St Peter's, Chicago

St Peter's, Chicago, Illinois, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Fading Lights
Church: St Peter's
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 May 2012, 10:00am

The building

A stunning building, 125 years old. The building is mainly stone, with a set of red wooden doors. There are a few steps to walk up, but there is also a wheelchair accessible ramp. There is also the usual sign "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" out front. Like many older buildings, there are some confusing passageways inside that lead to dead-ends.

The church

This church seems to have a great outreach to the community. Your Mystery Worshiper has passed by here a few times and there are always people outside of the church. See their website for details of their ministries; I'll just make mention of one: the "20-30somethings", a group that gets together for social events – shows, bars, restaurants, games, etc. There are two Sunday eucharists as well as a Wednesday night eucharist.

The neighborhood

This church is located near Lake Michigan in Chicago, close to the major intersection of Broadway and Belmont. The surrounding area is filled with restaurants, shops, and hundreds of apartments. This is a very urban neighborhood, with heavy pedestrian traffic as well as numerous public transport options close by.

The cast

The Revd Sarah K. Fisher, rector, led the service. There was an excellent thurifer who kept the church full of a very sweet smelling incense. Lay readers took the first and second lessons.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist

How full was the building?

I counted maybe 50 people in a building that could easily sit 200. I was surprised that the attendance was so low for the main eucharist at a church in such a large metropolitan area.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The rector stood outside the doors welcoming people. She wore Easter vestments of white and gold. This was certainly a welcome invitation to come inside to worship.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew itself was fine, but there were no kneelers. There were cushions provided for kneeling during communion.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very quiet. I found it interesting that I didn't see anyone engaged in prayer before the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

In plainchant from the back of the church: "Alleluia! Christ is risen." The congregation responded in chant: "The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the 1982 Hymnal were placed in the pews, but the entire service was printed on a handout. There was also a board displaying the hymn numbers.

What musical instruments were played?

A pipe organ and a choir of about ten. The choir took part in the entrance procession, but then they retreated to the rear of the church and remained there for the duration of the service.

Did anything distract you?

My main distraction was the very small number of people that were present when I arrived for the service. I arrived about ten minutes before the service and I counted about ten people present at that time.

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

Pretty far up the candle. Most of the service was chanted. A great deal of incense was used throughout the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

16 minutes.

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

7 – I really liked the first part of the sermon, which was delivered from the pulpit. The rector talked about baptizing a person in the hospital. Halfway through the sermon, she deviated from the usual sermon format and went out into the nave to ask for congregational participation. I felt very awkward during this, as if I were an unwelcome stranger at a family reunion.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Revd Mrs Fisher used the day's readings, which were Acts 8:26-40 (Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch) and John 15:1-8 (Christ is the true vine), to talk about baptism. She asked several members of the congregation to talk about what baptism meant to them.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The skill of the thurifer. You're not going to be overwhelmed with incense at this church, yet you can tell it is there.

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

I felt extremely uncomfortable about the possibility that I would have to discuss my baptism in public. That is something very private to me.

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

I followed some people and found my way to coffee. It didn't take long for people to talk to me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The coffee was very good, although not as strong as I'd like it. There was also a selection of sweets available. They serve the coffee in proper coffee cups, so you have to go back to the kitchen to drop off the cup.

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

8 – I'll give it serious consideration. I'm hoping that the usual Sunday congregation is larger.

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

Yes. When I got home, I reviewed the day's lessons in my Bible.

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

The stunning appearance of this building on Belmont Avenue.

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