Mystery Worshipper: Orthodox Mutt
Church: Church of the Incarnation
Location: Dallas, Texas, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 April 2013, 5:00pm
The "main" Church of the Incarnation is a traditional neo-Gothic space in a cruciform layout. The chancel is home to the high altar (which remains fixed against the east wall); the organ is on the south side, the organ gallery directly across from it on the north side. There are three rows of choir stalls on each side, elevated in the back. The north transept faces the crossing, while the south transept is home to a chapel dedicated to the Good Shepherd and featuring a window of that subject from the former building. This window is artificially lit from the back.
This parish has changed substantially over the years, having gone from a small parish on the fringe of the city of Dallas to a vibrant, growing parish in the heart of the Uptown neighborhood. The parish is in the middle of a $25-million capital campaign effectively to double the size of their campus. Literature on the campaign was available at every entrance and in every hallway throughout the campus. This is easily one of the most diverse Episcopal parishes I have ever seen. The traditional services are incredibly popular with the young 20-something crowd as well as the older generation. The sheer number of worshippers necessitates seven (yes, seven!) worship services each Sunday, all of which include the eucharist.
The Uptown area is one of the most trendy areas of Dallas. This means that the church draws a wide range of people from the area. There are shops and restaurants galore all within a couple of blocks. I would imagine this makes Sunday brunch very easy for those who attend in the morning.
The celebrant was the Revd Joe Hermerding, assistant rector. He was assisted by an unnamed thurifer and a verger. The choir was not that of the Church of the Incarnation as it would normally be, but the visiting choir of the Episcopal Cathedral of St Matthew under the direction of Michie Akin. This choir was small enough that they used only the choir stalls on the north side of the chancel. Scott Dettra, the organist/choirmaster of Incarnation, was the accompanist.
What was the name of the service?Solemn Choral Evensong with Spoken Holy Communion
How full was the building?
There were about 50 people present, most of whom were spread out over the front two-thirds of the nave.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher warmly greeted me at the door and handed me a leaflet.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews are as comfortable as one can expect for solid wood pews without cushions. They are built on a fairly large scale. The Orthodox Mutt is on the tall side, so it was greatly appreciated.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The mood was very quiet and meditative. Pew torches were placed every few pews and the lights were very dim. A few minutes before the service started, the organ began playing a quiet voluntary, the end of which was improvised to provide adequate time for the entrance procession. There was no pause until the choir was in place in the stalls.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to the Church of the Incarnation and to this service of Choral Evensong."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Prayer (1979) and The Hymnal 1982 were provided in the pews. The former, however, would have been of no use as it was the first edition to eliminate the rite for evensong. Instead, a reusable cardstock leaflet contained the service taken from the 1662 Prayer Book. An insert contained the propers for the day. One hymn was sung just before the Magnificat, necessitating the hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
The great organ, opus 127 (1994) of the Noack Organ Company of Georgetown, Massachusetts, a rebuild of opus 1370 (1958) of the venerable Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company. This organ currently features four manuals and 65 stops, thanks to the addition of the eight-foot festival trumpet installed in the rear gallery. It is one of the most versatile instruments in Dallas in that it is essentially English in style, but it also features a couple of stops by Paul Fritts & Company Organ Builders of Tacoma, Washington, making it an excellent instrument for accompanying French music. On this occasion, however, the repertoire was decidedly English with an American flair. There were no other instruments used. In fact, there is no place for other instruments in this sanctuary. While I am certainly not complaining, there is not even a piano to be found in the space.
Did anything distract you?
The choir were rather distracting in a way. They were severely out of balance, so it was difficult to understand much of what the basses were singing given their numbers compared to the female voices. A woman in front of me would not stop fidgeting with all of the things she brought with her. Finally, the thurifer seemed very timid when he went to cense the congregation. It looked as though he was afraid of striking the front of the pew.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It doesn't get much more stiff-upper-lip than choral evensong à la 1662 BCP. This was a largely non-participatory service for the congregation. Also, "bells and smells" certainly would apply here, except evensong does not have any place for the appropriate use of bells. There was, however, incense.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The soprano soloist for the anthem (Brittens Te Deum in C) was outstanding! She sounded very much like a choirboy.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Most of the choral singing was just sloppy, and the precentors intonation was very strange. Im honestly not sure why a precentor was used at all considering the priest was more than capable of intoning his part.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As soon as the choir processed out, the altar was prepared for holy communion. Those who wished to stay for that moved forward into the choir stalls.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – I may have to give joining this parish a great deal of thought. It is certainly orthodox enough, and it has a great deal of variety in its worship offerings. I'll have to return in the morning soon to experience the other end of things.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Without a doubt! This is the sort of service to bring a friend to.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The soprano soloist!