Old North Church, Boston (Exterior)

Old North Church, Boston, Massachusetts, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Old North Church
Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 February 2016, 11:00am

The building

Dating from 1723, the design of Old North Church was inspired by the works of Christopher Wren, Indeed, one could easily imagine it sitting comfortably in the City of London. As a national monument, the church is in good historic condition and is well maintained despite it being the oldest standing church in Boston. The steeple was destroyed by a storm in 1804. Its replacement stood until 1954 when again it was destroyed by a storm. The current steeple uses design elements from both of its predecessors and is topped by the original weathervane. Its ring of eight bells are the oldest church bells in the United States. Inside the church, the clear glass windows invite in a flood of light that then reflects off the white painted interior. Simple box pews. A balcony and organ to the rear. It is austere but somehow it works nicely. All in all a lovely building, well worth a visit.

The church

Old North Church is perhaps the most famous church in the country. Every American schoolchild knows that on the night of April 18, 1775, local silversmith and patriot Paul Revere told the church warden to hang two lanterns in the tower, thus alerting the colonial troops that the British were advancing by sea. The skirmishes known as the Battles of Lexington and Concord were soon to follow, marking the start of the American Revolutionary War. The congregation are very much aware that the church is a major tourist attraction, and as such strive to maintain an open and welcoming environment (but read on!). Baptisms, weddings and funerals can be arranged. There are two eucharists each Sunday, one with music, at which guest choirs are welcome to take part. The bell ringers do their thing after the 11.00 service each Sunday.

The neighborhood

Christ Church is situated on Salem Street in Bostons North End. This is Boston's Italian quarter and is a nice place to wander, eat and sip espresso. That being said, a staid old Episcopal church like Old North does seem something of an oddity in a staunchly Roman Catholic area.

The cast

The service was led by the Revd Eleanor Applewhite Terry, associate vicar, ably assisted by the Revd Deacon Cynthia Pape.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist with Music

How full was the building?

Sadly, despite the fame and beauty of the church, there were probably only around 40 congregants in attendance.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. We were greeted at the door with a big smile and "Welcome!" We were then personally led to a box pew near the front.

Was your pew comfortable?

Not really, as the bench was narrow and hard. At least the box pew allowed for plenty of room to stretch my long legs and store our coats.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Warm and friendly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Good morning and welcome to Christ Church in Boston!

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Hymnal 1982 and Prayer Book 1979.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ was the only instrument but it was well played with both gorgeous prelude and postlude.
The original 1756 Thomas Johnston instrument was rebuilt in 1821 by William M. Goodrich, in 1958 by Schlicker Organ Co., and in 1991 by A. David Moore Co., Organbuilders.

Did anything distract you?

Nothing at all. This was a peaceful and meditative space.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Formal but engaging.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – Although the associate vicar read from prepared notes, her sermon was clear in intent, clearly delivered – and short!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

She equated the theme of the Transfiguration to the role of "mountaintop moments" both in the Bible and in our lives – those peak moments when we feel close to the experience and reality of God. Though important, such mountaintop moments are ultimately fleeting – we must return to earth and to the mundane. Thankfully Jesus also returned with us to the real world. Though for now the veil may be pulled over us occasionally, it may be set aside and we can then see, albeit briefly, Gods glory.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Taking communion at the altar rail there was a special something in the air that day and it was wonderful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The post service coffee – read on!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

It was announced that the traditional Shrove Tuesday pancakes would instead be served today, "Shrove Sunday" as it were, in the adjoining rectory. As we lingered post service, though, the warm welcome we had received was not matched by a warm invitation to have some pancakes. We had eventually to find our own way there even though we were clearly lost visitors.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Not fun at all, actually, and this really was a shock after the lovely service and friendly welcome. We arrived and took our coats off but were met with no friendly faces – only odd and awkward stares, as if to say, "Who are these interlopers?" Not a single person smiled or reached out to us. Our own attempts at making a connection were ignored. Ultimately we accepted the implicit message that we had gate-crashed this close-knit get-together and left. Oddly, even as we went to get our coats and to leave, nobody ever attempted to welcome us or engage.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – As long as I didnt have to go to coffee afterward, I would definitely consider this a regular. A truly lovely service and location.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Absolutely! It was probably the highlight of my week.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The light flooding into the church, the choir singing along, and the warm and friendly atmosphere during the service.

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