A skirt of sparkles flares out as she twirls round and round. A little run, on tippy toes, and an abrupt stop. She stares in awe at the stained glass window. They seem to reach onward and upward, forever and ever towards the sky. It is a wonder how all of those perfectly colored slivers fit so neatly together. But then the music starts and a hushed, but harsh, whisper and wave ushers her back to her seat.
The ceilings are high and the space feels so grand (or maybe the people feel so small). The organ is massive, it takes up the whole front apse. Again and again, one could attempt to count the pipes, never reaching a conclusion. The pulpit sits so neatly, with its carved shoulders reaching out towards the congregation. It is elegant enough for a president or a princess, not in an ostentatious way, though. It has just the right balance of simplicity and gravitas that truly lets the speaker shine, but makes it quite obvious when they miss their mark. The craftsmanship is as old and impressive as it gets in the United States: George Washington once sat in these pews and, at his day job, Paul Revere smithed the silver communion cup and plates. History and pride seem to seep in from every pore of the building.
Under a different pair of eyes, though, the space feels very plain. There are two aisles, not one, insuring no grand entrance. The amount of white is overwhelming. Steeple excluded, it is four stories tall. Four stories of white. There is no ornamentation, with the exception of the capitols atop the pillars that hold up the balcony and the carved florets from which the light fixtures hang. Elsewhere there may have been chandeliers, instead, here, there are sturdy iron structures, previously holding candles but since updated with electrical bulbs. The North Church is no longer the bustling hub of the town; neither slaves nor women are banished to the upper seats. In fact, they are always unoccupied. Christmas, Easter, and baptisms aside, the space is not grand, but modest and vacant.
The small stage and manger have been taken down, but the pulpit is still surrounded by poinsettias and candle light. By half to midnight each person will be holding their own. They will softly sing Silent Night, drip some wax, and bring their light out the doors, to their cars, and into the world. Now, though, there is laughter and awkward side hugs and waves across aisles. A couple of babies make gurgling noises and a group of elderly men make loud and (and sometimes rude) comments about the home-for-the-holidays students filtering in. Perhaps it is not the architecture or ornamentation that gives a space its grandeur, but the people who give it its vibrancy. There is a rustle of green robes as the choir takes their places and the first hum of the violin ushers in the magic of Christmas Eve.