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  1378: Grace Evangelical Lutheran, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Grace Evangelical Lutheran, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Mystery Worshipper: Pewgilist.
The church: Grace Evangelical Lutheran, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Eastern Synod.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: I've always liked the look of this building, which sits askew (facing due east, I think) next to the major road through the west end of town. The gray limestone exterior, punctuated by a tall, narrow spire, is a clean-lined suggestion of traditional gothic. The interior is of cream-painted cinder block and pale wood, again suggesting a simplified gothic. The nave is separated from the sanctuary by an arch, through which can be seen the principal ornamentation – a small, carved altar and reredos in the same pale wood against the east wall.
The church: I gathered through inference and conversation that the congregation, led by a new pastor, is going through a phase of self-examination and experimentation after a slump in membership. A Vietnamese congregation worships here on Saturday evenings.
The neighbourhood: Grace Church is located on a busy road at the crossroads of contrasting neighbourhoods: a middle-class Jewish enclave, the charming but not-quite-so-upscale-as-it-used-to-be Westdale Village, a student ghetto for nearby McMaster University, and a stretch of moderately ugly strip malls.
The cast: The Rev. Loretta Jaunzarine, pastor, led the service with help from two acolytes (unbilled) who led some prayers and assisted with communion. We sang "Happy Birthday, Murray" to the organist, so I'm assuming that was his name.
The date & time: November 12, 2006, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion / U2 and Jesus.

How full was the building?
Let's say 60 people, making the church about one-third full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
One of the two people at the door shook my hand and gave me a hymn book and bulletin. Once I sat down, the pastor came over and introduced herself, asked where I was from, and pointed out that coffee (and do I recall biscuits?) was available at the back of the church.

Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden pew was only slightly less comfortable than average for its ilk. I can't rate the padded kneelers since we didn't use them.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was casual and chatty but not boisterous or irreverent. Children wandered about at a walk rather than a run, people moved around to talk, and one or two helped themselves to coffee.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to worship at Grace this morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The text of the service, the readings, and the lyrics to four U2 songs were in the bulletin. We sang two hymns from With One Voice, the hymnal given to us at the door. The pew racks held the Lutheran Book of Worship but we didn't use it.

What musical instruments were played?
The unimpressive looking organ console near the pulpit controlled a most impressive battery of pipes in the choir loft.

Did anything distract you?
Once I realized that what looked like a sad little electric organ was just the console, I kept trying to get a better look at the thicket of silver pipes above and behind me. But I was aware that it might have appeared that I was turning around to glare at the elderly gentleman who kept asking his younger companion for a running commentary, so I tried to limit my swiveling about to silent intervals.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Let us say casual but respectful. The few children came and went (apparently) as they pleased, but did so quietly. There was coffee, but no one got up for refills after the service started. People moved about the pews during the peace, but without the fuss and bother which often attends such peripatetic peace passing. When the U2 selections were played, everyone listened politely, some singing along softly. I got the impression of a congregation with a more formal past calmly accepting new modes of expression. While the altar was decorated with flowers and lit candles, the communion elements were, in typical Protestant fashion, sitting on a small table in front of the altar rail. At communion we could either partake of wine from a common cup or grape juice from individual miniature cups.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon in the traditional sense. Rather, the pastor gave a number of short addresses between readings and U2 tracks.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Pastor Loretta did not immediately impress me as a spectacular preacher, but that may have been simply because her delivery didn't sound "preachery." Before long, I noted that her message was organized yet felt ex tempore, and was peppered with memorable phrases.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We find that St Paul of Tarsus in the New Testament and St Paul of Dublin in U2 both speak to a world that needs Christ in the language of that world. "U2 competes in the marketplace instead of preaching to the choir," she said.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Finding myself taking notes during a sermon, not just because I was there as a Mystery Worshipper, but because I wanted to remember what the preacher was saying.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The scripture readings came from an ultra-colloquial translation of the Bible. For example, for 1 Corinthians 13:12 we were treated to: "We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright!" Although I must admit I found myself hearing St Paul's words with fresh ears and new comprehension – still I hate having my prejudices challenged!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
By the time I reached the door, two people had mentioned coffee hour to me. I stood around holding coffee and cookies for barely 30 seconds before someone invited me to their table.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was fine – and served in cups and saucers instead of styrofoam, as I recall. There were cookies and other assorted sweets, too.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I wouldn't be up for a U2 service every week, but then I'm sure that they don't have one. I'm not Lutheran and I'm a bit picky about my liturgy, but I could certainly make do here if I had to on account of thought-provoking preaching and low-key openness of the congregation.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
To a surprising degree, yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The choice between one line for a common cup with wine and the other line for wee cuppies of grape juice at communion.
 
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