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1581: St Paul United Methodist, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA
St Paul United Methodist, Lincoln, Nebraska
Mystery Worshipper: Haarold.
The church: St Paul United Methodist, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Denomination: United Methodist Church.
The building: Very large building covering approximately half a city block. The main body of the church dates from the early 1900s, with recent additions sympathetically done using matching red brickwork and sandstone cornices. The original spire was removed, leaving a squat bell tower, to make way for a carillon donated to commemorate the assassination in 1901 of President William McKinley, as the structure would have been unable to hold both the spire and the additional bells. Inside, the sanctuary is illuminated by huge stained-glass windows. An impressive looking organ case fills the back wall. The organ console sits in the center of the sanctuary platform, with the pulpit standing off to the left.
The church: A vibrant, downtown church, reflecting the diverse neighborhood it finds itself in. They have a Saturday evening service as well as two Sunday services, one traditional, one contemporary. They celebrate holy communion twice each month. Services are broadcast on Nebraska public television as well as local radio. Their numerous ministries are described in detail on their website; noteworthy is Clinic with a Heart, which helps to ensure access to medical services for people without insurance.
The neighborhood: Lincoln, named after the United States' 16th president, is the capital of Nebraska and home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Downtown serves as a diverse hub for government, education, finance and professional services, as well as entertainment, dining, nightlife, culture, and specialty retail. Living in downtown Lincoln has become increasingly popular.
The cast: The Revd Stephen Griffith, minister to the community, led the service. The Revd David Lux, senior pastor, preached.
The date & time: June 8, 2008, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship.

How full was the building?
Three-quarters full downstairs, with a smattering in the balconies.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Three people welcomed me with a firm handshake and a "Good to see you" – one at the foot of the steps, one at the door, and one as I entered the sanctuary. The third greeter also handed me a service sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?
The church was recently remodeled, and the new pews have thick integrated cushions and plenty of knee room.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a gentle background noise of people meeting and greeting. This faded as the organist began playing – and rightly so, as he was fantastic.

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

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The United Methodist Hymnal and a service sheet containing the order, words for the psalm, doxology and recessional.

What musical instruments were played?
A magnificent four manual pipe organ from the Bedient firm. Also a grand piano.

Did anything distract you?
The choir stalls directly face the congregation, under the organ pipes and behind the pulpit. From time to time you can’t help thinking that you are sitting in front of a jury!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service rushed past quite quickly. A traditional non-conformist format, with traditional hymns, choir anthem (in a jazz style that came off very well indeed), doxology, readings, intercessions, sermon, and choral recessional. Both ministers taking part were reverential, yet brought levity to the service, managing to keep the spirit light while delivering some strong messages.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The senior pastor was most engaging and seemed to be talking directly to you, and no one else. He brought together multiple threads and anecdotes into a single message. I sensed a political undertone but was told later that this is very unusual to hear in the pastor's sermons.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The main thrust of the sermon was around the need for affirmative action to support others, while maintaining our humility.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was absolutely fantastic. We sang some wonderful old chestnuts: "Rejoice, ye pure in heart," "The God of Abraham praise," "Blessed assurance," "Precious Lord, take my hand," etc. The music director here is a wonderful organist and pianist. It was clear that the choir works extremely hard at its ministry.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The exchange of peace might have been billed as an exchange of hugs and handshakes. It was not called an exchange of peace, and I heard no one actually say, "Peace be with you." At least it took place at the beginning of the service and so did not cause a disruption. But I couldn’t help wondering why we were actually doing this.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone remained in their pews to listen to the organist's recessional. (Did I mention how good he is?)

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn’t get any! Refreshments were served between the earlier service and this one, which meant I’d missed them!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I think that many people could find it very easy to fit in to this church. The congregation appears to be very diverse, and new members seem to be joining at a steady pace – I can’t be alone in thinking that this is a great church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Indeed! The service was undertaken with a great degree of passion and vigor, and this was obviously shared by the congregation. If only I lived near this church – it really was a fantastic service.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The music! Specifically, the "bluesy" piano playing by the music director during the choir anthem – very Jelly Roll Morton.
 
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