|874: Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Brooklyn, New York, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Brooklyn, New York.
The building: Located at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Bay Ridge Parkway, in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge neighborhood, the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd is a grey stone building with the unfortunate luck to have a dead tree directly in front of its entrance, on what is otherwise a nicely landscaped lot in a lovely Brooklyn neighborhood. The interior is painted light cocoa brown, with light oak pews. Gothic arches rise over the sanctuary and along the nave. The altar is of dark oak, into which are carved the Greek letters Alpha and Omega. Behind the altar sits a magnificent tracker organ in a dark oak case with ornamentation of lighter wood. The sedilia, lectern and pulpit are likewise of dark oak. Colorful stained glass windows depict scenes from each of the four Gospels. Choir stalls and a side chapel to the right of the nave are apparently unused.
The church: I was not able to learn anything about what, if any, community programs the church sponsors.
The neighbourhood: The upper-middle-class Bay Ridge neighborhood is one of Brooklyn's nicest. Broad, tree-lined streets and avenues include a mixture of private homes, apartment buildings, and the bay-windowed brownstone row houses that Brooklyn is famous for. The latter have for the most part been elegantly restored to their original condition, and many are used as professional offices. (My chiropractor has his office in one of these brownstones, and I can personally attest to their elegance.) Bay Ridge also features commercial areas with fine restaurants, antique shops, delis and specialty stores.
The cast: Rev. David Rommereim, pastor, presiding minister; Mr Linton Holman, lector; Ms Katie Meloan, organist.
What was the name of the service?
Festival Eucharist, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost. It was the American Independence Day holiday (July 4th).
How full was the building?
I would estimate that the church holds about 250 people, and it appeared to be about one-third to three-eights full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A greeter shook my hand and gave me a service leaflet. Other regulars standing about the entrance, however, offered no greeting.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. There were no kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A good deal of loud visiting. At the top of the service leaflet appeared the words, "Before the service, speak to God. During the service, let God speak to you. After the service, speak to one another." The first third of this advice was for the most part ignored; prayer, at least for me, was impossible. When the organist began her prelude (the very lovely "Le Banquet Celeste," by Olivier Messiaen), I was obliged to change my seat so I could hear it over the din of conversation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, and happy fourth of July." Immediately before the service began, the church bell was tolled. It has been some time since I have heard a church bell, and I thought the moment was thrilling – but then again I thrill easily, so I'm told.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
With One Voice, The Lutheran Book of Worship, and a service leaflet. With One Voice is fairly new in the Lutheran Church and is a combination hymnal/prayer book, as is indeed The Lutheran Book of Worship. In fact, newly-acquired copies of With One Voice were dedicated at the beginning of the service. The presiding minister felt obliged to explain that we would be using setting 1, which is actually setting 4, which begins on page 12 – somehow this seemed strangely familiar to me as an Episcopalian. He went on to say that we would be following a "two-fingered liturgy" – one finger in the prayers and another in the hymns.
What musical instruments were played?
A marvelous tracker organ, in fair enough tune, expertly played by Ms Meloan. The choir was off for the summer.
Did anything distract you?
The pre-service loud visiting, resulting in my having to change my seat, was most distracting. Also, the liturgy went to great pains to avoid using the pronoun "he" in reference to God – e.g., "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God's people on earth," and, "It is right to give our thanks and praise" – and yet each of the prayers of the people began with the words "Mothering God." I find all this fussing over politically correct gender most distracting and most unnecessary, although I suppose that God is as much of a mother as a father, when you come right down to it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Dignified and prayerful.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Rev. Rommereim spoke from notes, but his sermon was relaxed and conversational. At one point he stepped down from the pulpit and into the congregation, and even led the congregation in a spontaneous rendition of "America the Beautiful."
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Rev. Rommereim preached on the epistle of the day (from the book of Galatians), comparing the spirit of the Independence Day holiday to our work as Christians. As citizens and Christians, we have both principles and values. We often sing love songs to our country (and here is where "America the Beautiful" came in). As one drives cross-country, one notices that each region has its own special character, from the mountains of the west, to the desert, to the great plains, to the fertile valleys of the east. Each region has a unique value, paralleling our patriotic and Christian values.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I was comforted by the extent to which the Lutheran service was familiar to me as an Episcopalian. The presiding minister was vested in alb, cincture, amice (yes!) and stole. The service was like an abbreviated rite 2. The kyrie, gloria and sanctus were chanted, with Rev. Rommereim leading in a lovely tenor voice. Communion was offered to all under both species; one was free to sip from the chalice or to take a small glass into which the precious element was poured. (I noticed that the first row of communicants all sipped from the chalice, but after that almost everyone took a glass.) Many of the hymns were familiar (such as Abbot's Leigh) but others were not. During communion Ms Meloan improvised on "Balm in Gilead," which some of the congregation (myself included) spontaneously began to sing. The recessional was "National Hymn," one of my favorites and quite in keeping with the Independence Day spirit.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
These are probably more persnickety than hellish. The aforementioned fuss over God's gender was a bit much, I thought. Also, the modern language version of the Lord's Prayer was used. And I missed an entrance and recession with processional cross and vested acolytes. But most of all, during "National Hymn," the otherwise excellent Ms Meloan modulated from E-flat into F for the final verse, which pitched it too high.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I spent some time studying the excellent stained glass windows and exploring the side chapel, but was ignored by almost everyone. Finally, the gentleman who had served as lector (Linton Holman) came up to me, introduced himself, and offered to accompany me to the coffee hour, which was otherwise unannounced and which I would have missed. I told Mr Holman how much I had enjoyed the music, and he made a point of introducing me to Ms. Meloan.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Unexceptional coffee served in paper cups. There were, however, five different kinds of cake, each of which looked delicious; I helped myself to a slice of lemon cake and found it quite satisfactory.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 If I were Lutheran, I'd seriously consider making this church my spiritual home. The building was lovely, the service dignified. Although most of the congregation (with the exception of Mr Holman) was stand-offish, I had the impression they would be welcoming once they got to know you. I will return another time to hear the choir.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The marvelous tracker organ so well played, and the beautiful stained glass windows.