|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
||1385: St John's, Northfield, Minnesota, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Forradal.
The church: St John's, Northfield, Minnesota, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The building: The church is a red brick structure similar to many
from the early 1900s. The fortress-like exterior seems to offer a refuge
from everyday life. Inside, the sanctuary has been nicely renovated, reflecting
modern day liturgical usage.
The church: Founded by Norwegian immigrants, the parish appears to
have a mixture of all ages: retired, middle-aged, young couples with small
children. There was a sense of being with people who work, live and worship
together. They sponsor a large number of ministries, including prayer and
Bible study groups, men's and women's groups, knitters, quilters, and several
young people's groups. A multi-page insert to the bulletin detailed all
the parish activity for the month. It looks like a very busy place.
The neighborhood: Northfield is a small city 40 miles from the Minneapolis/St
Paul metroplex, but still it is not a bedroom community by any standards
– not yet, anyway. Although the city's economic fortunes have changed
over the years, many of the downtown buildings are reasonably well-preserved
examples of late 19th/early 20th century architecture. The church is located
in an older section of the city with a large variety of well kept, tidy
homes. If there had been snow on the ground the day of my visit, it would
have felt like walking into a Norman Rockwell illustration. Northfield hosts
several institutions of higher learning, including St Olaf College. The
world famous St Olaf Choir began in 1911 as an outgrowth of St John's church
choir. Oh! A bit of history here also. On September 7, 1876, the outlaw
Jesse James tried to rob the First National Bank of Northfield but was thwarted
by a band of armed citizens. The bank still conducts business to this day
and has on display a pistol used in the robbery attempt. (For many years
the skeleton of one of the James Gang members was also on display.)
The cast: The Rev. Mark Johnson, one of three pastors serving the
church, presided. The Rev. John Quam, another of the pastors, preached.
The clergy were assisted by Sylvia Erickson, cantor; Audrey Moe, lector;
and Ruth Ferguson, organist.
The date & time: First Sunday of Christmas, December 31, 2006, 10.45am.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion, Setting 4.
How full was the building?
The building seemed about 80 percent full with approximately 500 worshippers.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered, an usher greeted me and handed me the worship pamphlet. Then
five other individuals of varying ages welcomed me with warm, genuine smiles.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard, fairly comfortable seating.
How would you describe the pre-service
This was very interesting! A large number of the worshippers seem to have
their arrival timed down to the half-minute mark. I arrived as the bell
begin to toll (five minutes early) and found the sanctuary only 30 percent
occupied and the atmosphere quiet and reverential. But as the service began,
members continued to arrive during the presiding pastor's introductory remarks,
the rite of confession, and opening hymn. I wonder if this is the way business
appointments are also handled in Northfield.
What were the exact opening words of the
"The Lord be with you" by the presiding pastor. The pastor welcomed and greeted the congregation, gave a few brief parish announcements, and then continued with the invocation and rite of confession.
What books did the congregation use during the
The Lutheran Book of Worship was used for the hymns. The worship
bulletin contained the order of service, which eliminated thumbing back
and forth in the hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Only the organ. A grand piano was up front but not used. The church also
has a handbell choir, but they did not take part in the service.
Did anything distract you?
It was nice to see the number of very young babies, and yes, a few did fuss.
The parents quickly left without the baby's fussing causing undue distraction.
In fact, the attitude of the older worshippers seemed to be "been there,
done that!" Unfortunately, one elderly man became ill during the prayers.
The ushers very discreetly assisted him with a wheelchair, causing minimal
fuss. I had the feeling that all those close by were adding a silent prayer
for the elderly gentleman.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
The members of this parish relish traditional Lutheran liturgy. A standard
Lutheran worship rite was used, but worship was neither lethargic nor rote.
These folks seemed to enjoy being at worship! And they can really, really
sing! The organist took advantage of the fact that they didn't need much
melodic support from her to indulge in improvisations to add depth and interest
to the hymns and chanting.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 The preacher was a senior member of the clergy, but his enthusiasm
and spontaneity kept listeners of all ages tuned to his message. He seemed
to have the gift of offering ample reflection with the fewest number of
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The sermon was based on the Gospel reading for the day – Luke 2:41-52. Mary
and Joseph lost young Jesus in the crowd (all parents shudder at the thought)
only to find him the temple. Pastor Quam reflected on the slightly different
translations from over the centuries, but all pointing to Jesus beginning
his divine ministry. Jesus was growing and becoming one with his Father.
We, like him, have the opportunity to grow in wisdom and faith every minute
of each day. Church is not about "do I have to," but rather "I
want to." In short, the church isn't someplace to hide. Though we all
need a shelter on occasion, the church is a place to be recharged and grow.
Which part of the service was like being in
There was no choir at worship. There were five choirs listed in the bulletin
(from very young to adult) but apparently they were taking a rest from Christmas
activity. This congregation really didn't seem to need a choir, even though
the Christmas hymn tunes were not your standard overplayed ditties. I suspect
that many musicians would love to assist in worship with a congregation
like this. And the organist was excellent. She chose registrations that
complemented exquisitely each hymn or liturgical part. She saved the richest
registration for the sanctus, during which the very walls seemed alive with
her playing and the congregation's singing! Added to this mix was the fine
chanting of the presiding minister and the lay cantor. As a footnote, even
Bach was given his turn that day!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I guess I'm a bit of a curmudgeon – do so many people really have to wait
until the last minute to arrive for worship? Our secular lives often reflect
such scheduling limits. Does it really have to happen on Sunday morning
also? After a busy week, I relish a few quiet minutes before worship to
get focused. Maybe I just take longer than some people!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone seemd headed home for Sunday lunch.
How would you describe the after-service
There was none at this service, but I understand that they do have a social
hour after the earlier services. Given the cordial welcome, I didn't really
miss the post-worship visiting.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 I wish I lived closer. But I vowed to return the next Sunday, when
the St Olaf Choir would be making an appearance. Match this congregation
and the organist with that choir – well, the roof should levitate!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Very much so! Norwegian Lutherans in Minnesota are supposed to be quite
reserved but not here at worship. I came away with the impression that
the clergy and parishioners see themselves as equal members of a living,
active, growing, caring faith community.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Several items: the parish singing, the wonderful sanctus, the reflective
sermon, and a sense that everyone was offering a silent prayer for the sick
elderly gentleman. One extra item: there were many youngsters of all ages
attending – very nice to see and experience.
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.