Mystery Worshipper: Paterfamilias
Church: Hope Moravian
Location: Hope, Indiana, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 March 2010, 10:00am
A simple brick structure, the third for this congregation, built in 1875, with more recent additions such as a fellowship hall. The altar juts up against a large pipe organ. There is a beautiful ribbed wood ceiling, and stained-glass windows that are non-representational, in keeping with the simplicity of the worship space.
The Moravian Church, or Unity of the Brethren (Unitas Fratrum), was organized in 1457 following the teachings of Czech reformer John Hus (1369-1415). As such, it considers itself the oldest Protestant church in the world. Historically, they have been averse to detailed doctrinal statements, but commend the traditional creeds, the Augsburg Confession, Luther's shorter catechism, and the 39 Articles of the Church of England as helpful guides to understanding Christ's teaching. However, they do not require adherence to any of these documents. Moravians have demonstrated a strong commitment to ecumenism. The Northern and Southern Provinces in North America are now in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The Episcopal Church has approved an "almost" full communion relationship with these two provinces; this awaits approval of the Moravian provinces at their 2010 synods. A good discussion of Moravian history can be found here, and of their beliefs here. Hope Moravian has a long and rich history. It is the only Moravian church in the state of Indiana. The congregation holds Sunday school and a worship service each Sunday, and vespers two Sunday evenings each month. They have the standard array of women's groups, youth groups, and social justice outreaches, as well as a pre-school. The church also has a cemetery, known as "God's Acre," with over a thousand graves separated according to gender, marital state and age; they call this the "choir system."
Hope, with a population a bit over 2000, is roughly an hour southeast of Indianapolis, the largest city in Indiana. The church is only a couple of blocks from the center of downtown, and the town of Hope is largely surrounded by farmland.
The Revd Kerry D. Krauss led the service, and the organist/choir director was John Ziegler.
What was the name of the service?Worship
How full was the building?
Roughly two-thirds. Including a balcony, I estimate that the church seats about 250.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were greeted first by an usher, who handed us a bulletin. Then, as we settled into our pew, a very friendly gentleman stopped to speak with us and introduce us to two other congregation members. I mentioned that I was Lutheran, and that Materfamilias and I were musicians, and he replied, "I expect you two to sing loudly – and in tune!" We tried to comply with his request.
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pews, but quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite a bit of chatter as people entered.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Pastor Krauss proclaimed:"The Lord is risen." The congregation responded: "The Lord is risen indeed."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Moravian Book of Worship, a combination service book and hymnal, approved by the Northern Province in 1990 and the Southern Province in 1992. Plus a bulletin, with hymn numbers and references to the one part of the Book of Worship that had liturgical materials that we used.
What musical instruments were played?
Before the service, the church's brass ensemble with flute played a couple of pieces from the balcony. During the service itself, a nice pipe organ and a baby grand piano accompanied the singing.
Did anything distract you?
One young pre-teen had quite a bit of energy. While the congregation clapped after the choir anthem, he cheered enthusiastically. And, later, he cheered the pastor (who, without skipping a beat, said, "Thank you"). This may be the same lad who, a bit later in the service, raced up one of the side aisles and out the door into another part of the church.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly formal, but quite without any real ritual. This was a fairly low church form of mainstream Protestant worship. Neither choir nor minister were vested. Music was done well, but thoroughly traditional. There was a welcome and greeting at the beginning of the service, where members of the congregation greeted each other warmly. There was also a reconciliation liturgy and a creed that I did not recognize.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Pastor Krauss is a fine public speaker and had obviously prepared well. He used written notes, and only rarely did he move away from the pulpit.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The gospel read for this Sunday, as appointed in the Revised Common Lectionary, was Luke 13:1-9 (suffering has nothing to do with degree of wrongdoing, but we will all perish lest we repent, just as a fig tree that does not bear fruit will be eventually cut down). Pastor Krauss noted the recent earthquake in Chile and the devastation in Haiti - and asked whether Chileans or Haitians were any more or less wicked than anyone else. He noted Jesus' comment: "But unless you repent, you will all perish as they did." He noted the difference between an apology and true repentance. Repentance is an action. It must transform our behavior and conduct. He then noted the Jewish maxim that one should repent the day before one's death; but since one can never know the day of one's death, one should repent daily.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I was impressed with Pastor Krauss' sermon. And John Ziegler was a fine accompanist for the congregation as well as for the choir anthem. He played the hymns at a refreshingly brisk pace, but still allowed the congregation time to breathe. The volunteer choir of 16 sang their anthem (an arrangement of Just As I Am, Lord) quite nicely.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The cell phone that went off in the middle of the intercessions. It was doubly like being in the "other place," since it was Materfamilias' cell phone. Very embarrassing.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The very nice gentleman who had talked with us before the service, and had sat in the pew in front of us during the service, talked with us further. We learned that he had been a high school principal before his retirement, and as Materfamilias taught K-12 education for much of her career, we had a lively conversation.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None today, as a good portion of the congregation was involved in a confirmation class following worship. They do, though, usually put on a "snack and yak." But as we were leaving, a very nice woman mentioned that she was so glad that we had joined them, and encouraged us to come back for their Easter sunrise service (which concludes in "God's Acre"). When I noted that this would involve a six hour drive prior to the service, she responded, "Then drive down on Saturday and stay with us!" I'm not sure if the extraordinary welcome we received from so many members of this congregation is due to their being from Hope, Indiana, or their being Moravians, or both – either way, we could not have been more warmly welcomed to this congregation.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Hard to say, really. As a fairly up-the-candle Lutheran, I would miss receiving the sacrament each Sunday, and the fuller liturgy of the Word (three readings) that I am used to. But this congregation are clearly doing many things right, and while I don't expect to be a member there anytime soon, I would welcome the chance to worship with them again.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Indeed, and also excited that my church (ELCA) is now a full-communion partner with these Moravians.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The extremely warm welcome that we received from this congregation.