Holy Cross, Valle Crucis, NC
Holy Cross is a transitional-sized parish in rural western North Carolina. In addition to the main church building, adjacent to a diocesan retreat center, it has a historic summer chapel a few miles away, in Sugar Grove.
size: 154.9 ASA [transitional]
location: rural South
- 8:30am Rite 2 eucharist (no music) [in summer, shifts to 9:00am at St. John's Chapel, with "gospel style music"]
- 11:00am Rite 2 eucharist with choir and hymnody
- Wednesday 8:00am Rite 2 eucharist (no music)
- summer only: 6:30pm contemplative worship service, drawing on music and liturgical forms from Taizé and the Iona Community (once a month, it includes the eucharist, using Church of England eucharistic prayer F)
parish website: http://holycrossvallecrucis.net
The parish is located in the Appalachian mountains of rural North Carolina. The area population is somewhat older than the state average, and it is 94% white. Per capita income in 2016 is estimated at $26,582, below the national average of $33,205.
The parish culture is described as "outwardly focused," with a deep concern for helping others. Like most parishes, a segment of the congregation is described as welcoming of liturgical change, while another segment is described as resistant. On the Sunday of the site visit, the congregation appeared to be comprised mostly of middle-aged and older individuals, with some young persons present. The congregation was largely white, mirroring the local demographics.
9:00 at St. John's Chapel (click image below to launch audio slideshow)
This liturgy takes place in a small, carpenter-Gothic chapel. A full-text service booklet is provided (with words, but no music, for the hymnody). Music is eclectic, drawn from Lift Every Voice and Sing II, Hymnal 1982, and other sources. The congregation appears to know all of the music chosen for the day. The liturgy uses Enriching Our Worship vol. 1. The crowd is middle-aged and older. One vested lay person serves as lector, acolyte, and chalice bearer, juggling the multiple roles gracefully. The procession is just two-persons long, but a processional cross is used.
Announcements take place before the service begins, to diminish the disruption of the liturgy's flow from word to table. Hymns are sung with gusto, accompanied on this occasion by an electronic keyboard, though the Gloria and Sanctus are recited. (The musicians are drawn from a pool of volunteers, and the instrumentation varies according to the musicians of the day.) The service follows the structure of the 1979 prayer book, with some additions: for example, at the conclusion of the Peace, the congregation bursts into singing "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me..."
The prayers of the people follow Form 6 from the prayer book (in other weeks, Form 3 is used). As congregants entered, several were given "prayer sticks" with the names of individuals, as well as concerns of the larger church, for which to pray aloud during the intercessions. This has the effect of increasing participation. The exchange of the Peace is long and involves everyone. The presider leads the eucharistic prayer facing the people. The distribution of communion is efficient but not rushed.
Ablutions are done at the altar, facing the people. The rector has only a few minutes to converse with congregants before heading to the next service, at Holy Cross.
11:00 at Holy Cross
This liturgy takes place in a mid-sized, stone, Gothic-revival building. A full-text service booklet is provided-- or almost full-text, as it omits the words of the Nicene Creed. It does not contain the hymns, but rather refers the user to Hymnal 1982, from which all of the music is drawn. The people here sing with vigor, and the organist and choir ably support congregational singing. The liturgy follows Rite 2 from the 1979 prayer book. The crowd is mostly middle-aged and older, but some younger adults and children are present. Two vested adult laypersons serve as liturgical assistants, and an eight-person choir leads the singing. Readers (in street clothes) come forward from the congregation.
Announcements take place before the service begins, to diminish the disruption of the liturgy's flow from word to table. The opening hymnody and Gloria are sung with energy by the congregation. The gospel is read from the midst of the congregation, in the center aisle, with the presider carrying the gospel book out, led by the crucifer.
The prayers of the people follow Form 6 from the prayer book (in other weeks, Form 3 is used). Much like the practice at St. John's, as congregants entered, several were given "prayer sticks" with the names of individuals, as well as concerns of the larger church, for which to pray aloud during the intercessions. The people add their own petitions where invited. The exchange of the Peace is long and involves everyone. An announcement inviting all to communion is fairly lengthy, with a text borrowed from the Iona Community, to ensure that all are made to feel welcome and encouraged to receive. Those with birthdays or anniversaries are prayed over, and the offertory sentence is given. The presider leads the eucharistic prayer facing the people. The distribution of communion is efficient but not rushed.
After communion, the congregation kneels to sing a hymn (known locally as the "kneeling hymn"). The rector greets everyone at the door.
The presider effectively creates a sense of warmth and welcome in the liturgy. Some choices actively encourage lay participation (such as the prayer sticks at St. John's). Local practice and local sensibilities have been carefully accommodated (for example, in the retention of the traditional-form Lord's Prayer, even in an Enriching Our Worship liturgy), even as the rector has introduced liturgical change in some elements of worship. Some local practices, such as the carrying of the cross in the gospel procession (when the gospel book should be the visual focus) and doing ablutions at the altar (analogous to washing dishes at the dinner table), are a bit distracting, but none derail the overall joyful reverence of the liturgy.
Worship Planning and Choices
Worship is planned by a committee that meets twice a year, looking at the broad contours of the liturgical year. The committee is made up of the rector, the organist/choir director, the senior warden, a representative of the choir, and 2-3 at-large members of the congregation. Week-by-week planning is then carried out by the rector, who develops the liturgy and selects the sequence hymn (hymn after the gospel reading), and the organist/choir director, who chooses the other music. [For the summer chapel, music is chosen by a lay person who coordinates with the rotating musicians, subject to approval by the rector.]
The rector's stated goals in liturgical planning include providing meaningful worship experiences, conforming to the 1979 BCP, maximizing congregational participation, and rotating texts to avoid the liturgy becoming "rote or mindless routine." Some innovations have been well received, such as adopting Enriching Our Worship and "gospel-style" music (the rector's term) at the summer chapel.
One innovation has been structural, though not in the weekly eucharist. The rector reports that he has altered the structure of the Palm Sunday liturgy, with the bishop's permission, to eliminate what he saw as the "roller-coaster" effect of reading the Passion narrative in the normal position. Instead, he uses the story of Jesus driving the money changers from the temple, and the Passion narrative is read at the end of the service, with members of the congregation taking various roles. Some other parishes across the country similarly change the position of the Passion narrative, to reduce the whipsaw effect of moving from shouts of "Hosanna!" and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem to shouts of "Crucify him!" and the trial and execution of Jesus. This structural solution is better than those that omit a gospel reading from the word liturgy entirely, and the use of the expulsion of the money changers has the admirable effect of following the chronology of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), in which Jesus cleanses the temple immediately after the triumphal entry. Similarly, reading the narrative in parts is preferable to the practice in some other places that also relocate it, but read it as a sort of ersatz "Last Gospel," with a single voice.
But the whipsaw effect of the prayer book liturgy is both intentional and helpful: when done with the congregation reading the part of the crowd in the Passion narrative, we all participate--and we all are implicated--in the swift betrayal of Jesus. We are the crowd, shouting hymns of praise and then pivoting to scream condemnation. A teaching moment is lost if we smooth over the tension in the Palm Sunday liturgy. Nevertheless, if this alteration is to be done—a big "if"—the substitution of the story of the cleansing of the temple is preferable to the ways that some other parishes move or omit the Passion story.