|434: Congregation Beth Shalom, Bloomington, Indiana|
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Mystery Worshipper: Auntie Kate.
The church: Congregation Beth Shalom (Jewish Center), Bloomington, Indiana.
Denomination: Jewish (a mixed reform and conservative congregation). This was a multi-faith service.
The building: Pleasant and functional building with a fenced-in playground in the back. Beth Shalom is one of three places of worship that are in a row and share parking lots: St Thomas (Lutheran), Beth Shalom, and University Baptist (just across a footbridge). The worship space has stained glass windows, the high central one with a Star of David motif. The community hall has room dividers which can be opened up for large gatherings or used to create several smaller rooms. Near as I could tell, the entire building is accessible to people with mobility handicaps. In the main entrance hall is a rack for yarmulkes and prayer shawls, and a glass case with shabbat candles, candle holders, menoras, books, children's toys with religious themes, and several other items for sale.
The neighbourhood: Mixed residential and business. Some of the nearby homes are almost opulent. The College Mall is just a few blocks west of the building, and another business area is just to the east of it.
The cast: In order of appearance: Rabbi Mira Wasserman, Beth Shalom; a director of education from Bloomington Islamic Center (a woman); Rev. Barbara Carlson, Unitarian Universalist Church; Vicki Pierce representing the charitable organization Monroe County United Ministries (to whom the offering went this evening, for emergency rent and utilities assistance for needy in the broader community); Rev. Annette Briggs, University Baptist; Rev. Joyce Gerwing, St Thomas Lutheran Church; Rev. Bill Keith, St Mark's United Methodist Church; Rev. David L. Gershaw, Mt Gilead Christian Church. Wendy Elliot, choir director at Beth Shalom, played piano; a quartet from University Baptist did offertory Music; and the interfaith choir was directed by Christine Howlett, Mt Gilead Christian Church choir director.
What was the name of the service?
Joy at Thanksgiving: Community Thanksgiving Service. This is the 13th year that the eastside churches have gotten together; the first year that the Islamic congregation was invited. The date was given as both November 20, 2001 and 5 Kislev 5762.
How full was the building?
I estimate 150 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was handed a service sheet with a smile and directions to the coatrack. Several people from my own church (one of the seven) noticed me and said hi, and there were smiles and nods of greeting from virtually everyone to everyone else as people came in.
Was your pew comfortable?
Padded chairs pushed together in rows of six on either side of a center aisle. Shelf under each one for service books. Very well padded.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and expectant, with many quiet hellos and nods of greeting as various people came in. There was some shifting of music stands and chairs to accommodate the music to come later.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service leaflet with hymns and litanies printed on it.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano prelude and accompaniment to two of the three songs that the congregation joined in. A guitar, tambourine and some object that I couldn't see clearly was struck with a drumstick while the Baptist quartet sang during the offertory. The interfaith choir sang a cappella, as did the congregation for the final hymn in Hebrew.
Did anything distract you?
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
As ecumenical as it gets. With representatives of the world's three major monotheistics religions there, the hymns and readings were chosen to be as inclusive as possible. Seven short sections of the Qur'an were read in Arabic and in English, with a brief commentary on each verse; the Lutheran minister read Psalm 100; and the hymns were carefully chosen to talk about God in general terms and to emphasize community.