Mystery Worshipper: HighTory
Church: Emmanuel Episcopal
Location: Petoskey, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 January 2015, 8:30am
A typical small parish church with nave, chancel arch, choir, and an older wooden altar with carved wooden reredos. There is a portable altar underneath the chancel arch that is used for services with the priest facing the congregation in the pews. The stained glass windows are nice, but the church feels lost, as the attached parish house and rectory in lovely English architecture seem to consume it.
They sponsor a Beyond Our Walls mission to serve the needy, as well as all the usual youth and adult ministries. Every Thursday they hold a Spanish Lunch at a local restaurant where people may sharpen their Spanish speaking and listening skills, plus a Theology Pub that meets once a month at a local hotel to discuss a wide range of spiritual topics. There are two eucharistic celebrations each Sunday as well as one on Wednesday and Thursday of each week.
The city of Petoskey sits on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan on the tiny strip of land that separates the upper and lower peninsulas that make up the state of Michigan. An historical marker notes the spot where one of the last flocks of passenger pigeons, once the most abundant bird in North America, perhaps in the world, was spotted prior to the species being declared extinct in 1914. Today Petoskey is a quaint resort community known for its restaurants, specialty shops and recreational opportunities. Ernest Hemingway spent his childhood summers here and set many of his short stories in Petoskey. Famed Civil War historian Bruce Catton was born here. The church is along Mitchell Street, a divided boulevard with many nice homes. This could be called Petoskey's Piety Hill, as there are several churches nearby (Lutheran, Methodist, non-denominational).
The Revd Greg Brown, rector.
What was the name of the service?Rite I Eucharist.
How full was the building?
There were approximately 20 congregants, mostly older ladies. The service leaflet indicated weekly attendance is about 25 for the early service.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was no usher for the morning service.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was very quiet, with a short prelude from the church's organist. The only other music during the approximately 40-minute service was a dramatic communion solo by the organist.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to the Rite I Eucharist. The service begins in the Book of Common Prayer."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
1979 Book of Common Prayer with a day-specific leaflet containing the readings as well as church news.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, but only for the two solos, as the service itself was said. The organ is an opus of the Lauck Pipe Organ Company of Otsego, Michigan. It was installed in 2008 and incorporates some pipework from the original instrument by the Holloway company of Indianapolis.
Did anything distract you?
The utter quietness was sort of distracting. You could have heard a pin drop in the nave.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very broad-church in terms of Anglican churchmanship. It was basically Rite I, but with some substitutions that gave it a somewhat hodgepodge quality.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The rector delivered the sermon while shuffling back and forth in the chancel and down the nave. He didn't use the pulpit. It seemed very disorganized to me and consisted primarily of a series of questions he posed to the congregation, who were expected to answer him back. He never really said anything.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
All of his sermon involved him asking the congregants their view of the day's gospel reading. Of course, everyone had a different interpretation.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I had a divine experience at the altar rail, not least because of the music that was played by the organist. It was very dramatic and appropriate for communion.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sermon was painful to sit through, as were the announcements made after communion by the vestryman who took the pulpit. Both seemed as if they would never end.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nobody approached me as I sat in my pew while everyone walked by me. There was no coffee, as there's only an hour or so until the next service. I finally made my way to the door, where the rector and organist were greeting departing congregants. As with most churches, there always seems to be a superficial moment where clergy and congregants are overly nice to each other and pretend actually to care about how the other is doing.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – If I lived here or visited regularly, I could, if I had to, make do with the service if only because it's Rite I and thus is more traditional.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The simplistic nature of the service made me appreciate Matthew 18:20: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The weird sermon.