Trinity on the Hill, Los Alamos, NM (Exterior)

Trinity on the Hill, Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Trinity on the Hill
Location: Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 15 May 2016, 10:30am

The building

It is a modern brick structure of confusing interior layout. You arrive at what you think is major entrance and find it is the community building, rather than the sanctuary. So we followed the small signs to the church in the back. The nave was decorated with hundreds of lovely dove silhouette garlands made by the children of the church. (In speaking with the locals afterwards, we learned that on the previous Pentecost a torch bearer had ignited the garlands and the Holy Spirit and tongues of fire fell upon the choir, where the sopranos stamped them out.)

The church

They are a well established Christian community with missionary outreach programs, hot lunches for students, Mexican outreach, and support for local charities. They have two services each Sunday, Rite I and Rite II, plus compline.

The neighborhood

Los Alamos is a town located in north-central New Mexico; it sits on a volcanic plateau in the Jemez Mountains. During World War II, Los Alamos was the site of the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During that time, the very existence of the town of Los Alamos was considered classified and the area was referred to simply as "the Hill" – a name that has stuck to this day among locals. Nowadays, the town is the location of Los Alamos National Laboratory and boasts one of the highest concentration of Ph.D. degrees in the country. The church is located at the corner of Trinity, Diamond and Canyon Drives, near the high school, hospital and university branch.

The cast

The Revd Christopher Adams, rector. Valerie Fassbender was the organist and Joe Cox directed the choir.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist, Rite II.

How full was the building?

At about 100 people the church was about two-thirds full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. A greeter welcomed us and issued name tags.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes – it was a padded wooden pew with kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Almost everyone knew everyone and there was considerable conversation. You could join the breakfast of donuts and coffee that was still in session after the earlier service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and welcome to Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Hymnal 1982 with a paperback supplement called Wonder, Love and Praise; the Prayer Book 1979; The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version; and an 11 page order of service with full color cover.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and piano, with a robed choir of a dozen very effective singers. The organ is opus 525 of the Hall Organ Company of West Haven, Connecticut, and was rebuilt and enlarged in 1992 by WE Wilson and Associates of Colorado Springs. The piano is an antique instrument built by the Becker Brothers Piano Company of New York City around 1900, restored and kept in perfect tune.

Did anything distract you?

A thunderstorm broke out during the service and emphasized strategic points during the readings and the sermon. How did they arrange that? I wondered.

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

In a formality appropriate to a major feast day, the atmosphere was decidedly celebratory. The choir were distinctly up-tempo; only the singer in the MoboJobo family partnership was able consistently to keep up.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

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

9 – Father Chris had a direct delivery, with eye contact roving around the room. Only for extended quotations did he appear to read from invisible notes. And there was considerable flexibility – when an emphasized pause was greeted by a clap of thunder, he claimed that the clap of thunder showed God's approval.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The strangeness and significance of the Christian narrative, as exemplified by the Pentecost story. First, the power of words, as exemplified by the quote from the prophet Joel in Acts 2 (accompanied by a clap of thunder): "I will pour out my Spirit on all people." Then the difference between the story of the Tower of Babel (OT reading – Genesis 11:1-9) and the experience of the gospel reading (simultaneously read in eleven languages). And the contrast between motivation and significance, power and ego, at Babel, and acceptance of differences in a universal brotherhood of salvation in the gospel reading experience.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The gospel reading delivered simultaneously in multiple different languages: French, Spanish, Dutch, Latin, King James English, American English Texas dialect, German, Italian, Czech, Russian and Koine Greek.

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

They didn't repeat the part about the tongues of fire being stamped out by the sopranos. But wouldn't that make a memorable local tradition, one that would attract Mystery Worshippers every year!

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

We photographed; we visited. We got introduced and joined the conversation. Father Chris had spotted the form we were writing on and recognized the questions – he must be lurking on the Ship!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Although the coffee and donuts were still in plenteous supply after we had photographed everything we could, we had to leave, as one of our party was celebrating a birthday and we had made plans.

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

9 – Conceivable.

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

The community spirit, the original ideas, the wonder of how they organized the thunder.

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

The mental picture of the sopranos stamping out the flames that descended upon them at Pentecost.

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