow ties. Another young gentleman introduced the service from the podium, and then walked over to the organ console to preside thereat. The conductor appeared to be a gentleman of middle age. Another middle-aged gentleman spoke briefly. Various lectors and soloists read or sang as called for.
What was the name of the service?A Service of Lessons and Carols.
How full was the building?
Judging from the video feed, there was a congregation present, but it was impossible to tell how many. It looked fairly full. New Chapel seats about 600.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was invited to view the service by an acquaintance of mine, an organ builder and technician, who lives in the area and who e-mailed me with the necessary details.
Was your pew comfortable?
My desk chair was its usual comfortable self.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The organist played a rather lengthy prelude before the choristers finally took their places. A soloist intoned 'Once in Royal David's City' a cappella as the choir processed in.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Good evening. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the chapel on the campus of Lee University.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. The choristers had music folders in front of them but sang some numbers from memory.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, which I understand from my organ builder friend is a Rodgers electronic instrument. He refers to it as a ‘hum-a-tron’ and opines that it is a better imitation of a real organ than some others. I have heard many Rodgers organs in my day, and I thought it sounded just fine – but what do I know? A Steinway grand piano was also on stage, and was played for one of the carols (‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’).
Did anything distract you?
One of the carols was ‘As With Gladness Men of Old’ sung to the tune Dix. You are going to think me odd indeed, but I always imagine Dix being sung by a chorus of alley cats. Sing ‘Meow’ on every note and you’ll get the idea.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a standard straightforward Ceremony of Lessons and Carols, beautifully sung. The congregation joined the choir in some of the hymns, and one of the lessons was read in Spanish.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was none.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Just about all of it. The service was well planned and the choir sang beautifully.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
None of it. If I had to fault anything, I would say that the organist’s prelude was a bit lengthy, but he played so beautifully, and the Rodgers sounded so wonderful (sorry, my organ builder friend), that I forgive him his showmanship.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service ended with a prayer and a blessing, followed by a lengthy organ postlude as the choir recessed.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Although the service had taken place in the evening, I was watching the video feed in the morning, and by the time it finished it was lunch time. I made myself a ham and Swiss sandwich and enjoyed a slice of apple pie for dessert.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 — I would gladly listen to this choir, and its marvelous organist, again and again.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Dix – alley cats and all.