Mystery Worshipper: PentEcclesiastic
Church: Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel
Location: Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 13 October 2012, 11:00am
The chapel is a contemporary brick building in keeping with the overall design of other buildings on campus. It dates from 1978 and serves as the college's main auditorium.
Morehouse College is the only all-male liberal arts college for black men in the United States, and one of only three colleges in the country that are still all-male. Founded in 1867 as the Augusta Institute, Morehouse is the alma mater of many African-American leaders, including Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, filmmaker Spike Lee, actor Samuel L. Jackson, Olympic gold medallist Edwin Moses, the first African-American mayor of Atlanta, Maynard Jackson, and many others. The Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel has been the site of various events of note pertinent to the American civil rights movement. Many of the world’s most prominent civil and human rights advocates have been honored and/or have spoken here.
Morehouse is located on a 61 acre campus near downtown Atlanta. The campus is a pleasant green oasis with lots of flowers and trees.
Chief consecrator was the Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church. Co-consecrators were the Rt Revd J. Neil Alexander, Ninth Bishop of Atlanta, and the Rt Revd Michael S. Curry, Bishop of North Carolina. There were over 20 other consecrating bishops, including the Rt Revd Jane Dixon, retired Bishop Suffragan of Washington, who had ordained Wright to the priesthood in 1999; and the Rt Revd H. J. Gordy, Lutheran Bishop of Atlanta. The Hon. Revd Andrew Young, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, former congressman and mayor of Atlanta, and former president of the National Council of Churches, preached. The Revd Lawrence Carter, Dean of the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel, spoke the welcome.
What was the name of the service?The Ordination of the Tenth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Robert Wright is the first African-American to become an Episcopal bishop in Georgia.
How full was the building?
The chapel seats slightly more than 2500. By the time I got there about one and one-half hours before the scheduled start time, it was already half full. By the time the pre-service music started (10.30) it was packed.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A priest on his way from the clergy staging area saw me and pointed me in the right direction. He was very pleasant and welcoming.
Was your pew comfortable?
The chapel had theater seats. They were fairly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was an atmosphere of excitement. The various musicians were practicing, including the choirs of four Episcopal schools and a 300+ adult choir assembled from 52 churches. While this was going on, people were talking amongst each other as the auditorium was being filled.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a complete ordinal that followed the rubrics for the ordination of bishops and the holy eucharist.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, a brass ensemble, steel drums, a jazz trio, timpani. In addition to the choirs there were featured soloists. The organ, an opus of the Wicks Pipe Organ Company of Highland, Illinois, was dedicated in 1982 and at the time was one of the largest pipe organs in the South and the second largest in Atlanta.
Did anything distract you?
The usual array of crying babies. But the most distracting thing was the small child in the row in front of me. It was a long service and she couldn't seem to sit still. She wiggled and whined during the entire service, but she was pleasant during the peace. There was a notable pause (accompanied by light-hearted laughter) as one parent took an increasingly impetuous child out of the auditorium. Distracting, but not overly so.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was a good balance of happy-clappy and stiff-upper-lip. This was reflected most notably in the range of music that was selected: gospel, choral anthems, hymns, and spirituals. Interspersed throughout the service were contemporary gospel songs that were performed with acoustic piano, bass guitar, and drum kit. During the peace, there was a steel drum band playing in the foyer and audio was being piped into the auditorium. As a Pentecostal, I was very impressed to see all the Episcopalians rocking and swaying to a rousing rendition of Judy Jacobs' "Days of Elijah". Scripture readings were given in English, Haitian-Creole, Karen (a Burmese dialect), and Spanish. I think the most solemn parts of the service were the presentation, the litany for ordination, and the actual consecration. It seemed like the air was thick as the brother and sister bishops gathered around the bishop-elect and we all prayed in silence. But as the presiding bishop was presenting Bishop Wright with his symbols of office, the congregation began to applaud. Bishop Jefferts Schori put up her hand in an attempt to call for silence, but after a while she just gave up trying.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Perhaps about 10 minutes. Certainly no more than 20.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Young's sermon was narrative and anecdotal. He didn't speak to any of the scripture readings or a biblical text at all.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was almost exclusively directed to the bishop-elect. He described his experiences with two bishops in the Anglican communion, one of whom was Desmond Tutu. There were references to race and reconciliation. He told the new bishop that he was assuming his duties during a time of great turmoil, but that he should remember the words of the old hymn: "On Christ, the solid rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The wonderful singing, the sense that we were all worshipping as a community of faith, the emphasis on the Holy Spirit's work in the world.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
During the peace and the offertory, I decided to make a trip to the restroom. It was like a stampede. The steel drum band was in the foyer and made the space very narrow, making the wait even longer. While waiting, I was tapped on the shoulder and asked to contribute a sound bite for the camera.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have time to stand and look lost. Everyone came outside, and immediately clergy were walking up to me introducing themselves. When I told them I was a Pentecostal minister, they welcomed me to the Episcopal Church. One priest told me she'd work with me and that I already had the clothes, so why not? Other than that, there were a lot of people around the new bishop taking pictures, mostly people from his former parish.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I do believe they had light refreshments, though I didn't partake. I do recall seeing cookies of some sort.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
N/A – This was not the type of service that would lend itself to being made one's regular. Furthermore, although I found the day's events impressive and moving, this is not my worship tradition.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
This service absolutely made me feel glad to be a Christian. It was beautiful and well-planned. The atmosphere in the auditorium was one of happiness. The music was simply amazing. It was an honor to be present at this historic moment for the Church and for the South.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
These will center around Bishop Jefferts Schori. Her foiled attempt to silence the crowd was second to her rocking and swaying during the lively offertory music. I was impressed that she was swaying on the beat.