Christ Church, Calumet, MI

Christ Church, Calumet, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ Church
Location: Calumet, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 May 2015, 10:00am

The building

A charming Carpenter Gothic-style shingled church with a somewhat modest exterior and without tower or belfry. It was built in 1893 and designed by Charles W. Whiting, architect for the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company. The interior is mostly wooden and the fixtures appear original. It is, however, not geographically eastward-facing. The stained-glass windows in the nave are a later addition. To my eye, the chancel appears to have been heavily renovated as it lacks a chancel arch and instead has an octagon-like archway and more modern-looking painted walls.

The church

Christ Church is one of the few period churches remaining from Calumet's copper mining days – at its peak there were 34 churches of all denominations and spoken languages. I wasn't able to discover much, as the church has no website or Facebook page, and no visitor's brochure for newcomers to take home. They do work with others in the community on a food pantry, a community ecumenical service, and community dinner.

The neighborhood

Calumet is a village located in the northwestern-most part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Originally known as Red Jacket, it changed its name in 1929 when a nearby town ceased using that name for itself. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the area's copper mines were among the most productive in the United States. But the demand for copper fell after World War I and during the Great Depression, and most of the miners left for the then-booming automotive assembly lines of Detroit. Although some of the mines were able to survive until as late as 1970, copper has now disappeared from Calumet's economy. The village exists today primarily as a memento of days gone by. The immediate area around Christ Church is part of a national park, established in 1992, that includes dozens of buildings from the 1880s. The church itself sits on Temple Square, an acre of land donated by the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company for the construction of houses of worship in the belief that good churchgoers made good workers.

The cast

The Revd Laura Eaton, presiding, and the Revd Manuel Padilla, preaching. Christ Church, as with most if not all churches in the Diocese of Northern Michigan, lacks full-time clergy. Instead, congregations are served either by supply clergy or, as in the case of Christ Church, a so-called ministry support team, in which senior members of the parish are trained, licensed and ordained to the clergy only within the bounds of their parish. The organist was Hester Butler and the acolyte was Michael Benard.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist

How full was the building?

About 20 people, including the altar party, in a church that could easily accommodate 100-120 people in the pews of the nave and another 50 in the gallery. With four exceptions (myself and three others), everyone (including the altar party) was over the age of 50. One of the four exceptions was a crying baby with her mother and grandmother.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Upon entering, I was welcomed with a smile and polite handshake from the priest, who introduced herself as "Reverend Eaton." She also handed me a service booklet. At differing points of the service – especially during the exchange of peace – every other congregant shook my hand. While it was clear this was one of those churches where the peace seemingly never ends because everyone feels the need to greet everyone, several of the congregants went out of their way to welcome me to their church.

Was your pew comfortable?

Extremely comfortable despite the lack of any padding.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was pretty average, although the lack of a prelude by the organist gave the congregants a chance to chat with each other.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. Today is a special day – Trinity Sunday."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The order of service contained most of what one needed for worship, except for the hymns and some of the liturgy (such as the sung Lord's Prayer). The Prayer Book 1979 and the Hymnal 1982 were used.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

Unfamiliar bits of liturgy, which at times were said by the presider too fast. While familiar with common usages in Rite II, I found pieces of the liturgy – in particular parts of the great thanksgiving and prayers of consecration – were taken from alternative forms that weren't in keeping with the relatively traditional form of Rite II otherwise followed. Also, some of the intercessory prayers seemed a bit over the top – for example, we declared that the "Holy Spirit of God" challenges us to be "truth-tellers and peacemakers" and we prayed that the Spirit may "give us courage to hold our leaders accountable" and "inspire us to abolish war ... and terrorism."

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

I honestly didn't know what to say. The Diocese of Northern Michigan is somewhat infamous for being progressive on matters of theology and liturgy and is one of the worst-performing dioceses in terms of the number of baptisms and confirmations, according to the Episcopal Church's own statistics. I was pleasantly surprised, however, with Christ Church. I found it broad enough to accommodate high churchmanship without being too ritualistic. I saw some genuflection and head bowing, but the opening procession lacked a processional cross, and the preacher wore a sports jacket and tie instead of clerical attire. The Lord's Prayer was sung, and there was enough other service music to keep it a sung service without being a high mass. Many churches in this part of Michigan no longer have organ music because of an organist shortage. Christ Church is blessed in that regard, but it would have been nice to have had a postlude.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

5 – The Revd Manuel Padilla spoke from the lectern on the epistle side of the church as opposed to from the pulpit, and he read the entire sermon from a prepared text. Parts of his sermon were interesting and thought-provoking, but it seemed as if it had been written for an academic conference and not a Sunday church service. This is the sort of sermon I would have preferred to hear in the context of academia or the seminary, as his references to theology and philosophy were no doubt beyond the understanding of most in the pews.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Trinity Sunday and the mysteries of the Trinity – something that has proved difficult for many Christians to explain over the centuries. If I tried to explain it (he said), I'd be called a heretic! (He then delved into Greek philosophy and I'm afraid he lost me for the rest of the 10 minutes.)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The sung version of the Lord's Prayer.

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

The singing of hymns. Without a choir and with a mostly older congregation, the voices of those singing were far from confident and pronounced. I'm a horrible singer, so I almost had to lip-sync to ensure my butchering of the lyrics wouldn't be heard by others. I give Christ Church credit for still having a sung service, but it really needs a choir, even if just a quartet.

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

I fidgeted around in my pew for a couple of minutes, and it wasn't long before several congregants approached me. There was actually a receiving line as I held an impromptu leve from my pew. I was asked by one of the congregants if my home church was progressive. It's probably not a good idea to bring up church politics with a visitor the first time they set foot in a church. It was an uncomfortable moment. All in all, everyone seemed genuinely glad to have a visitor.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I was invited downstairs for coffee, but I had to get going as I had a nine-hour drive home.

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

5 – If I ended up in Calumet again, I would consider attending here. However, I would want to learn more about their stance concerning traditional beliefs vs some of the things that the diocese advocates.

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

Yes, as Christ Church was broad enough to allow for differing forms of churchmanship in the worship of the Almighty.

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

The steadfast resolution of a small congregation over several decades of difficult times, when it would have been much easier to close the church and go elsewhere.

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