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474: St Elizabeth Seton, Carmel, Indiana
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St Elizabeth Seton, Carmel, Indiana
Mystery Worshipper: Auntie Kate.
The church: St Elizabeth Seton, Carmel, Indiana.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Designed to look like an Indiana barn; had a huge main assembly area with 16 skylights and exposed steel beams inside. White brick on the exterior, with a very nicely landscaped property including a pond with an artificial waterfall. Only one statue in the Mary Chapel; none elsewhere. One wonderful icon of Jesus, Giver of Light, and one stained glass window. The main wall behind the stone altar (which looked like something straight out of Narnia) was entirely blank and huge. There were three projectors that could put images onto that wall if desired (but only at night, because of all the skylights).
The church: They seem extremely interested in being accessible to wheelchair users. This church has one of the best systems of ramps I have ever seen in a public building.
The neighbourhood: Located in one of Indiana's most affluent suburbs, just minutes from Indianapolis.
The cast: Dr Marty Martin, special guest speaker. Bishop Higi, Roman Catholic. Bishop Stuck, Lutheran.
What was the name of the service?
Catholic/Lutheran Dialogue Prayer Service.

How full was the building?
About half full in a building that could probably hold more than 1500 comfortably. Judging from the style of crossing oneself used before the Gospel reading, the congregation was about half and half Lutheran/Catholic. There were disappointingly few young adults and teens – which could be because it was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. In looking around the building, my companion and I found two library carts full of copies of an alternative folk hymnal: 480 copies, we estimated. If they need that many on a regular basis, the church must usually be very well attended indeed!

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A priest with nametag that said "Father Ted" welcomed our group. We had been on the road for over an hour and he and a nice older lady showed us where the restrooms were.

Was your pew comfortable?
Good back support. Each pew, in keeping with the Indiana barn theme, was a very long plank of wood. The long pews seated 16 to 20 adults each very comfortably. The only kneelers we found in the entire building were in the small Mary Chapel. There were none in the main area.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Unfortunately, we were three minutes late.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A red hymnal. We used it only to sing "Lift High the Cross" verses 1-3 to start the service and verses 4-5 as a recessional.

What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ. There was also in the same area a grand piano, a full drum set and three guitars in cases – but they weren't used in this service.

Did anything distract you?
ECHOES echoes echoes... This is Indiana. The building looked like a barn inside and outside, and the sound system was identical to the bullhorn style loudspeakers found in most larger basketball courts throughout the state. These ugly sports style trumpet-shaped monstrosities were hung from the ceiling directly over the sanctuary area. Dr Marty had difficulty hearing questions from the congregation during the question/answer time, and several of the older people had trouble hearing him throughout.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very dignified, but sparse. Since it was an ecumenical service, there was no communion. The cross processed with only two candles and there was no Gospel procession. The main part of the service consisted of Dr Marty's remarks and a question/answer period. There was also a collect for the day led by Lutheran bishop Stuck and some intercessions from Catholic bishop Higi.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Almost 50 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Although he brought notes, Dr Marty seldom glanced at them. He is a well-known Lutheran theologian and teacher who has just completed a biography of Martin Luther. The talk was about the Lutheran/Catholic dialogues and progress made so far.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The difference between conversation/dialogue and argument. The central idea: when one argues, the assumption is that one has the truth and must either convert or humiliate the other party. When one has a dialogue or conversation, the ideas go back and forth. No one "wins" a conversation. New insights are only found in conversation, not in argument. And some of the best conversations occur in the spaces before and after services like this one.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
My companion said, "Being different and no one cared." I got all tingly when the entire assembly of Catholics and Lutherans prayed the Lord's Prayer in unison, with the exact same words, inflections, and pauses for breath.

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

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We bumped into a woman who had been there when the building was designed, who gave us some insight into the philosophy of the design. There was a separate reception being held less than a mile away at King of Glory Lutheran Church. But my party had to get back home – we had car-pooled from a significant distance.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We didn't go to it. Lutherans are generally good at coffee and munchies, however.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – Even if I were Catholic, I would hesitate, because of the neighborhood (way too rich for my taste), and the bareness of the building.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much! It was great to "lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, till all the world adores His sacred Name."

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The wonderful baptism font in the large entryway. It was black marble with steps down into an area large enough to do adult baptism by immersion. There was also a part of it that was up on the main floor level and table high, which was a smaller basin (maybe one meter square and one-third of a meter deep) that was for baptizing infants. The two basins were connected by a waterfall. The entire baptism area was open to a beautifully large skylight, so the person being baptised would be looking straight into heaven.
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