Worshipper: Angel Unaware.
United Methodist, Dallas, Texas, USA.
Constructed in 1926, the Gothic style building stands majestically
at the southern end of the mall of the Southern Methodist
University of Dallas. Its tall carillon tower flew denominational
and national flags. Inside, the church has recently completed
a major restoration of the sanctuary, including the installation
of a magnificent pipe organ by the Dobson firm of Lake City,
Iowa, in a walnut organ case. Slate and marble floors, exposed
walnut ceiling beams, and multi-colored stained glass windows
complete the opulent interior.
It seems to be the flagship church of the university, even
though most worshippers were much older. In fact, we saw very
few students. Their many ministries and outreaches are well
documented on their website. These include nine services on
a Sunday, including traditional, contemporary, and "Anglican
style" worship. Their outreach work includes projects
for children with special needs and homeless people, and involvement
with microfinance and education projects overseas. The other
item of note is that this is the home church of George W.
and Laura Bush, former President and First Lady of the United
The church and university are located in the posh, upscale
area of Dallas known as Highland Park. With a population of
around 8,000, Highland Park ranks among the wealthiest locales
in the USA and is home to an upmarket shopping mall.
The preacher was the Revd Mark Craig, senior minister. The
liturgist was the Revd Arville McLain, associate minister.
The date & time:
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, November 14, 2010, 9.30am.
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on this report.
What was the name of
A Service of Worship.
How full was the building?
Mostly full. Shoulder-to-shoulder well-dressed, all-Caucasian
country club folk. We spotted only one gentleman without jacket
and tie (so did the usher read on). Most ladies wore
smart sweater sets or business suits; many were in hats, some
even properly gloved. However, George and Laura were not in
attendance that morning.
Did anyone welcome you
We arrived by car and asked a parking valet (wearing a uniform
complete with church logo and fluorescent yellow vest) where
we should park as first time visitors. She waved us to a garage
about a half block away on the other side of the street. However,
when we walked up to the church door, we noticed six empty
parking slots labeled "Reserved for first time guests."
Additionally, not one person spoke to us the entire morning,
save an usher who asked us to move our seat, saying tersely,
"This is where the usher sits."
Was your pew comfortable?
Straight backed and wooden.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Country club folk noisily exchanging handshakes and air kisses.
This continued until the organ prelude was complete.
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
The United Methodist Hymnal.
What musical instruments
The powerful Dobson pipe organ was expertly handled by organist
Bradley Hunter Welch. He not only offered a beautiful prelude
and postlude, but also led congregational singing effectively
even if very few parishioners (including the senior
minister) sang. But a further word about the music in a moment.
Did anything distract
The slate and marble floor amplified the clicking of high
heels. It also projected clearly the voice of the usher who
ordered us out of our seat and who later was heard chiding
the jacketless young man across from us: "Son, where’s
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Incongruous. In this formal Gothic building, stunningly beautiful,
newly restored and immaculately maintained; at a service attended
by worshippers dressed to the nines; with robed clergy and
choir who entered in procession one would assume that
upper lips would be as stiff as stiff could be. However, to
use the words of my companion, the minister’s style "was
of a country bumpkin." He was very informal, cracked
jokes, openly coughed into the microphone, and did not sing.
He even went so far as to instruct the organist that the closing
hymn needed to be "peppy for these peppy people."
The hymnody, in fact, seemed to be out of sync with everything
else. We sang 19th century gospel revival numbers mixed in
with 1970s contemporary choruses. Or at least some of us sang.
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
3 The senior minister began with a good story but then
seemed to search for Biblical text to support it. It quickly
devolved into a series of unrelated stories. In the end, no
single point was eloquently made and the sermon was simply
bland. Aside from the repeated, distracting coughs into the
microphone, the preacher seemed enamored with himself and
his own life and stories. I was certainly made aware of the
exciting, important life he leads. Pity he didn't make his
sermon "peppy for these peppy people."
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
It was entitled "Truth or Consequences." As nearly
as I could piece it out, he encouraged us to be wise by building
on solid scriptural foundations and to take ownership for
the building of such a home. He stressed telling the truth,
which is wisdom, over the consequence of sin, which is foolishness.
Which part of the service was like being in
The inspiring organ playing in a most beautiful building.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A service that seemed out of place given its setting.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We followed directions to the welcome kiosk but found no welcome
there. We then busied ourselves playing with the interactive
computer screens on the lobby walls before we strolled out
through a garden exit.
How would you describe the after-service
We couldn’t find the coffee, nor did we hear anyone mention
where it was being served, or even if there was any.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 We'll keep looking, thank you.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
No. My companion and I both felt that the church’s success
in attracting large numbers (there were no less than five
services offered that morning alone) may be due more to a
gift of history and location (a university campus in a posh
suburb) rather than to commitment to the scriptures and offering
hospitality to strangers.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Dobson organ and gifted organist.