First United Methodist, Ogden, Utah, USA

First United Methodist, Ogden, Utah, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Nomad
Church: First United Methodist
Location: Ogden, Utah, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 March 2007, 10:00am

The building

The congregation's first worship service was conducted in 1870 at the Ogden railroad station. Thereafter, worship was held at a variety of temporary locations until their first church was completed and dedicated in 1876. The present building was completed in 1929 and is a fairly plain building of standard church-like appearance on the outside, with a bell tower and steeply pitched roof. Once inside, one is captivated by the huge pipe organ that dominates the chancel area. The organ and pews from the old church were disassembled and moved piece by piece to the new church on horse-drawn carts. The sanctuary, extensively renovated in 1964, is illuminated by Tiffany windows on each side and above in the ceiling. Over the years a community house, education building and parking facilities were acquired. Work is almost finished on a new, modern church building that the congregation expects to relocate to in December.

The church

They sponsor a youth fellowship, a Stephen ministry (Christians reaching out to Christians in time of need), a quilting group, United Methodist Men, a book club, and several other social and religious ministries. Their website features a discussion forum for registered members of the congregation. They hold two worship services each Sunday, with children, youth and adult Sunday school also available.

The neighborhood

Ogden, Utah's second largest city after Salt Lake City, began in 1846 as a small settlement and was purchased a year later by the Mormons. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, it is home to several ski resorts. Nearby is Promontory Point, the site where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads were joined in 1869 by the driving of a golden spike, thus forming America's first transcontinental railroad. (Alas, that historic track is no longer an active right-of-way, nor is Ogden served by passenger trains nowadays.) The downtown area features many well-preserved historic buildings; the church blends nicely into the Victorian atmosphere. Downtown also boats a thriving nightlife despite Utah's strict liquor laws.

The cast

The Revd Alane Currier Griggs, senior pastor; Karen Miller, organist; Stephen Miller, choir director.

What was the name of the service?

Traditional Worship Service.

How full was the building?

Bulging at the seams!

Did anyone welcome you personally?

There were greeters at each door who made eye contact with us and gave us a friendly "Good morning." When we found a pew, the lady next to us also gave us a friendly nod of the head.

Was your pew comfortable?

Not particularly remarkable one way or the other.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was a feeling of a jovial family gathering and, oddly enough, it seemed to fit. The filtered conversation didn't distract from the feeling that something was about to happen in this place.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. We welcome you to worship this morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version (with UMC logo) and the 1989 United Methodist Church Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?

Only the organ. The church's original organ was extensively rebuilt and expanded in the 1980s but still retains its Victorian character.

Did anything distract you?

The only thing that really distracted me, and in a good way, was the young couple who came in after the service had begun. During the announcements, one of the choir members introduced the young woman as her daughter and the man she was with as her daughter's boyfriend. What made this a distraction during the service was that the man had spiked hair and the woman a pierced lip. I couldn't help but notice how warmly they were welcomed, both during the service and afterwards. Would that all congregations were as welcoming.

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

The word that best fits this atmosphere is "comfortable." There was no one thing that stood out as moving the service toward one style or another, just comfortable, middle-class worship.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

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

7 – Pastor Griggs did a very good job of blending the gospel lesson (John 12:1-8, the events following Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead, where Martha cooks a meal for Jesus while Mary anoints his feet with fragrant and costly oil) with the current situation facing the congregation. The only criticism I have is that it was a bit too obvious that he was reading the sermon. I didn't sense that there was very much passion in the delivery even though there was a clear display of effort.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Worship is our gift to God. Just as Lazarus was present at supper with Jesus after being raised from the the dead, so we should be present with Christ, having been given the gift of life by the very same Jesus. Bill Gates was quoted as saying he didn't go to church because it wasn't an efficient use of his time. Gates is right – worship isn't an efficient use of our time, but it is a good way to offer our gratitude and praise to God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The communal prayer. The pastor walked around the sanctuary with a portable microphone as people offered their praises and concerns. As each person spoke, the pastor would say, "Lord, in your mercy," to which the congregation responded, "Hear our prayer." It really gave a feeling of being part of a community of faith.

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

Well, to be honest, the singing. Methodists were once noted for being a people of two books: the Bible and the Hymnal. Someone forgot to tell this congregation that singing to the glory of God should sound like passion in their hearts and not tired words from an old book.

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

One of the greeters whom we had not seen before spotted us as visitors and offered to show us around the church. Once we arrived at the fellowship hall, the feeling of being a part of a community of faith was replaced by the feeling of being visitors at someone's Sunday family lunch.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Good tea and coffee, served in real cups. But there was no real milk or cream available, only the powdered sort. There was also a very nice assortment of goodies.

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

7 – Not sure. With the move to a new facility, this congregation is sure to lose some of its unique charm.

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

Yes. The prayers, from the heart and from the community, were shared and experienced as community and not simply as something offered by the pastor.

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

The massive organ pipes in the chancel area.

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