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1561: St Paul's, Pekin, Illinois, USA
St Paul's, Pekin, Illinois
Mystery Worshipper: Wandering Verger.
The church: St Paul's, Pekin, Illinois, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Springfield.
The building: A lovely old painted wood building, Gothic-like in appearance, dating from the 1870s. It sits on a tree lined street in the midst of a quiet, well-kept residential neighborhood. The interior is quite beautiful, with dark beams and columns, hand-painted panels on the ceiling, and beautiful original stained-glass windows. It is reminiscent of a family chapel than could seat 100 or so on an old baronial estate, but just the sort of place where one could spend hours in quiet meditation.
The church: This appears to be a very tight-knit congregation where everyone is a good friend, I suspect. They offer rides to church for those who need them, and support several ministries to the underprivileged. They appear to be very much into social events and outings. They celebrate holy communion most Sundays ("nearly always," as their website says) and a healing service during the week.
The neighborhood: Pekin is a prim, well-kept little town located in west central Illinois about halfway between Chicago and St Louis. It sits amid river bluffs, corn and soy fields, gently rolling terrain, and mature wooded areas – a picture postcard shot of what the expression "Heartland" is all about. It was named, for reasons unknown, after the Wade-Giles rendering of China's Beijing.
The cast: The Revd Brian T. Kellington, rector, was celebrant and preacher. He was assisted by his wife, the Revd Deacon Laurie R. Kellington.
The date & time: May 24, 2008, 9.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Not quite half full. Not bad for the Memorial Day holiday weekend in a small town, I thought.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The ushers at the door were very friendly and solicitous, welcoming us and making sure we had worship bulletins. As we sat down, the person in front of us turned and said, "Good morning and welcome!" with a big smile.

Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable old wooden pews with no cushions. The hassock type kneelers were mostly covered in red fabric, with some in tan leather, which gave the feeling of the not-quite-matched footstools in ones family room. It seemed cozy.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and prayerful. People greeted each other but in respectful whispers. The prelude was just beginning, a medley of patriotic songs. There were no children in evidence – we later discovered that they had all been at Sunday school with the deacon when they all entered at the offertory.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Hymnal 1982 and the Book of Common Prayer. One song (at the offertory) was from another source but the words were included in the worship bulletin, along with credit and license information. The readings for the day were also included in the bulletin.

What musical instruments were played?
A very good Moeller pipe organ dating from 1938, played very well. At the offertory, the rector and a member of the congregation picked up two guitars that had been standing idle. This sent a scare through me as I don't care for "contemporary" church music, but they were played in a dignified and tasteful manner and didn't seem out of place.

Did anything distract you?
The only thing I found really distracting was the beauty of the church. I kept finding myself staring at the hand painted ceiling panels, wondering when they had last been restored, and marveling at the fact that no contemporary "renovations" were allowed to spoil the place.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was Rite II through and through – warm and friendly and yet strictly by the book. There was nothing terribly pompous about it and it had a very familial feeling. Even the contemporary hymn accompanied on guitars was not what Id call happy clappy, and it fit very well into the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The rector was very well prepared with his material and seemed to be giving an intimate talk rather than preaching or lecturing. I thought one of his threads sounded a little tenuous, but he gave plenty of examples to illustrate his points and everything managed to hold together well. The sermon seemed much shorter than it actually was.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He began with a story to illustrate Isaiah 66:13 ("As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you") and from that moved on to Matthew 6:24 ("No man can serve two masters"). But we are not to worry. He gave some examples of the worries we all share today, which do in fact make us hypocrites if we continue to cling to them instead of letting them go. He ended with a reference to Matthew 6:33 ("But seek ye first the kingdom of God"). This segued very nicely into the offertory hymn.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music and singing were quite good for a small group, and it all felt very comfortable. The rector addressed everyone by name as he ministered communion, asking the names of those he didn't know. Which leads me to...

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
... the awful moment when I realized that my mother (the dowager Verger) and I were the only visitors and that they were sure to know who had left the Mystery Worshipper calling card in the plate. And to make matters worse, the dowager Verger entertained everyone with our life stories over coffee after the service. This removed all doubt as to whether my anonymity was shot.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No time for that! After the postlude, the rector and the deacon as well as a parishioner spoke to us and helped us find our way to the coffee. There, several parishioners welcomed us and talked with us as the dowager Verger held court. The rector prayed with us for the cousin in hospital we were in town to see.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee, cookies, donuts and pastries had been nicely set out on covered tables. We avoided the sweets but they looked good.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I were to find myself living in this town, I believe this church might be the shining light of the move. Id probably be quite happy there.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The whole experience made me feel very happy to be a Christian. I somehow felt a part of this family of mine whom Id never met but with whom I had the primary beliefs and experiences of my life in common.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The beauty of the interior and the friendliness of the people will stay with me a lot longer than seven days, I think.
 
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