|913: First Baptist, Athens, Texas, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: SpookyRach.
The church: First Baptist, Athens, Texas, USA.
Denomination: The church is Southern Baptist, but also contributes to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an alternative Baptist organization emphasizing global missions and historic Baptist values rather than fundamentalist teachings.
The building: The church's main building and sanctuary are traditional Federalist church architecture. The inside is decorated in gleaming white panels with dark wood accents and subdued red carpets/fabrics. The stained-glass windows lining the sanctuary are not outstanding, but don't make you want to claw your eyes out either.
The church: First Baptist sponsors a number of religious and social activities and groups.
The neighbourhood: The town of Athens is a small Victorian style community in east Texas.
The cast: The pastor, Dr Kyle Henderson, led the service and preached. Stephen Akin conducted the music.
What was the name of the service?
"Unshakeable" 8.30am traditional worship service.
How full was the building?
A bit over half full. Not shabby for an early service.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were two serious-minded young boys in the parking lot who seemed to be self-appointed attendants. Once inside I was greeted by a woman handing out leaflets. Several others smiled or shook hands with me as I made my way to a seat.
Was your pew comfortable?
As comfortable as a traditional padded church pew can be.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People greeted each other and it seemed very friendly. Nothing was overly loud or distracting and people seemed to settle in and prepare themselves for the service rather quickly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"It's a wonderful holiday weekend and we're all here to worship."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Baptist hymnals were available, but the words to all the songs were printed on a leaflet and projected on a screen behind the choir.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano and organ.
Did anything distract you?
There seemed to be something hidden behind the video screen. I kept wondering what it was.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff but not staid. I found the name of the service, "Unshakeable", to be a little humorous. They might have called it the Crusty Traditionalist service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 The minister had recently been on a trip that retraced some of the travels of Lewis and Clark, a pair of early North American explorers. He related that journey to the biblical story in the sermon and I learned some history in the process. Well done.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God does not create random people. We all have a purpose and a job. What is your job? Are you doing that job? If not, someone will miss out and a need will go unfilled.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The best part of the service was the sermon. It was interesting in an unexpected way. There was a strong emphasis on personal ministry and responsibility for the immediate, not just the global, community.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was an infernal, unceasing, and highly distracting sniffling that lasted for the entire service. I could not ignore it, try as I might. It turned out to be my companion. I hit him with my Bible as we left the church. The ecclesiastical assault didn't help and the sniffling lasted the rest of the weekend.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
More smiles and greetings. Since this was the early service, most of the congregation left quickly to attend Sunday school classes.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No after-service coffee.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I appreciated the church's mission toward its community. There appeared to be a lot of opportunities for service with this congregation, yet it was not so large that you could easily feel insignificant.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
It would have to be the two deadly serious young boys who escorted us through the parking lot. They were extremely polite but thoroughly intent on completing their mission. It was like an encounter with the world's youngest Secret Service agents.