|584: Covenant Presbyterian, Chicago, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Shy Town.
The church: Covenant Presbyterian, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Denomination: Presbyterian Church in America.
The building: The church proper is a clean, medium-sized, sandstone-looking building. It was so plain that this architectural dilettante feels it must be a late 19th century attempt at reviving something Medieval, perhaps pseudo-neo-Gothic. Its main decorative element is a bit of a Loire-Valleyish "cross farm" on top. In all fairness, though, the church's, elevation, aspect and proportions are well-balanced and the building doesn't come across as offputting or brooding, as some can.
The church: The congregation at Covenant Presbyerian looked and dressed very much like white- or affluent blue-collar people going to a huge suburban mall. They were overwhelmingly white; I couldn't get the minority attendance up to ten percent. I saw no African-Americans or any other ethinc group. Covenant Presbyterian is still a young church, just now headed toward its 20th anniversary. Membership is below 200 but from a cell of less than a dozen twenty years ago, that's impressive.
The neighbourhood: Chicago proper's boom years were roughly 1875-1925 and this district was erected fairly early on, during the 1880s. Considering that these duplexes (flat-on-flat, not beside each other) were built to serve medium-level working-class immigrants, they are amazingly solid and commodious and attract healthy prices today. The developer of the particular tract adjacent to Covenant Presbyterian Church must have been well-educated: along with Dickens, other nearby streets are called Moffat, Shakespeare, Homer and Churchill.
The cast: Reverend David Williams, Senior Minister; lector Brandt Madsen, laity. (Music was in-house except for hired pianist.)
What was the name of the service?
Order of Worship, 9.30am
How full was the building?
Full house. Maybe a few "scattered singles," as the theatre folk say. The balcony, which could also at one time have been the choir loft, was closed.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I came late, grabbed the order of worship, sneaked into the sanctuary (without creaking the narthex door, blessedly), but then a kindly Elder helped me to an emergency folding seat at the very rear. I was not treated like a miscreant.
Was your pew comfortable?
Mine was the better kind of padded stackable corporate folding seat. Pews were gently curved, obviously built for late 19th Century people who were not obese.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I wasn't there.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
According to the Order of Worship, they were "Clean out, my soul, the inner stream of my life."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no pew Bibles, and we sang from the privately marketed "Hope" hymnal. The lectionary and pulpit Bibles were the old Revised Standard Version.
What musical instruments were played?
Guitar, guitar, acoustical guitar, trap, piano.
Did anything distract you?
I was enchanted when the sun filtering through the eastern stained-glass windows, casting a yellow haze upon the worshipers. There was a large white-linen stole, draped like a shawl over the large wooden cross at the front. An Elder later told me they don't use Pentecost green but go straight to post-Easter white.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff-upper-lipped Calvinist, but not to the point of mesmerism. I would have liked to see just one or two scruffy-looking types, though. The occasional middle-aged person was neat as a pin and usually part of church governance in some way.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Part two of a two-part series about the Ninth Commandment. God doesn't want us to violate the commandment in different ways because He put it in the Ten Commandments for Moses. Rather it's in the Ten Commandments because it's morally wrong. It's morally wrong because God says so.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The placid congregation bathed in the warm glow of the sunlight.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I'm a veteran of too much useless liberal-arts training. I was in good spirits and wide-awake. But I had extreme trouble getting my mind around an oddly structured, long, roundabout-reasoning sermon.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Well, I noticed how poor and neglected the oil paintings forming the stations of the cross looked. I did the usual things photography with and without flash, exploring the church and an Elder latched on to me and was most gracious and informative. The church gives not just a welcome brochure but a boutique-style handled welcome bag with brochures, scheduled events, and even a pack of gum.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 A refreshing tonic to excessive PCUSA semantics like discussing the difference between "lovingkindness" and "loving kindness", but not my cup of Calvinism.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and the congregation seemed appreciative, too.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Toward the end of his sermon, Pastor Williams flung his arms out, unconsciously echoing the white linen draped over the wooden cross.