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||1459: Meredith Drive Reformed, Des Moines, Iowa, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Sabbath Man.
The church: Meredith
Drive Reformed, Des Moines, Iowa, USA.
Church in America.
The building: There are two campuses, one at Meredith Drive and another
in the nearby suburb of Johnston. The Meredith Drive building is a contemporary
structure that appears to have had several additions over the years. One
enters via a large, airy foyer. The sanctuary is wide but not deep so no
one is far from the front. There is a communion table in the center; above
it a large video screen and above that a contemporary stained glass skylight.
A clear plexiglas pulpit is slightly to one side. To the other side is a
space for band, with piano, organ and a set of drums. There is also a choir
area on that side, but there was no choir the day of my visit. Outside the
sanctuary can be found lots of hallways, classrooms and a gym. Everything
appears well-maintained, full of signs of activity and options.
The church: Meredith Drive is known as a successful, lively church.
Certainly it has been influenced by the somewhat controversial theories
of the Church Growth Movement, which advocates a user-friendly church at
the expense, perhaps, of some of the stodgier old doctrines of Christianity,
and it would clearly align itself with evangelicalism in its American sense.
But for the Reformed Church in America in the midwest, Meredith Drive represents
a giant step forward from the old Dutch Reformed Church of yesteryear.
The neighborhood: Located less than a mile from one the main commercial
strips of Des Moines (car dealers, fast food and shopping malls), the area
now has a somewhat aging suburban feel. Probably the church and the surrounding
homes were all new in the 1960s or 70s.
The cast: The Revd Jill Ver Steeg, one of the pastors, opened the
service. The Revd Jane Brown, another of the pastors, assisted with baptisms.
The Revd Tony Vis, lead pastor, preached.
The date & time: Mothers Day, May 13, 2007, 10.50am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The sanctuary was probably about 80 percent full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An off-duty policeman, whose task it is to help people cross a street between
one parking lot and the building, said "Hi." Once I was seated,
another person briefly engaged me in some small talk.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service
There were going to be baptisms on Mothers Day so there was lots of pre-worship
commotion and energy as long-lost relatives arrived, took photos, showed
off babies, etc. The projection screen had a cutesy children's drawing projected
on it – which did not, in my opinion, bode well.
What were the exact opening words of the
"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we welcome you to worship!"
What books did the congregation use during the
The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration and The Holy Bible,
New International Version were both in the pew rack, but all responses
and song lyrics were projected onto a screen.
What musical instruments were played?
A praise band of piano, three guitars and drums. The opening songs were
led by a smiling praise team of two men and three women (nicely inter-generational,
not all young and gorgeous!). Later in the service, the organ was used for
two of the hymns. A very young boy played a piano solo during the offering.
Did anything distract you?
As mentioned earlier, I feared that the children's art projected on the
screen meant that I was in for a sugary and sentimental time. Thankfully
my fears were not realized. And I'm always intrigued by plexiglas church
furnishings. See-through pulpits have become almost an icon of a certain
sort of church. I don't understand the message. Likewise, the praise band
was inside a clear plexiglas enclosure that reminded me of the penalty box
in an ice hockey game. Is this to reduce their volume and pulse?
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
"Blended" is the term that I think they would give it. A robed
acolyte carried the light of Christ into the sanctuary at the beginning
of worship, and then the congregation sang three contemporary praise songs.
There were a very few hands raised up during these songs. During one of
the praise songs, there was a rather dispirited attempt at hand-clapping.
There wasn't much formal liturgy, although at the conclusion of the scripture
reading the minister said, "The word of the Lord" and the congregation
responded, "Thanks be to God." I was concerned that baptisms on
Mothers Day would be terribly sentimental, but in fact a good and true liturgy
was used that included the Apostles' Creed (substituting, I noted, "holy
Christian church" for "holy catholic church").
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Tony Vis was good. I thought he seemed a bit rushed, trying to squeeze it all in after the baptisms. He used Powerpoint on the screen some, but not a lot.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
"Moms in the Bible." I was skeptical and fearful with a title
like that, but honestly it was quite good. It was theological-biblical,
not just sexist or domestic how-to advice. Tony Vis looked at Hannah,
who realized her child was a gift from God; Mary, who knew her child had
a divine destiny; Eunice, who passed on her faith to her child; and most
interestingly, Jochebed, the mother of Moses, who could let her child go
because she knew God would watch over him. This became a subtle challenge
to the overly involved, overly sheltering contemporary parents. Another
subtle critique was aimed at American families' obsession with seeking athletic
fame for their children.
Which part of the service was like being in
At the time, I was not especially impressed or moved, but in hindsight the
baptisms were impressive in their own right, over and above all that the
sacrament means. They probably best represented the "blended" feel the church
is aiming for. The tone was relaxed but not glib, chatty or cutesy. There
was still integrity and a liturgical backbone. I was also struck by the
fact that two ordained women presided in a very "evangelical" church, without
explanation or apology.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Let's talk about praise songs, shall we? I did not mind the praise songs
with the praise team so much. What I dislike is the apparent requirement
that between each song one of the singers must talk briefly and with undue
sincerity about how the message of the song is so meaningful. Was it just
my imagination or my bias that there was actually stronger congregational
singing during the two hymns, accompanied by the organ, later in the service?
I wonder if "praise music" isn't a bit like the emperor's new clothes. Everyone
thinks everyone else likes it, but they don't get it themselves. The level
of singing and participation would suggest this. Churches think they need
praise music, but no one is sure who really likes and wants it. Finally,
I also dislike prayers being accompanied by quiet noodling around on the
piano. It seems to be rather common nowadays, but strikes me as contrived
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood alone in the foyer for about two minutes, and then an acquaintance recognized me and came over. We chatted for a brief while and then I left.
How would you describe the after-service
Apparently there was no coffee, just conversation and milling around.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 Meredith Drive is not quite for me, but I did leave impressed by
how much there was here that I could affirm. They seem to be succeeding
in their attempts at "blended worship." Not all liturgy or tradition has
been thrown overboard. It is obviously a very active, thriving and well-thought-out
place. Lots of young families. A group of what looked like recent African
refugees and a banner in the foyer that read "Save Darfour." Free
blood pressure screening before the service. Clean, modern restrooms with
sinks down at kids' level. All these things indicate to me a certain approach
to church and a healthy, well-rounded congregation.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. Meredith Drive is connecting with a lot of people in a good, solid
and not-watered-down way. If this is what all American evangelical suburban
churches were like, I'd feel much better.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"Where parents go, children will follow" from Pastor Tony Vis' sermon.
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