|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
|2241: St Sabina,
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Chicago, Illinois, USA.
This charming English Gothic style limestone edifice was built
between 1925 and 1933 when George Cardinal Mundelein, a noted
"bricks and mortar" man responsible for many other
attractive parish churches, was archbishop. Upon entering, the
visitor will note the spacious interior with beautiful stained
glass, wood carvings, the stations of the cross, the altar and
pulpit decorations, in a cruciform plan nave and sanctuary.
The parish, convent, rectory and school fill the entire block.
St Sabina's may be the largest predominantly African-American
Catholic parish in Chicago. It has the look of being well attended
and financially well supported. They, with their outspoken pastor
of almost 30 years, the Revd Dr Michael L. Pfleger, find themselves
frequently in the local news. This writer knows of no other
Catholic parish that is so identified with the person and personality
of their pastor, who over the years has become famous for his
outspoken social activism. Most recently (April 2011), Pfleger
was suspended from his priestly duties by Francis Cardinal George,
Archbishop of Chicago, when Pfleger threatened to leave the
Church and take his congregation with him if he were forced
to accept an assignment elsewhere in the archdiocese. A storm
of controversy resulted, culminating in the Cardinal's reinstating
Pfleger in return for a statement of "clarification."
At least for now, Father Pfleger continues his preaching and
flock-building and his crusades against gun violence, the aggressive
advertising and sale of alcohol and tobacco, and the lack of
employment opportunities in his neighborhood. He is the adoptive
father of two orphaned boys, and was foster father to a third
who was tragically killed as a result of gang crossfire in 1998.
Father Pfleger is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions,
and delivered one of the eulogies at the funeral of Coretta
Scott King, widow of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
This is known as the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood of Chicago’s
south side. It seems to be a solid middle class area, but perhaps
more beset by unemployment and foreclosure than some.
The Revd Dr Michael L. Pfleger, pastor; the Revd Thulani Magwaza,
associate pastor; and Michael Drayton, minister of music; plus
choir, instrumentalists, liturgical dancers, altar servers,
crucifer, communion ministers, lay readers, and a small army
of ushers, security, and parking attendants.
The date & time:
Unity Sunday, September 4, 2011, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Nearly full, perhaps 650 people at the height of this holiday
weekend service. Not air-conditioned, but the day was so mild
and lovely that with some of the stained-glass window vents
open it was very comfortable.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A greeter handed me a service sheet, and one of a dozen
or so uniformed gloved ushers guided me to a seat.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. The old church pews have been upholstered and possibly
re-spaced. I also noticed that the original kneelers had been
How would you describe the pre-service
The atmosphere was very chatty. Everyone seemed to be catching
up with friends. I arrived no more than three minutes before
the appointed time, but the service didn’t actually get going
until about twelve minutes after the hour.
What were the exact opening words of the
"This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and
be glad in it!" This was followed by a fairly long list
What books did the congregation use during the
I did see a hymnal in the pew, but it wasn’t used in the service.
The service sheet gave readings, as did the paperback Monthly
What musical instruments were played?
Praise band with a gospel sound: piano, electric Hammond organ,
bass, trumpet, saxophone, drums and percussion. The choir of
about 25 singers was miked. The amplified sound was loud to
ear-splitting in the reverberant space.
Did anything distract you?
I was disturbed by how loud the amplification was cranked up,
but apparently most people were used to it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Nothing stiff here, in spite of the white-gloved ushers. The
worship was quite spirited, with much call and response and
shouts of Amen and such from the congregation. They applauded
at the close of any musical offering. Lots of times we were
urged to greet or speak to our seat neighbors and so on. I noted
two rather strange things: First, the offering was not collected
by the usual passing of plates. Rather, the entire congregation
filed forward communion-style to drop their envelopes into a
couple of large baskets. Second, it appeared that about 15 per
cent of the congregation left after the offertory! Were they
non-Catholics who had come just to hear the preaching?
Exactly how long was the
70 minutes! (And in a Catholic church!) For this listener, 20
minutes would have been OK, but I was feeling a little head-achy
by about the halfway point.
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
7 Father Pfleger’s preaching was very lively and engaging
and brought comfort to his congregation, but I cannot give it
higher marks for two reasons: First, it did not seem very scripturally
grounded. Rather, he took a couple of short phrases out of context
and riffed on them. Second, it did not relate to the readings
of the day, one of which, Matthew 18:15-20 ("Where two
or three have gathered together in my name, there I am"),
should have provided for quite an interesting homily. Instead,
he preached on Job 14:13-14 ("If only you would hide me
in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed").
The delivery was the most dramatic I have heard, going from
whispering into the mike to deafening. I often felt I wanted
to cover my ears due the volume of the loudspeakers. Clearly
much of the congregation comes here for the preaching, though.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Mainly the sermon theme was waiting for God to work things out,
and how hard waiting could be: waiting for family problems to
work out, waiting for a better job to become available, waiting
for a personal problem to get solved. "How does a believer
wait?" he asked.
Which part of the service was like being in
The congregation were very friendly and welcoming, much more
so than in some Catholic parishes I have experienced. The exchange
of peace was particularly warm.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I suffered from the audio volume. I also would appreciate being
able to participate in the music, but there were no printed
words or music to follow, and with the extreme amplification,
no (unamplified) congregation could make a dent in the soundtrack
of this service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After almost three and one-half hours, I hope I might be excused
from hanging around. As I was snapping my pictures, a guy came
up to say hello and welcome me, and remark on the beautiful
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
I saw no evidence of anything that would lend itself as such.
Probably everyone was ready to go home or go out to have a full
meal by that time.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 If I lived on the south side (and particularly if I
were Roman Catholic or African American or both) this would
be a real consideration.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, sure. People were very friendly and really entered into
the spirit of worship.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Aside from the friendliness, the volume, and the sermon delivery
style of Father Pfleger, I think I will remember the way in
which the offering was received and the fact that so many people
left after the offertory.
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.