Mystery Worshipper: Preacher's Kid
Church: Church of the Incarnation
Location: Dallas, Texas, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 May 2012, 5:30pm
A Gothic cruciform building dating from the early 1950s. The absence of carpeting or seat cushions makes for exquisite acoustics: the decay may run to three seconds. The glass is extremely beautiful, incorporating the stations of the cross in the lower range, and the apostles, Mary, and heroes of the church in the clerestory. There is a chapel in one transept. The high altar has not been moved forward, nor is there a portable altar sitting in front of it.
This congregation is an aggregate of the very wealthy from Highland Park/University Park (the "Park Cities") and its close neighbor, Southern Methodist University. By the same token, the church lies outside of and south of the limits of the Park Cities and so also serves the new "Uptown" of Dallas, an area of young professionals, trendy restaurants, smart residences, and endless entertainment. Because of its style of services, it draws membership from across the Metroplex. It conducts eight worship services every Sunday and provides all those weekly activities one expects in a large church.
The Uptown area once lay outside the Dallas city limits and was a working-class neighborhood of Hispanic-Americans and the descendants of freed African-American slaves folk not exactly welcome in the city proper. Today, urban renewal begun in the late 20th century has turned Uptown into a trendy pedestrian-friendly district housing a wide variety of establishments, including office buildings, residential towers, retail centers, restaurants and night clubs. The nearby Park Cities area comprises what is probably the most expensive residential real estate in Texas.
The Revd Harry H. Hill, clergy for pastoral care, presided. The choir was under the direction of Richard Sparks, A.Mus.D., interim choirmaster, with Roberts Dicks, organ scholar in residence, at the organ. The names of the verger and lector were not given.
What was the name of the service?Solemn Choral Evensong. The service followed the 1662 Book of Common Prayer
How full was the building?
About 25 per cent. It seats about 750 people on the floor and in the gallery.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. It was the standard pew with leather-covered kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and introspective. People were taking their places quietly. As the service time approached and the organ voluntary began, the verger lit torches placed at the ends of every six pews in the center aisle, and then lit the appropriate candles at the altar. The main lights of the church were dimmed for the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to evensong at the Church of the Incarnation."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Although the pew racks contained the Prayer Book 1979 and the Hymnal 1982, the service was set out on a card. An insert contained the variable settings and lessons.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The original instrument, opus 1370 of the venerable Boston firm of Aeolian-Skinner organ builders, was enlarged and rebuilt by the Noack Organ Company of Falmouth, Massachusetts, as their opus 127.
Did anything distract you?
This service went off as well as any I have seen. There were practically no distractions, but the thing we found unusual was the particularly large number of persons attending who appeared to be elderly or physically challenged.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was definitely Texas High Church. Although labeled solemn, there was no incense and few trappings that would allow you to call it Anglo-Catholic. However, the music was to die for! There was a preces and response by the late Gere Hancock, who had served as professor of organ and sacred music at the University of Texas, Austin, and organist and master of the choristers at St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York; psalm settings by Corfe/Lawes and Bairstow; Magnificat and Nunc dimittis by Gustav Holst; and the final Amen by Orlando Gibbons. Choral services just don't get any better!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
In the opinion of this Mystery Worshipper, the choir are by far and away one of the best-trained and disciplined volunteer choirs in the country.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The Revd Mr Hills body mike was not correctly tuned, with the result that his already soft-spoken voice could not be heard clearly.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
An organ recital was scheduled for immediately after the service, and the service leaflet indicated that refreshments would follow that. We stayed for the first two numbers of the recital but then had to leave.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – If their other services are anything like this solemn choral evensong, I couldn't possibly imagine a church that would satisfy me better. Their fine approach to the liturgy, coupled with their extensive community outreaches and programs, make them a model for any church to aspire to.
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 actual celebration of the service, which is a rare treat for me.