Indian Hill Church, Ohio (Exterior)

Indian Hill Church, Village of Indian Hill, Ohio, USA

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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Indian Hill Church
Location: Village of Indian Hill, Ohio, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 August 2013, 10:30am

The building

The main building is a basic rectangular shape, very simply appointed, consecrated in 1952. On its six acre property are a burial ground, children's playground and nursery school, a youth center, and storage garage. Plans for enlarging their facilities are under development.

The church

They are a dual denomination church, which means (quoting from their website): "While we are two denominations, we are one congregation." They are members of The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Southern Ohio; and The Presbyterian Church (USA), Presbytery of Cincinnati. They are governed by a Vestry-Session comprised of nine Presbyterian members (the Session) and nine Episcopalian members (the Vestry), whose members are elected by the congregation to serve staggered three-year terms. The Vestry-Session, in turn, elects a Board of Stewards to administer all property and funds. The congregation sponsors all the usual social, outreach, youth, and educational ministries, detailed on the parish website. They are reputed to have an excellent music program, featuring several choirs and a handbell choir. They host homeless families through the Interfaith Hospitality Network, and were a founding member of the Inter Parish Ministry, funding a variety of social services for the working poor. Worship services are held at 8.30 and 10.30 each Sunday, but I really could not discern any strict pattern as to how these different services rotate. The earlier service seems to be an Episcopal eucharist at least three times a month; at the later service, eucharistic and non-eucharistic services appear to alternate. It does not appear that Indian Hill ever resorts to a hybrid service; services are either Episcopal or Presbyterian.

The neighborhood

Indian Hill is a highly affluent suburb on the northeast side of Cincinnati. Founded as a village, it became a city under Ohio law once its population reached 5000. Although legally a city, it officially changed its name to "Village of Indian Hill" to emphasize the laid-back, small-town ambience it strives to cultivate. Some 25 per cent of the city's acreage is publicly held. The area immediately surrounding Indian Hill Church consists of single-family residences, a park, and schools.

The cast

The Revd Anne Wrider, Episcopal priest in charge, celebrated the eucharist and preached. Brenda Waugh was organist and pianist. Lay readers were Barbara Wallace and Rosemary Welsh. Assisting with the administration of communion were Suzanne Beck, Mary Dieckmann, Ellen Hammond, and Cindy McNeil. Chris Neumann was acolyte.

What was the name of the service?

Episcopal Holy Eucharist: Rite II

How full was the building?

Less than half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher handed me a bulletin.

Was your pew comfortable?

Padded pews, very comfortable. There were kneelers under the pews, but they were not used for this service; we stood for the intercessions and confession/absolution, and the congregation either stood or sat for the eucharistic prayer.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Pretty chatty, even after Ms Waugh began her prelude.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. It's good to see so many familiar faces back in church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990). The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, was in the pews, but not used in this service.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ (probably electronic) and piano, mostly the former. Hymnody was all very traditional.

Did anything distract you?

The Sanctus used was from Richard Proulx's A Community Mass. It exists in two versions: the first a setting of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) text from the 1970s, the more recent an adaptation to the translation in the new Roman Missal. I usually attend Sunday services at Materfamilias' Catholic parish, where we have been singing the latter version for a couple of months now. Indian Hill Church, not having adopted the new Roman Missal, still sings the older version as given in the Episcopal hymnal. I managed to botch this one completely, since there was no musical notation in the bulletin (and no Episcopal hymnal in the pew). I can only hope I didn't disturb those sitting around me too much.

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

Fairly stiff upper-lip; a formal Episcopal eucharist, as seen through a Presbyterian lens. The Presbyterian ethos was seen most clearly in the approach to music for the service: it was basically a said service with several hymns inserted. The Gloria was replaced by two verses of "When morning gilds the skies." Psalm and fraction anthem were said, and there was no music before the gospel at all. Of the BCP liturgy, only the Sanctus was sung. As if to compensate, a hymn was added between sermon and creed. We could receive communion either standing at a station in front of the chancel or kneeling at the altar rail.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

14 minutes (not including the "Children's Moment").

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

10 – The Revd Mrs Wrider spoke well, even though she read from a prepared text.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

At the "Children's Moment," she spoke of animals as proof that God has a sense of humor. He loves us so much that he gave us a beautiful and diverse world to delight in. After the children were taken out for their activities, Mrs Wrider said to the congregation, "I thought after that gospel reading we needed a little levity." (The gospel for the day was Luke 12:49-56 – Jesus rebukes the disciples for not knowing that he will bring division, not peace). She stated that she found today's gospel disturbing, and not helpful to her faith. Therefore, she was going not to preach on the gospel, but rather on the Nicene Creed, as one of the parishioners had asked her to do recently. She led the congregation through the different clauses of the creed, adding explanatory comment when she felt it appropriate.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Seeing this congregation at worship, and realizing they have been living and worshipping together as an ecumenical community for some three-quarters of a century.

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

Well ... not hellish, but I personally would have preferred a sermon on the readings. I don't know that it helps us simply to ignore Jesus' "hard" sayings. And there were two other readings in the lectionary, including the Song of the Vineyard from Isaiah 5, and an epistle (although the latter wasn't read at this service).

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

I remained in my pew and listened to Ms Waugh's postlude (the 19th century German composer Adolf Hesse's Postludium). But no one spoke to me just then. A bit later I had a delightful chat with the Revd Mrs Wrider and a parishioner, and they were both quite welcoming.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee, lemonade, and snacks in front of the church, but I never made it to the refreshments.

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

7 – Can a Lutheran and his Catholic spouse find happiness in an Episcopal and Presbyterian parish? I am quite impressed with the ecumenical path this congregation has taken, and they seem to have a commitment to social justice, and quite a lot going on in the parish. But the "hymn sandwich" approach to liturgy would take some getting used to (although, in fairness, I realize how difficult it might be to teach a congregation a lot of liturgical music when, in the cycle of services they follow, an Episcopal eucharist comes around only about once a month).

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


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

How horribly I botched the singing of the Sanctus. I should have had the good sense just to sit that one out.

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