|728: Redeemer Lutheran, Charleston, West Virginia, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Eccentric Ecclesiologist.
The church: The congregation that was present that day was young. I saw very few grey hairs from where I was sitting. There were lots of children and teenagers, too.
Denomination: Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
The neighbourhood: The church was obviously built with that old real estate axiom in mind: location, location, location. The high traffic area makes it as obvious as a city on a hill. A large message board sign flashes their upcoming events to the thousands of people who drive this road every day.
The cast: Kirk Dueker, the pastor, and Ed Booten, the director of music.
What was the name of the service?
A service of worship and praise.
How full was the building?
I would guess that the building could comfortably hold 300, but chairs were set up for about 150 or so. About two-thirds of the seats were filled.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not really. I was handed a service sheet with a perfunctory "good morning", but nothing overly friendly. At the beginning of worship, we were instructed to greet each other, but I was not offered anything more than a "good morning" again.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a chair, a brand new one, and it was very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Half the people were chatty, half were reverently silent. Kids fidgeted and teenagers whispered; in other words, the usual stuff. Recorded music was playing when I arrived, and continued up until the start of the service. It was quite jazzy for a prelude, but it was played at a subdued volume so as not to be obtrusive.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning! It's great to see all of you on this beautiful day that God has given us."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None at all. Everything – the liturgy, hymn lyrics and scripture lessons – was printed in the bulletin. The scripture was a modern translation, but I'm not sure which one.
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ, trumpet, and handbells.
Did anything distract you?
The trumpet. In the first two hymns, the trumpet was so much louder than the electronic organ that it was difficult to follow the melody. The trumpet playing was good, and it fitted well with the music selections, but it probably should have been muted.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a very well done "blended" worship. The structure gave each individual worshipper space in which they could worship in their own way. No hand clapping, but some swaying to the music, and other outward physical signs of deep inward worship. The service began (after the jazzy prelude) with two great hymns of the church and then into a liturgy of confession. Then, quite surprisingly, a modern praise chorus was sung with great feeling by the choir and congregation. Another praise chorus was sung between scripture readings. Very appropriate and it felt quite natural.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 This was the second in a sermon series on marriage. The preacher used humor very effectively; not just the obligatory joke to open, but humorous stories and quotes that were relevant to the message. His tone was pleasing to listen to, and he had done an excellent job of preparation. He believed what he was saying, and said it well.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Marriage and its three Cs: Controlling anger, Communication, and Courtship. Very practical and scriptural advice on marriage.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The first praise chorus, which took place right after the confession and absolution, was powerful and beautiful. Whoever designed the service really put some thought into the song selection.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The anthem sung by the choir. The singing was good, but the song was "Mine eyes have seen the glory". In America, this song has strong ties to the American civil war and is sometimes called "The battle hymn of the republic". In fact, the song title listed in the bulletin was "Battle hymn" which I found most inappropriate for a service of worship. However, this was a holiday weekend – Memorial Day, which is a national holiday to honor those who have died in war. I'm sure that some thought it was appropriate and patriotic, but I always find it offensive to sing war songs in the worship of the Prince of Peace.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. No one spoke to me. To be fair, since it was a holiday weekend a lot of folks seemed to be eager to leave for family gatherings and such.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't see any people gathering for coffee. I did see a coffee pot and some cups off the narthex, but no one seemed to be interested in it.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 If not for the patriotic anthem, I would have felt very at home in this church. The lack of greeting, both before and after, I do not attribute to coldness but to the busy-ness of the holiday weekend.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The real presence of God that I felt during the singing of the praise choruses. It was as close to Christ as I have felt in quite some time.