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699: Byfield Parish Church, Georgetown, Massachusetts, USA
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Byfield Parish Church, Georgetown, Massachusetts USA
Mystery Worshipper: Prayer Book Salesman.
The church: Byfield Parish Church, Georgetown, Massachusetts, USA.
Denomination: Congregational.
The building: The church building, dedicated in 1988, was built in the traditional New England Congregational style to replace a much smaller church edifice which still stands two doors down the street and is now a private residence. It is a brick building, in a cruciform layout, with three floors of meeting rooms, classrooms, offices, and of course the worship center. The worship center is painted a bright white, with colonial-style furniture and pews. Large brass chandeliers hang above the seating area, which can accommodate about 200 people.
The church: Byfield Parish Church was the first "independent" Congregational Church in America, founded in 1702. The church stands in what is now the separate town of Georgetown, though in the 18th century this area was the Byfield Parish of the larger town of Newbury.
The neighbourhood: The church is surrounded by several cemeteries, some ancient, some modern, in a very remote and wooded section of Georgetown.
The cast: Dr William Boylan, pastor; Mr Bradford Zinnecker, associate pastor; Robert Latrop, music director; Holly Libert, organist.
What was the name of the service?
10:45 Morning Worship Service.

How full was the building?
Absolutely packed, with about 200 worshippers in attendance.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were several unofficial "good mornings" as I wandered in. You have to travel through a large hallway to reach the worship center, and many "nods" and "smiles" were sent in my direction.

Was your pew comfortable?
The bare wooden pews were form-fitted to the posture of the sitting human body, attesting to their construction in the mid-1980s when this church was built. White colonial-style "end-caps" were a nice decorative touch.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I walked in about five minutes before the worship was to begin, and thought I was at a pep rally. Everyone seemed to be reacquainting themselves with those whom they had not seen in a week's time, sharing stories, laughing, and otherwise whooping it up. There was no musical prelude, which I found a bit odd.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome, Welcome... Welcome... Let me welcome you this morning... Welcome... Let me welcome you this morning to Byfield Parish Church." (The multiple repeats were to accomodate those who were finishing up their pre-worship conversations.)

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, RSV edition; "Hymns of the Living Church," a mid-1980s non-denominational hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Rodgers Digital Pipe Organ, Grand Piano, two guitars, bass, drums, harmonica.

Did anything distract you?
A college-aged red-headed soprano in the choir was so stunningly beautiful that it was hard to focus on anything else! But I did focus on one – yes one – candleabra bulb burned out in the entire church. Seems odd that no one had replaced it, where every other seemed to be burning brightly.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely the most happy-clappy I've ever witnessed for a New England Congregational (read: Puritan) church. Hymns were played on the organ, while "praise singing" was led by the instruments mentioned above. The praise singing lasted for about 20 minutes at the opening of worship, but it never seemed to get old or boring. Many in the congregation participated, and those who didn't know the songs very well clapped along happily.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
28 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Dr Boylan projected well, articulated his words, and delivered his message with power; however, he tended to skip from topic to topic, making it difficult for me to answer the next question.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He kept coming back to the point that Jesus died because God "loves" us – a lot of "love" themes here, as Friday was Valentine's Day. It was hard to follow one particular topic, because he spoke for 28 minutes.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The 16-member choir was musically, vocally and artistically one of the best I've seen comprised solely of volunteers. They sang a rousing anthem, and led the hymns very well.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The order of worship was much to loose for this worshipper. This was their exact order of service: welcome; hymn/praise singing; prayer of confession and faith; anthem; children's sermon; hymn; sermon; hymn; offering; benediction; postlude. I was disappointed in their lack of scripture readings, prayers, no prelude, no closing hymn. Worship seemed a bit "comfortable," meaning that no one was asked to do much but to sit and listen.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The organist was actually a young woman who had filled in for me when I was playing organ at a church nearby several years earlier, so it was nice to see her. We spoke for several minutes, and then I wandered through the mass of people who seemed to be lingering in the worship center even though coffee was available downstairs. Again lots of "hellos" and "how are you's" but no one officially spoke to me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Alas, I did not stay, as I had many other things to do on this particular day.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – Good, fun, enjoyable worship; lack of substance, no central preaching theme... I'm on the fence on this one. I would definitely attend again, but probably only to seek out the attractive soprano in the choir.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Most definitely. I left feeling refreshed, with a spring in my step.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The college-aged red-headed soprano who stole my heart.
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