Crescent Avenue Presbyterian, Plainfield, New Jersey, USA

Crescent Avenue Presbyterian, Plainfield, New Jersey, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Crescent Avenue Presbyterian
Location: Plainfield, New Jersey, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 March 2009, 10:15am

The building

Cathedralesque. A stylish Gothic building dating from the early 1930s, replacing an earlier building destroyed by fire. It was designed by the firm of Zantzinger, Borie and Medary, who also designed the Department of Justice building in Washington, DC, among other civic projects. Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church is an historic landmark in the area, and it shows. The building is very beautiful. It is made of cast stone fashioned to resemble stone blocks. The sanctuary is stunningly beautiful, with gorgeous stained glass windows and ornate woodwork on the ceiling and at the altar.

The church

This congregation extends a welcome to all, regardless of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, or previous church experience. They hold adult education classes each Sunday as well as at monthly pot luck luncheons and weekday Bible study groups. They also sponsor a youth ministry in conjunction with other Presbyterian churches in the area. It seems to be a very progressive community.

The neighborhood

Plainfield is a small, impoverished city in central New Jersey and is home to immigrants from all around the world. Despite the humble demographics, a variety of light industries, such as printing, vehicular parts manufacture, and clothing, flourish. Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church is located in a somewhat residential, somewhat urban area of the city.

The cast

The Revd Robert Martin, pastor, with lay reader Jean Badalamenti.

What was the name of the service?

Worship Service.

How full was the building?

The sanctuary was about one-quarter full, and oddly enough the worshipers seemed to have segregated themselves in terms of race. Most of the Caucasians sat in the first front pews, and most of the African-Americans sat in the middle. There were some exceptions, but it was noticeable.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. When I walked in, I was greeted very warmly by a woman named Mary Jo, who handed me a bulletin. During the passing of the peace she came up to me again and urged me to stay for the coffee hour. During this time I was also greeted by many other people, in a genuinely friendly way.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews were extremely comfortable. They were traditional wooden pews, but they were lined with fancy green cushions.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The organ was playing and the music was absolutely beautiful. People in the sanctuary were talking in small groups. There was a definite sense of community.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Continue to renew your creation among us."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Presbyterian Hymnal and The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ, and it was beautiful. Piano accompanied one of the songs, and handbells another.

Did anything distract you?

There was one toddler who shrieked loudly during the service, followed by unsympathetic glares shot at the mother by a few elderly ladies.

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

The choir was absolutely incredible. They were so talented, really professional. The congregation fell way short, though! Maybe they were spoiled by the choir, but you could barely hear anyone singing! The songs were all traditional hymns from the hymnal, but the choir sang them in such a unique and stunning way. It was almost like being at a concert.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

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

6 – The pastor concluded his pre-sermon prayer by saying, "Protect us from the lions, the tigers, and the bears, oh my." He said this with a straight face! I had to stifle a giggle.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was titled "Survivorman." It was about Jesus' temptation in the desert, and how we sometimes face our own deserts, whether it be financial difficulties, sickness, family problems, etc.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The surroundings were cool and serene, and I felt like I was in a museum! As I mentioned before, the choir was also incredible and really at a professional level.

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

There were long, boring, rambling announcements at the beginning of the service that really took away from the reverential atmosphere that the organ prelude had created. Also, the self-imposed segregation weirded me out a bit.

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

Mary Jo came up to me to say that the coffee hour had been canceled because a guest speaker was coming and there was going to be a luncheon instead. Several women came up and joined us and encouraged me to stay, but unfortunately I didn't have time to stay for the entire lunch. I said good-bye, and they said they hoped they would see me again. They were very friendly!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

As I said, it had been canceled.

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

7 – The people seemed really kind and there seemed to be lots of activity going on at the church. However, I didn't see anyone my age (20s), so I'm not sure I would really ever consider making this church my church home.

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


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

The incredible talent of the choir.

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