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171: Ginghamsburg Church, Tipp City, Ohio, USA
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Ginghamsburg Church
Mystery Worshipper: The Preacher Man.
The church: Ginghamsburg Church, Tipp City, Ohio, USA.
Denomination: United Methodist Church.
The building: Modern: brick, steel, and glass. It looks more like a high school or college building than a church. There is also a large, recently completed youth center, called The Avenue, next door to the main building. It is a large arena-type building, much like a gymnasium where the local high school basketball team might play.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in a fast-growing suburban area 15 miles north of Dayton, Ohio. Ginghamsburg was a tiny rural village where the church was founded in 1863 by a Methodist revivalist.
The cast: Rev Dr Michael Slaughter, Senior Pastor.
What was the name of the service?
Easter Worship Celebration.

How full was the building?
Bulging at the seams. I was ushered to a row that had maybe 20 empty chairs that had been set up in the aisle between sections of seating. I sat down in the middle of the row but was quickly shooed all the way to the end by an usher. All the chairs were full in a few moments.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Greeters were at the entrance to the church and at the doors to the worship center (the word "sanctuary" is not used at Ginghamsburg – too churchy) and were quite personable. They said things like "Good morning" and "Welcome".

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a padded folding chair and was okay. Padded pew chairs are the normal seating and appeared to be more comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived a few minutes late. I found the worship band in full swing on an upbeat, loud, almost raucous, Christianized version of the Ricky Martin pop song, "Livin' La Vida Loca".

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I was late and didn't hear them.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Song and hymn lyrics were projected on the screen. Scripture verses were also projected during the message (not "sermon" – again, too churchy).

What musical instruments were played?
Electronic keyboard, drums, bongos, guitars, trumpets, saxophone. I counted seven instrumentalists in the worship band and three female vocalists, all dressed in black.

Did anything distract you?
Being crowded in rather tightly. I was also distracted by the music (the Ricky Martin song baptized with Christian lyrics about the resurrection of our Lord). But as I listened, I couldn't get Ricky's scantily-clad dancers out of my mind. I half expected one to come twirling across the stage.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Informal, loud, rambunctious, with frequent applause. Churches like Ginghamsburg downplay the transcendence of God in favor of the immediacy of one's personal experience of God.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
23 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – he's an animated preacher with a folksy manner. Delivery was his strength; content, less so.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Faith in the risen Jesus is dangerous. It calls us to a decision: repent, believe, and then act on that belief. The movie The Matrix provided the theme for the service. Several video clips from the movie were used and a drama sketch was based on it. Like many seeker-sensitive churches, the message was geared toward non-believers and those without a church background. A key sentence from the message was, "when the body moves, the funeral is over."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The exuberance and excitement of the worship team; the packed congregation on Easter Sunday; the sense of a congregation with a clear mission to reach people for Christ; the variety of ages, ethnic groups, and styles of dress represented.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The music. The attempt to convert Ricky Martin's song for use on Easter Sunday didn't work for me. Also the Gloria Estefan song was weak. I kept thinking that the title for the service should be, "Easter with Ricky, Gloria, and Ginghamsburg Church".

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Surprisingly, no one spoke to me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I don't drink coffee, but I did enjoy the pastries and punch. The congregation seemed well prepared and organized for the many visitors that weekend. It was a very welcoming feeling.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5. I prefer traditional worship and think the happy-clappy atmosphere of entertainment and the use of rather shallow contemporary music would grow tiresome after a while. I would also miss the pipe organ and choir doing classical sacred music. On the other hand, the use of video and drama is quite provocative and effective.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I felt the energy and joy of Easter and was given some new ways of thinking about the resurrection that connect with our culture. Ironically, I was at my own congregation, a traditional downtown Baptist Church, earlier that morning. I guess one could say I experienced the best of both worlds.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"When the body moves, the funeral is over."
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