Mystery Worshipper: Vagrant Congregant
Church: Church of the Atonement
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 July 2012, 11:00am
An English Gothic style red sandstone building dating from 1889. It was originally the work of Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb, known for several historic Romanesque and Gothic style buildings in the Chicago area. The church was expanded in 1910 and again in 1919 under the guidance of architect John E. O. Pridmore, famous for his early 20th century cinema palaces. Pridmore was a member of the parish and lived just a block away from the church. The interior features Gothic lamps and stone arches that give it a very medieval quality. It has a beautiful chapel as well as a Lady shrine that is very well done.
They pride themselves on their Anglo-Catholic tradition. Among their ministries and outreaches are programs to provide food and shelter to the homeless, plus hats, scarves and gloves to needy children at Christmas. There are three masses each Sunday plus mass on weekdays and the Rosary on Saturdays.
The immediate area is tree-lined and full of condos and apartments. Loyola University is close by the church. Ample parking, which is sometimes hard to find in Chicago, is also available.
The Revd Jacqueline Cameron, assisting priest, was the celebrant. There were also four other priests whose names I did not get.
What was the name of the service?High Mass
How full was the building?
It was roughly 75 per cent full comfortably full so that it didn't appear empty, but not so full that seating was not still available.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone opened the door and another person gave me the service booklet for the mass.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, it was surprisingly comfortable. I was very glad to see kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was respectful. Thankfully, there was not a lot of chatter as is common in many parishes.
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?
Hymnal 1982 and the mass booklet, which had the text for Rite II.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and a lovely choir. The organ dates from 1915 and was originally an opus of the Quebec firm of Casavant Frères. It was substantially rebuilt and enlarged in 1965, with many subsequent additions and modifications.
Did anything distract you?
A child who was screaming. There was also a service dog that started barking during mass.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was typical Anglo-Catholic high church worship, but not rigidly so just formal. The celebrant wore a fiddleback chasuble.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Dr Cameron is a medical doctor and her sermon was on healing, which was especially appropriate. She included her own painful story about her parents' death in an avalanche. I thought her story was very moving.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We desperately want healing, and sometimes it comes and sometimes it doesn't. God does not place tragedy in our lives, and it's a mystery why tragic things sometimes happen.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The precision of the liturgy and the respect given to the holy eucharist.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was hot! Apparently the air conditioning had not been turned on in enough time to cool down the sanctuary. We sweated through our clothing throughout the mass.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was an apple pie and ice cream social afterwards. People were very friendly and greeted me personally. The clergy were especially friendly.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very good. There was coffee as well as ice cream and apple pie on this Sunday. I got the impression from the bulletin that there are a lot of social events at the parish.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – The liturgy was inspiring and beautiful. The organist did a wonderful job, and really put a great deal of effort into making the service music outstanding.
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 sermon and the beautiful organ music.