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1601: St Paul, Pensacola, Florida, USA
St Paul, Pensacola, Florida
Mystery Worshipper: Preacher's Kid.
The church: St Paul, Pensacola, Florida, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The building: The church is contemporary suburban – brick with native stained woods. It is almost an equal X cruciform church except that there is no choir behind the altar, which stands completely free in the center. For the most part it is austere in a pretty way. There is a pulpit on the gospel side and a movable lectern. The organ case, choir and organ are in the north transept. No seat is more than about 50-60 feet from an altar rail.
The church: They have a Saturday evening service plus three Sunday services and church school. They manage a well-respected parochial school and serve a neighborhood which ranges from upper lower class to upper class. There are several youth and adult groups both for fellowship and spiritual growth.
The neighborhood: Pensacola is located on the Gulf of Mexico in the far western part of Florida's panhandle, near the Alabama border – a location highly vulnerable to hurricanes. The church is on an arterial street with hospital/medical, retail and dining facilities nearby. The premier shopping mall is in the neighborhood. Two churches of other denominations are within two blocks of this one.
The cast: The Revd James Cone, pastoral assistant, celebrated and preached, as the pastor was on holiday. He was assisted by a rather senior clergyman who failed to identify himself when your worshiper attempted to make his acquaintance after the service.
The date & time: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 10, 2008, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion – With One Voice Setting 5.

How full was the building?
The church probably seats about 350 when completely maxed out; there appeared to be about 60 or 70 in attendance. A lady at coffee admitted that the summer slump had set in, and according to those with whom I conversed, the attendance at this service has been robbed by the popularity of the newly-established 9.30am contemporary service. Notes in the service leaflet bore that out and confirmed the current slump.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I was greeted by a departing parishioner as I walked in, and the person handing out the service leaflets was hospitable. The peace was passed, and enthusiastically! Mr Cone shook hands with every person in the church, but the folks seemed only to murmur one to another, all the while consuming well over two minutes – a long time for such a small group.

Was your pew comfortable?
Too comfortable! These pews are padded both seat and back and probably are the villain for killing what should be great acoustics (more later). Without an adequate pre-service coffee fix, you might just fall asleep!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet and still. Friends acknowledged the presence of others and a few people nodded to the Mystery Worshipper, who saw no one he knew from his daily life.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning" spoken to the congregation by the church secretary after the completion of the opening voluntary. She then proceeded to make all the announcements.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The church prepares and distributes at the door a comprehensive service leaflet than includes everything except the hymns and the selections from the lectionary. In the pew racks is Evangelical Lutheran Worship, a combination prayer book/missal/hymnal, and The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version.

What musical instruments were played?
The church has a quite nice two-manual pipe organ, which, unfortunately, is strangled by the padded pews. This was used for the service your worshipper attended. Also located in the choir area was a piano, a double bass, a conga drum, a standard dance band drum set, and other goodies, obviously intended for use at the contemporary service.

Did anything distract you?
The public address system: it is totally unnecessary. While the room easily accommodates 300 people, no person is more than 60 feet from the altar or the pulpit. The clergy used body mikes and the timbre of the system is harsh. The service would come off better with hard pews and no mike. Mr Cone preached from the portable lectern in front of the congregation instead of from the pulpit, again with his body mike. As a result, his delivery required him to take on the manner of an oscillating fan.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The style to me was like low-church Episcopalian, or even Methodist. Although much of the service was sung, the settings were non-traditional and light. Because the crowd was small and there was no choir, singing was nominal.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – I did not like the associate pastor's preaching from the lectern on the floor instead of from the pulpit. But the sermon was well written and delivered in a style that seemed almost extemporaneous. This guy is a pretty good preacher!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
This Sunday's gospel embraced the loaves and fishes story and the Peter-almost-walking-on-water story. Mr Cone blended the stories into one, the object of which is the necessity to maintain one's faith in the face of daunting issues.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon was the high point in the service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That PA system, again, is abysmal. Our antecedents could be heard in massive cathedrals where there is no need for electronics. Although they were not used, two super-sized TV monitors were mounted on the wall up and behind the altar. I am not sure what they are for, but they might be useful with following the bouncing ball in a gospel music sing-a-long!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people spoke to me in passing, and was I sort of moved toward the parish hall where there were some sweets and coffee. Again, mostly people were talking amongst themselves.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Decent coffee, tuna salad finger sandwiches, doughnut holes, fruit and assorted cookies.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – The service was entirely too casual for my taste, but for someone who has that preference it could be just the ticket. I was told – and I would like to see and hear for myself – that the senior pastor is dynamic.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The facility was quite nice for a suburban neighborhood family church. The preaching was certainly better than most.
 
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