|823: Chapel of the Good Shepherd, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Mainline Pilgrim.
The church: Chapel of the Good Shepherd, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: The church is a brick, 1920s suburban style house. The chapel is in the basement. The set up of the worship area is rather makeshift. The "chancel" is set off from the congregation by a wooden screen in the corner behind the altar, and is lit by two brass floor lamps on each side of the altar.
The church: The chapel is the campus ministry of the Episcopal Church for Purdue University. Despite this, there weren't many students there. Most of the congregation looked to be residents of the area. The church has an evening service which, perhaps, gets more of the students.
The neighbourhood: The chapel is in the New Chauncey Neighborhood in West Lafayette. The neighborhood is directly adjacent to the campus, so it has a high percentage of students and fraternities. Local families are mostly faculty and professors, and the neighborhood is slowly being engulfed by the ever-expanding campus.
The cast: Chaplain: Rev. Peter J. Bunder.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Mostly full. About 30 people in a chapel that would hold perhaps 40.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. Since the chapel is actually a house, the entrance is naturally the living room. We stood in the living room in the dead silence, alone, for five minutes before another couple arrived. We looked lost for a while, and luckily I visited the church website the night before and knew the chapel was in the basement, because no one made any indication of where the service was to be held. Eventually, we just went downstairs and found a seat.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were made of rough-hewn planks with red cushions. If one sits up straight for the whole service, they are fine. However, slouching puts the edge of the pews' backs right into your spine.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The few people in the chapel were chatty. The pastor was standing behind the altar talking to people across the room. Shortly after we found our seats the pastor introduced himself to us.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The exact begining of the service was not clear. The pastor was chatting with the congregation, said a few words about beginning, and chatted some more. Also, people kept filtering in even when the service had for sure begun.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
1982 Hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
There was a guy drinking coffee during the Gospel hymn, and I kept staring at the dried-flower bouquets on pedestals on each side of the altar with enormous bows tied around the vases.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
All the hymns were traditional and sung to an organ, but the atmosphere was more or less casual. It was also squarely low church. There was no procession, no one knelt, and only a couple of people crossed themselves. Mysteriously, the pastor put a bowl on the altar after communion. I thought, despite the evangelical service, that he was reserving the sacrament, but he left it there after the dismissal. Upon further inspection it turned out to be a bowl of chocolates.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
I forgot to time it, but I estimate about 10 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 The pastor has a very personable preaching style which fits well with the small congregation of the church. However, the meaning of his sermon was rather unclear.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
According to him, the sermon was about culture. "Culture" was pronounced in the French manner. He talked about the Old Testament character Baruch, and how the women dressed for sorrow and then for joy. Then he talked about John the Baptist wearing camel hair, and Jesus curing people on the Sabbath. Then he talked about how depressed we all get during Christmas and have to dress up for Christmas parties. The sermon was crowned by a tangent about Americans buying guns and SUVs for safety reasons, and how Americans want to be given love or toys.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing was good, and the organ was played well.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
My roommate and I were coerced into introducing ourselves to the congregation during the service. Another part of the "small church experience" included having to shake hands with everyone, and I mean everyone, in the chapel during the passing of the peace. Not that these are bad things, but I am used to the anonymity of a larger church.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It was hard to get lost, actually. To get to the exit, one had to go through the living room where people were lounging on the sofa drinking coffee and reading the newspaper.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was served in the kitchen with doughnuts. All I know is that it was fresh-brewed; I'm not a coffee drinker really.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 This church would be good for people fond of small churches and casual services. I, however, am not big on either of these.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Sure. I have been going to church for only a few years, and I rarely ever go to another church besides mine. So it was good to get out and see what the other Christians are doing on Sunday morning.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I will likely still be pondering the symbolic significance of setting a bowl of chocolates on the altar after communion.