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2210: Christ United Methodist, Kettering, Ohio, USA
Christ UMC, Kettering, Ohio
Mystery Worshipper: Angel Unaware.
The church: Christ United Methodist, Kettering, Ohio, USA.
Denomination: United Methodist Church.
The building: A large, center-aisle church. The sanctuary is carpeted and adorned with carved, blonde wood accents. A pipe organ (with hissing bellows) is located in the front of the church behind organ grilles. Worshippers are greeted with a mish-mash of colors: there were faux pink carnations on the communion table, orange sandals on the liturgist, red Pentecost banners, and yet another shade of red carpeting.
The church: Their dozens of ministries are all well described on their website. Of special note are an Asperger's syndrome support group and HopeKeepers, which explores the spiritual dynamics of living with chronic illness or pain. They offers two services each Sunday, but the same sermon. The earlier service that I attended is the traditional, and the later service is the contemporary.
The neighborhood: Kettering is Dayton, Ohio's largest suburb and is named for long-time resident and automotive engineer Charles F. Kettering, the inventor of the solenoid starter, leaded gasoline, and Freon, among other things. The city is predominantly middle-class and boasts a healthy, stable economy, good schools, and a variety of leisure activities for all ages.
The cast: The Revd Barry DeShetler, senior pastor, was the preacher, and Victoria C. Downing, religious leader, presided at the service.
The date & time: June 8, 2008, 9.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Worship.

How full was the building?
About 50 souls, mostly older in age. The elderly lady who sat ahead of me had been generous in her application of rose water, causing this Mystery Worshipper to sneeze and deal with watery eyes throughout the service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A friendly receptionist at the welcome desk greeted us. I indicated that I was a visitor, and with a wave of her hand she kindly directed me up the stairs to the sanctuary.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was comfortable and the hymnal rack was chock full of in-pew literature, but the leg room was a little tight. It felt like the economy class space of an airplane.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet and muffled.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Jesus says: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
United Methodist Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ and brass quartet. Unfortunately the brass quartet only played service music and, for some unknown reason, did not join the organ in accompanying the hymnody.

Did anything distract you?
The presiding liturgist. She must not have realized that all eyes were on her. Extending from the short hem of her robe were bare ankles and feet shod with bright orange sandals, revealing a toe ring on her second digit. She chewed and smacked gum throughout the service, even when she was speaking. When not speaking, she fanned herself with the worship folder.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Ho-hum Methodist. It felt like "church on automatic pilot," with no one in the pews truly engaged, nor the leadership engaging. Though the organ and brass had the potential really to liven things up, they failed to do so. The most exciting thing by far was the worship leader's announcement that donut holes would be served at coffee after the service. A teenage girl showing a bare midriff sang a "special number" for us using a pre-recorded accompaniment track. There was an inevitable technical glitch, this time a volume surge. Throughout her solo she unconsciously tugged at her t-shirt to try to cover her bare midriff.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
25 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The Revd DeShetler was well-prepared and engaging.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
With homage to Dr Thomas Long, the noted author of several books on the art of preaching, the senior pastor spoke about the "trick questions" posed to Jesus by the Pharisees and Sadducees: Should Jews pay taxes? If a widow takes a new husband, whose wife will she be in heaven? Jesus did not allow himself to be cornered, and his answers to these trick questions more clearly illustrate Jesusí divinity and wisdom.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing out of a hymnal that I could actually cradle in my hands.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The worship leaderís apparent and total unawareness of her appearance.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Many people engaged us in conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I've had better, I've had worse.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I appreciated the friendly welcome, good music and scholarly preaching. But all the rose water on the dressing tables of every old lady in Ohio couldn't sweeten the humdrum, lackadaisical way in which this service unfolded.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I suppose. But it could have been so much more, and that was my frustration.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That this church offers "all-you-can-eat" donut holes after the service.
 
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