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Congregational, Roberts, Wisconsin, USA
Roberts, Wisconsin, USA.
United Church of
A very new church building (still has that new building smell).
I had driven by several times while it was under construction.
The layout is open and there is signage all over the place for
the bathrooms, nursery, etc. Still, within the worship space
itself, I couldn't get over the feeling that it consisted of
pews set down in the middle of a pole barn.
It seemed obvious that the congregation interacts a lot. Whenever
anyone came in through the door, a hive-like buzz arose. This
may have been due in part to the acoustics of the open space.
They sponsor Sunday school, Bible study, and a crafts group
called Holy Scrappers, among other activities.
Roberts is a tiny village, population about 1000, in western
Wisconsin near the border with Minnesota, about 25 miles east
of the Minneapolis/St Paul metropolitan area. Despite its proximity
to the metropolis, Roberts has a small-town look and feel to
it. The church is located at the confluence of two state highways
on what was quite recently a cornfield. It was pretty cool to
see bald eagles overhead as we were walking across the parking
The Revd Mary Schmotzer, pastor.
The date & time:
November 1, 2009, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The worship space seemed a little over half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Well, sort of. A greeter at the door wished us a good morning
but didn't direct us to where the bulletins were located. We
followed others to a table by the door and helped ourselves
from a stack. A few people came up and introduced themselves
prior to worship, and others did so during the passing of the
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard issue pew. Nothing fancy. The variety of standing/sitting
meant we didn't get "pew butt" by the end of the service.
How would you describe the pre-service
Friendly – lots of folks seemed to be catching up with each
other. Not gossipy, though. Piano music started a few minutes
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning. It is a beautiful day to gather and worship
What books did the congregation use during the
Most songs were printed in the bulletin, but one, "Jesus loves
me," was in the New Century Hymnal (1995). No Bibles
were in evidence.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano only, although there was a drum off to the side.
Did anything distract you?
While I'm a fan of fellowship, it's very distracting to have
to listen to a continual dialog from the family behind me for
the whole service. We're not talking about a couple with young
kids. These were adults. They'd shush each other occasionally,
but it was difficult to focus. Also, the furnace kicked on in
the middle of the sermon and seemed super loud, especially given
that the church is brand new. Oh, and the sound system was really
"muddy" at first, making it really hard to concentrate on what
was being said. The pastor put on one of those "invisible" head
microphones later and the sound was better from that point on.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It seemed a little disjointed. There were some aspects of the
service that seemed really traditional, almost Lutheran –
the creed, order of service, and prayer of confession seemed
pretty conservative. Then there'd be a more contemporary tune
(OK, so it was "Open your eyes" but it was pretty hip for this
service). Overall, though, I'd say it was a fairly conservative
congregation (especially for UCC) that is trying to loosen up
but isn't exactly sure how to do it. Kudos for trying, though.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
5 Pastor Schmotzer seemed really earnest, but I thought
she could have made her point in fewer words. It seemed that
all of her spoken words were written down, none given extemporaneously.
I'm actually OK with that, as it shows she cared enough about
what she would say to have written it down. One lost opportunity
was that although the bulletin listed the day as "All Saints
Day" there was no mention about what this means within their
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
There are two types of people at a church service: those who
don't feel worthy of communion, and those who don't get what
the big deal is about communion. The upshot: communion isn't
about us – it's a gift from God. None of us deserves this gift,
yet we receive it freely.
Which part of the service was like being in
The windows in this church provide an awesome view of the scenery
outside. My spouse remarked that he could still see the eagles
flying from where he was sitting. Also, I was pleasantly surprised
at the singing of the congregation, especially for the first
song, "Love divine, all loves excelling." It wasn't that they
were well harmonized or anything like that, but they sang with
good, clear voices. Even though there wasn't a choir present,
this congregation can still carry a tune.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
While making a joyful noise is a good thing, there is a time
and a place for chit-chatting, and a worship service is not
that time or place. It doesn't matter if you're sitting in the
back pew or directly behind this Mystery Worshipper. There's
a very friendly local restaurant chain called Perkins –
"go to Perkins," as we say around here, if you want
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
For several minutes we were pretty much ignored. Eventually someone came up and told us that while they typically serve coffee after worship, it wasn't available this week. (Didn't say why.) She did invite us to come back next week and told us there'd be coffee then.
How would you describe the after-service
None (see above).
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 If it were the only show in town, I guess I'd go. I'm
actually thinking about recommending the church to a family
member who lives in the area and might appreciate having a little
of the structure that undergirds the worship style of this congregation.
I wasn't nuts about the service – their "sampler" approach
for worship components, decor, music, etc. left me with the
impression that they don't have a clear sense of who they are,
so they're trying to be a little bit of everything for everyone.
Rather than feeling inclusive, it felt a little awkward and
disjointed. But the worship service is only an hour in the weekly
life of the congregation. They seemed friendly and warm. I could
see how they would quickly welcome an individual or family into
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
It didn't make me ashamed to be a Christian (and I was at a
worship service in another part of the country this summer that
did just that).
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I'm glad to have had the chance to check the building out now
that it's done (at least I think it's done – the sanctuary
looked like it's still a work in progress). I'll also remember
that the congregation seemed genuinely to care about one another.
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