All Saints, Saugatuck, Michigan, USA

All Saints, Saugatuck, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: All Saints
Location: Saugatuck, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 July 2009, 10:00am

The building

This charming carpenter gothic frame church with gray painted wood exterior and traditional red doors was built in 1872 and was described in the local newspaper of the time as "a neat and tasty church." The nave seats about 110, including the choir pews at the front. A parish house with sacristy, office, meeting and social hall space forms an "L" leaving a small garden area on the street. A steeple-like tower over the main door holds a bell which was rung to call to worship.

The church

The parish is hard to gauge by one summer service, but the congregation seem to be mainly middle-age and older, with a notable portion of gay singles, couples, and non-traditional family groups. The parish operates a retreat house that sounds like a combination self-directed retreat place on the one hand, and bed and breakfast on the other. There are two eucharists each Sunday and morning prayer on Wednesdays. They sponsor both a children's and adult Sunday school.

The neighborhood

Saugatuck is built on a rise of land adjacent to the Kalamazoo River which widens out to form Lake Kalamazoo, before winding around and emptying into Lake Michigan. All Saints (as you would expect by the age of the building) is located in the older part of town. The lower streets near the water join residential blocks and shopping/entertainment areas. Then come boat docks and parks – as charming (especially in July) as any place in the American Midwest could be. The town is popular with gay and lesbian Midwesterners.

The cast

The Revd G. Corwin Stoppel, rector; The Revd Deacon John R. Meengs; Norm Larson, organist; Janice Gibson, lector; and Marge Sorenson, intercessor.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist, Rite II

How full was the building?

A comfortable half plus, so maybe 60 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. Greeters and ushers were on the job passing out the service sheets and music supplement pages. They assembled the correct pieces of paper for me (I arrived rather early) and wished me a good morning.

Was your pew comfortable?

Not really. The original pews lead one to contemplate how much smaller people may have been in 1872. As the service lasted a concise 70 minutes, this was not a big problem, plus they did have nice seat pads. The kneelers were OK as long as the person behind you was also kneeling.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Fairly quiet, but not silent. I was there ahead of the start of the prelude music, and more whispered greetings than whispered prayers could be heard. Standard.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Book of Common Prayer 1979; Hymnal 1982; a service sheet and a couple of music inserts.

What musical instruments were played?

The parishs pipe organ, a two-manual opus by the Wicks Pipe Organ Company of Highland, Illinois, which sounded nice in the small space.

Did anything distract you?

A pleasant distraction were the special effects of fairly wild shafts and slashes of colored light (from the stained glass) moving around the white plaster sanctuary arch. They formed a kind of aurora above the pulpit during the sermon, and re-appeared during the communion.

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

Fairly standard broad-church worship. There was no incense at this service, but they do ring a sanctus bell at the appropriate times.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

18 minutes.

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

8 – The rector was well-prepared, clear and effective.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He chose to preach on the gospel reading (John 6:1-15, the miracle of the loaves and fishes). He described the two popular explanations of this event and assured us that both explanations are correct. He then drew parallels to peoples desire for instant gratification versus the benefit of planning ahead and looking out for the good of others. He included a study of childrens behavior done with marshmallows and the observations of psychologists that was engaging but too complex to retell.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The welcome and good worship (as a weekend visitor/worshipper).

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

The closest I came to the "other place" was in the coffee line. Read on.

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

Several people around me said hello. Coffee had been announced and people were heading toward the parish hall. I was also invited to join a group going to a nearby restaurant for lunch.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Itching for some caffeine, I headed to the coffee room, and encountered the slowest moving line since getting my first drivers license. Everything was served on one small table against the wall. I really thought about ditching, and ended up just cutting in front of a couple who (obliviously) just stopped in place. Couldn't they simply rearrange things to enable approaching the coffee table from both sides, or even set up multiple tables? But when I finally got there, the coffee (served in china cups) was fine. There was also a variety of nice looking cookies and granola bars.

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

9 – If I lived there, I would attend.

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

Yes, it was a delight.

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

The pretty carpenter gothic building nestled in such a charming neighborhood, and the friendliness of the congregation.

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