Christ Church, Washington, DC

Christ Church, Georgetown, Washington DC, USA


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ Church
Location: Georgetown, Washington DC, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 May 2013, 11:15am

The building

The present structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, dates from 1885-86 and replaced an earlier one from 1818. It is Gothic Revival in red brick, with a large bell tower on the northeast corner. The interior features German stained glass memorial windows in the side aisles and clerestory. The nave is separated from the aisles by pointed arches on low, stout columns. Beyond a larger arch on the south end is a space housing the organ to the left and its pipes to the right. Beyond that, through another, similar arch, is the chancel. The altar has a handsome carved wooden retable.

The church

The congregation dates from 1817 and numbered Francis Scott Key, author of The Star-Spangled Banner, among their original members. They existed as an independent congregation within the parish of St John's, Georgetown, until 1875. For many decades, it seems, Christ Church primarily served old Georgetown families, but its membership is now more diverse and drawn from across the DC area, if not from across the social-class spectrum. Many parishioners, not surprisingly, are federal employees. The church offers an extensive array of Sunday and weekday services for its 1300 members, and the parish takes special pride in its choral tradition.

The neighborhood

Georgetown, in the northwest quadrant of Washington, was a separate entity until 1871, when the various municipalities comprising the District of Columbia were incorporated by Congress into the city of Washington. Georgetown is known for its high-end shops, bars, restaurants, and a glamorous nightlife. The neighborhood around the church is one of posh townhouses, many of them 19th century. The area is home to Georgetown University, although few students can afford to live there.

The cast

The celebrant was the rector, the Revd Stuart Kenworthy, assisted by two other priests. The preacher was the Revd Christopher Garcia, one of three assistants on the church's staff.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist (Rite One)

How full was the building?

Roughly half full, but scattered so it did not feel half empty. Perhaps 110-130 present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Not really. I was handed a service leaflet as I entered.

Was your pew comfortable?

The wooden pews had cushioned seats. No complaints.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The pre-service atmosphere was quiet for the most part. Although people greeted friends and there were a number of conversations taking place, everything was sotto voce, and not distracting (but see below).

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?

No books were needed; the service leaflet had everything in it. But the Prayer Book 1979 and the Hymnal 1982 were in the pews for backup.

What musical instruments were played?

An organ, well-played (Langlais voluntary, for example). It is a large electronic instrument by the Allen Organ Company of Macungie, Pennsylvania, which replaces an older Moller pipe organ.

Did anything distract you?

Not just one but two mobile phones rang while we were waiting for the service to begin.

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

I'd call the worship main-line traditional Anglican – which suits me just fine. Except for the "We believe" version of the creed, the conservative alternative that is so characteristic of Rite One was almost always taken. It was a pleasure to hear the rich cadences of the traditional wording, including the prayer for the whole state of Christ's church. The psalm was sung to a setting by Chris Biemesderfer (b. 1958), a fine example of Anglican chant that I had not previously encountered.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

6 – The Revd Mr Garcia was obviously reading his text, which is not necessarily a bad thing. He did it well, but no one would mistake it for extemporaneous speech.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was, aptly, about the Trinity. It employed the metaphor of a three-act play. Act One introduces us to a mighty and awe-inspiring creator. In Act Two, God appears as vulnerable, like us; Jesus is killed "in a shocking act of violence and depravity," yet he triumphantly rises again, victorious. In Act Three "you and I are starring players," sent into the world to heal it and proclaim the good news. This drama is "the greatest love story ever told," and it isn't over yet.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Since this was Memorial Day weekend, the recessional was the Navy Hymn ("Eternal Father, Strong to Save"), adapted to include the Army and Air Force. The John Bacchus Dykes setting I always find stirring, and the strong choir and fairly robust congregational singing did it justice. (Incidentally, the processional was "Holy, Holy, Holy" for Trinity Sunday – a big J.B. Dykes day.)

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

I'm always annoyed when a traditional Anglican service is interrupted by a "contemporary language" psalm from the 1979 Prayer Book, and this was no exception. The fine setting of the psalm somewhat allayed my pain.

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

As things worked out, I was not able to stand around the back of the church very long without looking as if I was up to no good, so I spoke to the preacher at the door and moved on to the coffee, in the parish house. The people there were very friendly and engaging.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee in real cups, punch in nice glasses, and what might have been nice little food bits, or not – they were all gone by the time I got to the table. The lady serving coffee was very apologetic, even embarrassed. I overheard her say to someone else that they've never run out before.

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

8 – The architecture and liturgy were very much to my taste, and the church has a fine organist and a good amateur choir. I could worship here quite happily.

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

Yes, it did.

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

The prayer for the whole state of Christ's church (it was good to hear it again). That, and the setting for the psalm.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools