St Thomas the Apostle, Elkhart, IN (Exterior)

St Thomas the Apostle, Elkhart, Indiana, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Thomas the Apostle
Location: Elkhart, Indiana, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 August 2014, 9:45am

The building

This is a modern church building with a big gathering space before you go into the church itself. The stained glass windows do not depict saints but are a continuous wall of color (the colors being blue, rust, brown, cooper, yellow and orange). There are crosses here and there on the stained glass windows.

The church

This seems to be a very vibrant community of worshippers. According to their bulletin, there are a lot of activities for everyone, every age. These are detailed on their website. I'll just mention the Holy Innocents pro-life group, as there was an anti-abortion display on the church lawn.

The neighborhood

Elkhart is east of South Bend, in northern Indiana. The city is best known for two industries: recreational vehicles and musical instruments. As many as a dozen different RV factories are located in the city or its nearby environs, and Elkhart is home to Conn-Selmer, Inc., the largest maker of band and orchestral instruments in the United States, whose products include strings, brass, reeds and percussion. The neighborhood was not memorable to me. The church was set back off a side road, and there was not much in the area. To me, the church seemed to be sort of in its own space. The main road had small restaurants and businesses (the Interstate was not far down the road).

The cast

I did not get the name of the priest but he was a young man with red hair, tall and thin. He wore a headset during mass. Judging from his website photo, I expect he was the Revd Jason Freiburger, pastor.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Mass

How full was the building?

The church was large and was full, not completely full but almost. I was impressed by the variety of people who showed up. There were lots of families with small children, older couples, unescorted young people. A vast variety!

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We were not personally welcomed. Instead, we came into the gathering space and I asked a lady where the bulletins were. She showed me and then we entered the sacred space and sat down.

Was your pew comfortable?

My pew was quite comfortable and I had leg room. It was blonde wood and I noticed hat clips on the back of the pews. Hat clips for men's hats! Haven't seen that in eons!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

We entered the church early and there was a group of older people who were praying the Rosary. Also, I want to mention that there were lots of parishioners who came in and went directly into the sacristy area. At least ten did this. There was no sighting of the pastor pre-mass.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and welcome to St Thomas the Apostle Church! Let us turn to our missals, hymn 787, 'Take Up Your Cross'."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The missalette and hymnal were together in a blue book entitled Gather.

What musical instruments were played?

An organ in the choir loft was played during mass. There was also a piano up there, but only the organ was played. The cantor sang in the choir loft during mass.

Did anything distract you?

The tabernacle was directly behind the altar. It was not prominent and blended into the wall. I think it should be eye-catching; it wasn't. Also the doors to the confessionals looked like doors to a utility room. But the votive candles made up for this. St Joseph's candles were on my right and all colored yellow. St Mary's candles were on my left and all colored blue. On the sides were votive candles for general intentions. On the left were red candles and on the right were green candles.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The mass was a standard Roman Catholic mass but I have to mention that the songs were in a different melody (sung differently) than what I am used to at home.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

5 – I found the sermon a bit confusing, to be honest. Not sure exactly what the pastor's message was, as it veered from topic to topic. I think it needed a bit more to pull it together.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The opening words to the sermon were "Gotcha! Joke's on you!" The priest then asked us if we sometimes felt duped by God. Then he touched on the "take up your cross" theme, stating that it's not all about us but about serving. We should volunteer our services – there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer in the church itself. We should appreciate and love our spouses and our families as well. We must rise above the limits of the world and take up our cross.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I found all the people in the church to be a very wonderful expression of Christian joy. I love that so many large families with lots of children were at mass, as well as couples, as well as single people. What a testament to the parish this is!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The length of the service was over an hour and I needed to travel, so I wish it had been a shorter mass. Originally, I was going to go to an earlier mass, but I overslept.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Everyone exited. There was no coffee afterwards. The priest was shaking hands with everyone and wishing them a good weekend.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

None that I was aware of. Catholics generally don't do after-service events.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 – I live too far away to make this my regular parish, but I loved the atmosphere of families as well as singles all worshipping together.

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

I think this is a very vibrant parish with lots of activities for all ages. There is a school associated with this parish as well. It did warm my heart to see so many of us Christians worshipping together and so many children.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The votive candles and the mosaic behind the altar were pretty. There was a mosaic of St Thomas and Jesus and someone lying down beneath them (not sure what that was all about).

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