Just before 10 p.m. on Sundays, dozens of Yale students and New Haven residents walk quietly into a candlelit Christ Church Episcopal at 84 Broadway. They sit in stiff wooden chairs and listen for 30 minutes as the smell of incense and the sounds of a hidden chorus wash over them.
This musical experience is one of the only services offered at Christ Church that has not been altered by recent cuts. The current economic downturn, which has had an impact on everything from labor relations at Yale to budgeting in the city, has also had far-reaching effects at the church. Faced with a shrinking endowment, the church has been forced to cut costs wherever it can, notably in its music program.
The church is known for its music program, which a blue sign outside the church describes as “ambitious.” One would need to go to the Church of the Advent in Boston or a church in New York City to hear music of the caliber performed at Christ Church, said Father David Cobb, priest-in-charge.
Robert Lehman, the organist and choir director, described the personal relevance of the program.
“It’s my program. I like to think that we’re making some sort of mark,” he said.
Choir member Kelsey Linnett ’03 said organists and other people interested in music travel to New Haven from other churches to hear the programs at Christ Church.
“[Lehman] has put this church on the map as far as the choir scene, because who would come to Christ Church New Haven? But people come,” Linnett said. “I’ve sung in a lot of choirs; it’s definitely the best one that I’ve ever sung in.”
A music program of such quality does not come cheaply, though. Lehman is a full-time church employee, and he has a part-time assistant. The choir members are all paid for rehearsals and performances.
“Like a lot of places dependent on endowment income, we’ve faced some shortfalls, and one of the largest program expenses we have is the choir,” Cobb said.
The expense has forced the church to reluctantly eliminate the choir from two Sunday morning services each month.
“It’s pretty dreary on those Sundays,” Cobb said. “It’s disappointing. We view the liturgy as something we offer to God.”
John Anderson, the senior warden of the congregation, said the members of the church miss the music.
“People are sad. We’re hoping to get it back,” he said.
While economic hardship has forced cost-cutting measures, parishioners are giving more.
“The people who are regular givers have increased their giving substantially,” Anderson said. “That people would do that says a lot about the kind of people in the congregation.”
One program that has not been eliminated is the Compline service offered on Sunday evenings when Yale is in session. The service is popular among students, but Cobb said the donations collected at Compline do not come close to offsetting the cost of paying the choir for the service.
“We were adamant about not [eliminating Compline],” Cobb said. “It’s one of the ways the church makes God available to the community.”
Cobb said he hopes to restore the full musical program as soon as economically feasible. Until that time, he and other administrators at Christ Church are forced to pick and choose the services they offer to the community.