I'm in Cambridge on a cold, rainy Sunday. I've been to a few chapel services at the Episcopal Divinity School over the last week, but I decided to worship in a nearby parish today. So, I got up and jumped on the subway and went into neighboring Boston to historic King's Chapel.
KC is the oldest Anglican church in Boston, the oldest Unitarian church in North America, sits on the property of the oldest burial ground in Boston proper, and was the home of the first church organ in New England.
King's Chapel was organized in 1686 in pre-revolution Boston and has been in its present stone building since 1754. It's bell cracked in 1814 and was recast by Paul Revere and has been in continual use since 1816. I heard it calling us to worship this morning!
In 1782 James Freeman was hired as the church's Lay Reader and served as the minister/pastoral leader. Freeman introduced the church to Unitarian theology and the church revised the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer for its own use. The revisions made the prayer book more Unitarian and even today the King's Chapel prayer book addresses prayers to God alone and has no mention of any creeds. The Trinitarian Gloria Patri has been replaced by a scriptural doxology to God.
Because of the Unitarian developments at KC, Bishop Seabury wouldn't ordain Mr. Freeman, so in 1787 the Senior Warden of the congregation ordained him on behalf of the parish. KC has been an independent, Unitarian church worshipping in the Anglican tradition (or an independent Anglican church with Unitarian theology) ever since. KC is unique in its non-creedal Unitarian worship in 18th century Anglican style; and though independent, KC is affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association.
King's Chapel's worship is Morning Prayer every Sunday with the sacrament of Holy Communion offered on the first Sunday of the month. KC also offers a weekly organ recital on Tuesdays and Noonday Prayer on Wednesdays with Holy Communion on the 3rd Wednesday of the month. Various religious education, social, and artistic events are also offered. The church is open daily for tourists. It is part of the Freedom Trail walking tour.
The worship was actually beautiful. The archaic King James Bible English didn't seem out of place and the poetry of the language actually fit with the historic surroundings.
The architecture is a window to history. Even sitting in the antique "boxes" was a way of revisiting a time long gone.
The 17 piece professional choir was amazing and the organist played the best and most captivating organ prelude I have ever heard. The service was formal but strangely not stuffy. The liturgy was full of singing, but wasn't high church. There was no processional and kneeling was an option at times but only a few people availed themselves of that option.
The sanctuary looks at if it could hold 200 or so people, but only about 60 were in attendance. The furniture was simple but rich and elegant. Rather than an altar, there was a simple table. There are no stained glass windows but there are cherubs carved into the walls in a few places.
The sermon was a bit dull and dryly delivered, but that can happen anywhere. But the history, the architectural elegance, the fabulous music, and the dignified prayers and readings made my visit to King's Chapel a very positive experience.
I will return in a few months to worship at KC again, and I can recommend that anyone who is in the Boston area on a Sunday worship with them as well. It's a history lesson and a genuine worship experience rolled into one.