Shepherd of the Mountains, Jackson, Wyoming, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Shepherd of the Mountains
Location: Jackson, Wyoming, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 23 May 2020, 3:00pm

The building

The congregation was formed in 1985 and became affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1991. They worshipped at various locations while their present building was under construction. It was dedicated in 2001 and consists of a ‘chapel in the woods’ front flanked by two rather flat looking wings: one long and one short.

The church

Calling themselves ‘the little church with the big heart,’ they participate in several community outreaches, including a blood drive, food bank, and quilting circle (‘Shepherds of the Cloth,’ don’t you know). One ministry that caught my attention is their photo ministry, by which (quoting from their website) ‘volunteers hang out on the town square and help our tourists get that perfect family photo.’ In lieu of a traditional Sunday school, they provide a variety of faith formation resources to parents so that they may educate their children at home. They also sponsor several small adult groups that meet at various times – strictly via Zoom at the moment.

The neighborhood

The town of Jackson is best known for its geographic location: Jackson Hole, a valley formed by two mountain ranges (‘hole’ was 19th century Western slang for ‘valley’). Jackson Hole was largely unsettled until the late 19th century, when Jackson, the only incorporated town in the valley (although there are several smaller villages), was founded. Grand Teton National Park is located in the valley, and Yellowstone National Park is not far away. Several popular ski lodges attract a winter crowd, and the mild summer climate brings visitors from all over to tour the national parks. The town of Jackson itself is replete with carefully restored historic buildings.

The cast

The pastor.

What was the name of the service?

Tiny Desk Worship: Easter Catechism – The Commandments. The service was not live-streamed, but rather had been pre-recorded, and could be viewed at any time. The service date and time given above are the date and time when I viewed it here in Arizona.

How full was the building?

Impossible to say. I was alone in my apartment.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

My desk chair was quite suitable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Confusing. The home page of their website seems to imply that live services have resumed now that the state is ‘opening up’ again. However, their Facebook page says that there is no in-person worship during the crisis. Video feeds of this week’s Tiny Desk Worship, as well as feeds from previous weeks and feeds of other inspirational messages, are available for viewing. Their Facebook page also states: ‘Send us an email if you’d like to receive scripture readings, a sermon recording, a hymn for reflection, and prayers on Sundays.’ It wasn’t clear, however, if those would be useful for the current Tiny Desk Worship. At any rate, notice was too short for me to send for them.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

A male soloist sang ‘There Is No Greater Love’ accompanied on a rather out-of-tune piano. He was joined by a female soloist for the final verse.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

See above.

What musical instruments were played?

The aforementioned out-of-tune piano.

Did anything distract you?

The discrepancy between their website and their Facebook page was a distraction. I’m no fan of Facebook and I don’t have an account there, so I found navigating their Facebook page confusing and distracting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The entire service consisted of an opening song, the sermon, and a closing song. It was over in twelve minutes. ‘Tiny Desk Worship’ describes it precisely.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 — The pastor spoke clearly, smiled frequently, and varied her inflection appropriately. She had notes in front of her but looked down at them only occasionally; I don’t think she was reading from them. But I thought her tone was more suitable for children than for adults.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The pastor’s text was John 14:15 (‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’). Jesus’ words are an invitation to us to stay in his community and to see what happens next. By ‘commandments’ Jesus did not mean the Ten Commandments. There is only one commandment mentioned in John’s gospel: the commandment to love one another as the Father loves us. Luther thought that whatever God had commanded should be considered a sacrament, and so Lutherans have two sacraments: baptism and communion. The sacraments are the ways in which we receive God’s love and see Christ revealed. The Ten Commandments give us a detailed picture of what it means to love God and love neighbor. Jesus elaborates upon this concept in his Sermon on the Mount, moving beyond ‘shall not’ to ‘shall.’ How do God’s commandments affect us today? Perhaps we need commandments such as ‘Thou shalt not bully;’ ‘Thou shalt not hurl ethnic slurs.’ But those are simply latter-day manifestations of love. So let us love God, and let us love our neighbor, in ways that are meaningful in our time.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I liked the way the pastor brought the biblical concepts of love and commandments into the present day.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Tune that blasted piano, for Pete’s sake! I’m sure there are piano tuners in Jackson who would welcome the business in these troubled times.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The pastor concluded the service by thanking us for attending and announcing the theme for the next Tiny Desk Worship.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I looked forward to dinner: a chicken breast grilled on the barbecue, with some lima beans and a nice Moscato.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

5 — I would welcome the chance to witness a full eucharistic service.

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

I suppose it did. It seemed odd, though, to witness a service without prayers, scripture readings, a creed, or a blessing.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The out-of-tune piano.

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