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3143: Emmanuel Episcopal, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA
Emmanuel Episcopal, Harrisonburg, VA
Mystery Worshipper: Virginia Kneeling.
The church: Emmanuel Episcopal, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Virginia.
The building: Known locally as "the big white brick church on the corner," that's exactly what it is: a large low white brick building, rather sprawling, that looks as if it may have been added onto once or twice. And indeed it was – most recently by Nielsen Builders, known throughout the area for its schools, hospitals, banks, factories, and other such commercial buildings. Renovations included classrooms, offices, new street side entrances with connecting arcade, and the relocation of the existing steeple from the sanctuary to a new bell tower.
The church: It's a pretty diverse congregation, as befits a university community. Harrisonburg also has a large immigrant community of many different ethnicities and some are represented here. I wasn't able to glean a great deal about the church's activities, as its website is currently either under construction or reconstruction (the Announcements page seems to be stuck in 2015 and the newsletter not updated since 2014).
The neighborhood: Harrisonburg is a city in the Shenandoah Valley region of northwestern Virginia. After the Civil War, former slaves took up residence in an area called Newtown, which was annexed by the city of Harrisonburg around the turn of the 20th century. Once a thriving community of homes, businesses, churches and even a synagogue, large portions of Newtown were bulldozed in the 1960s, in the name of urban renewal, by an all-white city council. The dawn of the 21st century saw vast amounts of money being poured into revitalization of Harrisonburg's downtown area, which is now replete with trendy restaurants and shops catering to the tourist trade. The church sits on a busy intersection on the edge of the campus of James Madison University, a large (though not the largest) state university in the Virginia system and also rather at the tail end of the historic downtown. There is considerable construction going on in the immediate area as the university continues to expand and build.
The cast: The Revd Daniel D. Robayo, rector, was the celebrant. He was assisted by the Revd Deacon Ed Bachschmid. Linell Gray Moss, D.M.A., music director, was in charge of the choir. Virginia Bethune, interim organist, presided at her instrument, and Kathryn Bailey conducted the Choristers, a small youth ensemble who sang the offertory anthem.
The date & time: Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Liturgy of the Palms and Eucharist.

How full was the building?
About 75 per cent full, I would guess.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The first person who welcomed me was a large, heavily bearded gentleman who roared up on a motorcycle and greeted me with a cheerful "Good morning!" in the parking lot. The person who handed me a bulletin also greeted me, and someone else directed me cheerfully to where people were assembling outdoors for the liturgy of the palms.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew itself was comfortable enough. The drop-down kneeler, however, was miserable – too close to the pew, and covered with slippery fake leather. It was a wonder that no one slid on it and ended up kneeling on the shins rather than the knees.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A bit disorganized, as people were milling about on the sidewalk outside, trying to organize the liturgy of the palms.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"May I have your attention, please. You are about to become part of an organized riot."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Hymnal 1982 and a bulletin that contained the liturgy of the palms, the service, the psalm, and some of the hymns. Also a bulletin insert containing the dramatic reading of the Passion according to St Matthew.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, a 14 rank instrument, opus 3437 of M.P. Möller Pipe Organs of Hagerstown, Maryland. It appears to have been refurbished in 1988 although I could discover no further information about it. Also, to accompany the offertory anthem, flute and drum, as well as handbells that were played by the choristers.

Did anything distract you?
Some "commentary" by a very young infant at the back of the church, who turned out to be a lovely baby girl and the apparent delight of the rest of the congregation.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional Episcopal worship, with the addition today of the dramatic reading of the Passion according to St Matthew, with congregational participants all reading from the front. The rector elected to read the part of Judas.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – A very interesting comparison between refugees leaving behind comfortable lives to take on menial jobs, and God leaving heaven to suffer and die for us.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jesus emptied himself and took on the form of a servant. Refugees who may have been teachers or doctors in their country undergo horrible conditions in internment camps and subject themselves to strict vetting, only to take jobs in restaurants or cleaning floors or poultry plants to support their families. They do this out of love for their families. And this is how much God loves us. He left heaven, in the form of Jesus, and came here to be one of us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The congregational singing of "O Sacred Head" after the dramatic reading of the Passion gospel. It is one of my favorite hymns anyway and this was the perfect place for it.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Those horrid kneelers!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. We had been asked to leave the church in silence, so I followed the crowd to the parish hall. However, once I got my refreshments and stood around looking lost, only one person spoke to me, so I finished them and left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee (no idea if fairly traded), hot water for tea, and several pitchers of various flavors of lemonade or punch were all on offer. A snack table held cookies, crackers and dip, and some finger sandwiches. All were served in plastic cups, paper plates and paper napkins.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Some logistics would need to be worked out to make this possible.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Singing "O Sacred Head" after the dramatic reading of the Passion gospel.
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