Duke University Chapel, Durham, NC (Exterior) width=

Duke University Chapel, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Duke University Chapel
Location: Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 15 July 2017, 10:30am

The building

Collegiate Gothic, dating from 1930. It is the work of the early 20th century architect Julian Abele, who designed many of the buildings on the Duke campus and contributed to the design of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (most notably the famous "Rocky" steps that Sylvester Stallone ascends in the film of that name), and numerous other buildings. The exterior features statues and carvings of notable persons from the annals of Methodism, Protestantism, and the American South. The tower houses a 50-bell carillon. The stained glass represents the efforts of over 15 artists and craftsmen who worked with glass imported from England, France and Belgium. In the Gothic chancel are the high altar backed by a decorative screen; choir stalls; pulpit; and lectern. In the crypt are found the earthly remains of several university presidents and their wives.

The church

Duke University, founded in 1838, is generally regarded as one of the best and most innovative schools in the world. Its campus, consisting of 254 buildings on 8,691 acres of land, is called by many the "Gothic wonderland," although only the west campus is Gothic – other areas are predominantly Georgian and French/Italian Renaissance. President Richard M. Nixon; congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul; Melinda Gates, wife of technology superstar Bill Gates; and broadcaster Charlie Rose are among hundreds of high-powered Duke alumni. The Duke University Chapel (quoting from its website) "engages the head, heart and hands bridging the lives of students and members of the wider university ... In this way, we aspire to be a blessing in the midst of diversity."

The neighborhood

Once headquarters of the American Tobacco Company, which controlled 90 per cent of all tobacco products made in the United States, today's Durham is a powerhouse of technology and medical research. Many of the old tobacco factories have been turned into housing, retail, restaurant and office spaces. Duke University looms large in the city's demographics and contributes to the city's generally liberal, artsy, laid-back atmosphere. The chapel stands at the center of the Duke campus and is the tallest building for miles around.

The cast

The Most Revd Michael Bruce Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, was the chief consecrator. Several bishops served as co-consecrators, including the Rt Revd Alan Gates, Bishop of Massachusetts; the Rt Revd Rob Skirving, Bishop of East Carolina; the Rt Revd Jose McLaughlin, Bishop of Western North Carolina; the Rt Revd Barbara Harris, retired Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts; and the Rt Revd Anne Hodges-Copple, Bishop Suffragan of North Carolina. The Rt Revd Gayle Harris, Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts, delivered the sermon. Also present were the Rt Revd Metlhayotlhe Rawlings Ogotseng Beleme, Bishop of Botswana; the Rt Revd Timothy Smith, Bishop of the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Rt Revd Dr D. Wayne Burkette, Bishop of the Moravian Church in America, Southern Province; and the Rt Revd Hope Morgan Ward, Bishop of the Raleigh Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church. Presenters, readers of testimonials, lectors, deacons, chaplains to the various bishops, vergers, acolytes, etc. were all listed in the program but are far too numerous to mention here. Think "cast of thousands" and you'll be pretty close!

What was the name of the service?

The Ordination of a Bishop.

How full was the building?

Total attendance was approximately 1000, which filled the chapel to about 80 per cent of capacity. Admission was by ticket only.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No official welcomers, but everyone greeted those in the pews around.

Was your pew comfortable?

Completely adequate uncushioned oak pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of excited conversation, festive pre-service music.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Custom-printed booklet.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, brass choir with orchestral drums. The Drummers of St Cyprian’s, Oxford, signaled the start of the service, their synchronized rhythm creating an atmosphere of high energy and celebration. The choir consisted of about 60 voices assembled from all over the diocese, all under the direction of David W. Jernigan, organist and choirmaster of Christ Church, Raleigh. Of the three chapel organs by Flentrop, Brombaugh and Aeolian, it is the Aeolian instrument dating from 1932 that was played today by Kit Jacobson of Duke University and the aforementioned David W. Jernigan. I'll have more to say about it directly.

Did anything distract you?

There was a woman behind me who shouted all her pre-service conversation at the top of her voice. She was magically connected to the swell pedal of the organ: the louder the organ, the louder she shouted. But she fell reverently silent when the service began.

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

Spectacular but precise prayer-book service of ordination. Both Spanish and American Sign Language interpreters provided translation throughout the service for those requiring it. As the procession entered, led by the St Cyprian's Drummers and liturgical dancers, we sang "Christ is made the sure foundation," after which the choir sang William Walton's Jubilate Deo. The testimonies were read and the people were asked if it was their will that Samuel be ordained a bishop. The scriptural passages were read in English and Spanish. The examination and consecration took place after the sermon and before the peace and ministry of the Word. Communion went smoothly thanks to an overabundance of ministers of both the bread and cup. At the conclusion of the two and one-half hour service, we bade the new bishop welcome and adieu as we sang "Rejoice ye pure in heart."

Exactly how long was the sermon?

22 minutes.

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

8 – The diocesan website reported that the Rt Revd Gayle Harris "engaged everyone listening, by turns drawing laughter, applause, cheers and murmurs of agreement." But as for me, I have no comment.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

She spoke of the various blessings bestowed upon North Carolina, including wisdom in the selection of bishops. She said that the newly consecrated Bishop Rodman would lead us and be our companion on our continuing journey, that he seeks not only to abide in God with hope and faith and love for himself, but to offer that readily to others. "Love God," she said. "Love your neighbor, welcome the stranger, change the world."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The procession, with the drummers, dove kites, four vergers, four crucifers, thurifer, liturgical dancers, seven or eight bishops, three ecumenical bishops, perhaps 200 clergy, etc, etc, accompanied by glorious music.

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

Why, I wondered, of the three organs did they choose the Aeolian? To my ears, it merely made painfully loud noises at different pitches. Why did the superb Flentrop instrument in a rear gallery remain silent?

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

There was a reception in another place, but after almost three hours in the service, I chose not to attend it.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


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

0 – Not applicable. This service was not representative of either your everyday Episcopal worship or regular Sundays in Duke Chapel.

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

Absolutely, and glad to be an Episcopalian, and glad to be present at such a clear demonstration of the apostolic succession.

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

The Drummers of St Cyprian's.

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