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2388: Saint Luke's, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Saint Luke, Chicago (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Paterfamilias.
The church: Saint Luke's, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Metropolitan Chicago Synod.
The building: A modern structure, the work of Chicago architect Charles A. Stahl, begun in 1959 and dedicated the next year. The interior soars, with wood beams rising to form pointed arches that support a gabled ceiling. Behind the large altar is some beautiful stained glass with an abstract design in blues and reds. At the rear is a grand foyer area, somewhat separated from the nave but stylistically part of it, with stained glass on the back wall reaching into the balcony.
The church: The parish is part of Saint Luke Ministries, which includes a school, a senior housing facility, and a 40-acre cemetery. Their music program is exceptional, with two choirs, a Bach cantata series, and a resident jazz ensemble. There is also the Doederlein Gallery, which sponsors a series of art exhibits throughout the year that showcases (but is not limited to) artists who produce religious works. There are two services each Sunday, at 8.30 and 10.30; the former alternates between eucharist and morning prayer, and the latter is a weekly celebration of the eucharist.
The neighborhood: Saint Luke's is in the Lakeview area of Chicago, on the city's north side (home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team). The area immediately surrounding the church is mixed use, with small businesses, restaurants, small single-family dwellings and apartments nearby.
The cast: Celebrant and preacher was the Revd David G. Abrahamson, pastor, assisted by the Revd Dennis Grabowski. Bette Lehenbauer was organist, and Irene Borg was lector.
The date & time: Trinity Sunday, June 3, 2012, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist. There were also three baptisms.

How full was the building?
Nearly three-quarters full. I would estimate seating capacity at 360-375. And it was a diverse congregation, both racially and generationally. Probably due to the families of the newly-baptized, the crowd seems to have been larger than on a typical Sunday. In fact, they ran out of bulletins, and had to collect some from volunteers in order to make them available to those last to arrive.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted by an usher and handed a leaflet with the order of service for both of the day's services.

Was your pew comfortable?
Quite, with pull-down kneelers underneath the pew in front.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A bit chatty. Saint Luke's reserves the Blessed Sacrament in an area on the north side of the worship space, with kneelers in front of the tabernacle for those who wish to pray.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, and welcome to Saint Luke's Church." Pastor Abrahamson noted that due to the baptisms, the liturgy for which includes the Apostles' Creed, we would not be using the Athanasian Creed, as had been done at the earlier service. He encouraged us to take the time to read the Athanasian Creed (including the damnatory clauses), which he said outlines our faith "in no uncertain terms."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Evangelical Lutheran Worship and a service leaflet. The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, was in the pews but not used.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ, an opus of the Schlicker Organ Company of Buffalo, New York, installed in 1962, and including pipes from the church's old 1903 organ. It was renovated and augmented in 1990-91, 1994, 1997, and 2000. It is a large instrument (three manuals) in the west gallery, with an antiphonal set of pipes on the north side. I should note that Bette Lehenbauer was not shy about using the considerable resources of this instrument.

Did anything distract you?
The decorations for Pentecost were still up in the sanctuary area (as the service leaflet noted, to mark the octave of that celebration), and I just really couldn't figure out what they were supposed to represent. Very, very red, though.

St Luke, Chicago (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A very formal liturgy in the "high church" Lutheran tradition, yet without a hint of stuffiness or antiquarianism. Collect and preface were beautifully chanted by Pastor Abrahamson, who was vested in cope for the liturgy of the word and the baptisms, and chasuble from the offertory on. The liturgical deacon and subdeacon were vested in dalmatic and tunicle, respectively. We received communion from a common chalice, standing. Just as I was about to receive the wine, I noticed they had run out, and an acolyte brought additional wine for the pastor to consecrate. No incense today, though I know from previous visits that incense is not unknown here.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The pastor is a very effective speaker who seemed really to get into talking about the Trinity.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Liturgical scholars are divided about the appropriateness of Trinity Sunday, as, unlike other festivals in the church year, it does not commemorate an actual event, like Epiphany or Easter. Next week the Church begins its journey through Ordinary Time, in which we live out in visible and tangible ways what we have celebrated in earlier seasons of the church year. "One in three, and three in one" is a mystery that is both comforting and confusing. In the end, the mystery of the Godhead requires a leap of faith. We make that leap of faith as a part of our striving to be a united Church, a holy Church, a Church that is both catholic and apostolic.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
To be a part of a congregation that so fully enters into its worship. They sing, they respond, they are fully engaged. And the chance to sing Richard Hillert's wonderful, not-at-all-dour, setting of the service music (Setting Three in ELW), which I don't often encounter.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
For a visitor, the long announcements at the beginning seemed a bit much, especially since most of the week's activities were noted in the bulletin. Speaking of the bulletin, there seemed to be more than the usual number of gremlins present: misspellings, accidental repetitions, incorrect order listed in one spot, etc. Too many typos for one service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I sat and listened to the postlude, and then walked toward the front of the church to get a better look at the sanctuary area. But no one spoke to me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
In lieu of the coffee hour they usually have, there was a sit-down luncheon in appreciation for all of Saint Luke's members who participate in various volunteer ministries. It didn't seem like a visitor would fit in – and it also appeared that they were expecting members to have made reservations.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – Beautiful liturgy, wonderful music, excellence in preaching – what's not to like?

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Pastor Abrahamson enjoining us to go home and read the Athanasian Creed. Seems like he missed not being able to use it at the 10.30.
 
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