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808: Gethsemane Lutheran, Gainesville, Florida, USA
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Gethsemane Lutheran, Gainesville, Florida, USA
Mystery Worshipper: San Juan.
The church: Gethsemane Lutheran, Gainesville, Florida, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The church: Gethsemane is located in a middle class section of Gainesville. The location of the church further from the University of Florida brings a less academic feeling to the congregation; instead it is that of a close knit family ready and willing to share their faith and community to all of Gainesville's diverse population, not one specific segment.
The neighbourhood: The neighborhood around the church is largely residential in character. Older subdivisions, and some newer subdivisions, are all within walking distance. No historic or scenic venue draws anyone into the area however.
The cast: Pastor Chris Webb and assistant minister, Chris Bennett.
What was the name of the service?
8.00am Holy Communion on the sixth Sunday after the epiphany.

How full was the building?
Around two-thirds full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Numerous members offered smiles alone, some more gave smiles and handshakes. A friendly few proffered smiles, handshakes and conversation. People were welcoming in almost every imaginable method throughout the service. The sharing of the peace was one happy get-together, with people walking all over the sanctuary seeking out others. (A welcome change from the all-too-common handshake to the front, the back, the left, the right, then done.)

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were not tight fits, so people of all sizes could be comfortable. They were also padded, which was a blessing. We did the typical Lutheran exercise regimen (sit, stand, kneel, stand, sit, stand, and so on), so we didn't use the pews a great deal, but hey, they may last longer that way.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The narthex was the community welcome zone; lots of hugs, handshakes, well-wishing, etc. About 15 people were actively chatting and welcoming visitors – I did not appear to be the only visitor present. There was much busy-ness in the narthex, in direct contrast to the sanctuary, however. Once beyond the double doors from the narthex, a quieter atmosphere was immediately evident. Some were kneeling in prayer; others were whispering to pew-mates; some were busy getting the offering checks completed; others were leafing through the Lutheran book of worship; all in all a group getting ready to worship.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The congregation used the 1991 supplemental hymnal. The lessons, gospel and psalm were on printed sheets in the program. The readings were from the New Revised Standard Version.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and violin instrumentation augmented the hymns. The prelude was a violin solo. The organist led the congregation in learning a new gospel anthem.

Did anything distract you?
A lady near the back of the church coughed like a bellowing moose a couple of times. It was a major contrast to the melodic chanting of the pastor. Ah well, 'tis the season for sinusitis.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was, well, worshipful. There was a combination of hymns and renewal music. The organ was not overpowering, so focus could be maintained on the messages in word and song. The chants were well done. The pastor seemed to hit every note and not one whit sounded like a funeral dirge. The eucharist provided opportunities for individual as well as common cup drinking. There was a sense that all are welcome, and all may commune or not-commune, as the individual may prefer. Not one "happy-clappy" hint present in any aspect of the service, but neither was there rote, regimental or otherwise rigid form.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The pastor made his points creatively using language that bridged across the congregation's varied age groups. The points made were well supported with scripture and anecdotes. And, thankfully enough, no overpowering scent of brimstone nor intense heat from hell's flames distracted me from hearing the message.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The character of God as revealed by Christ in his sermon to those of Tyre and Sidon shows that God uses different criteria than humans expect. God redeems and works through the most unlikely means to accomplish his salvation. To which group do we belong: the blesseds or the woes?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Gethsemane felt like coming home after a hard day's work, to a hot meal. Any worshipper stands a likely chance of feeling welcomed, and church searchers might well find themselves members if they tarry too long. Heavenly treatment from the congregants is the most celestial aspect of the church.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A young lady (teenager) scribbled upon and then later crumpled paper during the service, both noises being a large distraction. It clearly indicated her lack of interest in being a part of the liturgy.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was asked to please stay for coffee. People genuinely seemed interested in knowing me. I felt most welcome.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The after service brunch was typical, and the coffee was palatable. I did not remain long after the service, however.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – Although I am more accustomed to the first setting of Holy Communion and missed the traditional brief order of confession and forgiveness, I was not turned off from the more contemporary style.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I was encouraged by the worship and left the church giving serious introspection about the sermon topic. I find a sermon that challenges me attractive. I left glad that I am a Christian, although wondering if my life was illustrative of what a Christian life should be.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The lovely chanting done by the pastor.
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