Known as "The Church in the Woods," it is a rectangular building in a bucolic setting. As one looks from Broadway Street, the left-hand side of the building houses St Aidan's, and the right-hand side Northside Presbyterian Church. The lower left side is the worship space for St Aidan's; the upper right side Northside. St Aidan's worship space is a reverse L-shape, with an altar in each side of the reverse L. There is a labyrinth, plus a wildlife sanctuary behind the church.
The parish has had for some 50 years now a very close relationship with Northside Presbyterian. Although each parish retains its identity, they work closely together through the Joint Assembly of Northside Associate Ministries, which, according to their website, "is the oversight body for the joint operations of our two congregations [and] the corporate entity that holds the property" for the two congregations. The Joint Assembly is made up of St Aidan's vestry and Northside's session. A number of educational and social justice ministries are thus shared by the two congregations. The two congregations typically worship together 10 times a year.
Ann Arbor lies approximately one-half hour east of Detroit, and is the county seat of Washtenaw County. The population of the metropolitan area is approximately 345,000. It is home to the University of Michigan, one of the top public research universities in the United States. The university's research has attracted a number of high tech companies to the area. It is a liberal enclave in a fairly conservative state. To one side of the church is residential housing, to another the north campus of the University of Michigan. Behind the church is a beautiful wooded area.
The Revd Dr Judith Harmon, St Aidan's vicar, preached and celebrated. Janet Lamb was lector, and Michael Earle read the epistle and led the intercessions. Rachel Baird served as acolyte, and Ted Wyman was pianist.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist.
How full was the building?
About one-third; it's a small space, and there were 20 of us in attendance.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several folks welcomed us. St Aidan's has mastered the technique of genuinely, and warmly, welcoming the visitor in their midst without seeming at all pushy. I should note that we arrived planning to worship with Northside Presbyterian (I thought material on their website implied a weekly eucharist). When we discovered the Presbyterians would not be celebrating the eucharist this week, we decided to move over to St Aidan's.
Was your pew comfortable?
No pews; chairs that were quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly chatty until Mr Wyman started his prelude.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
From the vicar: "Your bodies are your own," after which she encouraged us to sit or stand (there were no kneelers) as we felt appropriate.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Hymnal 1982 and a carefully-prepared service leaflet containing all of the texts we needed.
What musical instruments were played?
A Yamaha upright piano.
Did anything distract you?
The two children in the congregation were free to roam the worship space as they wished. Distracting at first, I came rather to like it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I would describe it as reverent and informal. On the low side of middle of the road: no eucharistic vestments, no chanting or even singing the mass parts. The Gloria or hymn of praise was omitted, and the Sanctus and fraction anthem were spoken. Texts were largely from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, but with some emendations. Eucharistic Prayer C was used, but the dialogue that opens the prayer was altered ("Be joyful" in place of "Lift up your hearts," with the response "We are joyful"). Non-gendered language was frequently introduced, and the responses following the readings and the gospel were different: "The Word resounds before and beyond all sound," for example, followed the first two readings. On the other hand, bells were rung at the epiclesis, and after the words of institution over the bread and wine. Communion was in the form of real bread, with a gluten free option, and both wine and grape juice; Dr Harmon announced we could receive those in "any combination" we might choose. We gathered in a circle around the altar to receive communion.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Dr Harmon had a tiny little card to which she referred rarely. She is a very confident speaker.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The gospel for the day was John 20:19-31 (Jesus appears to the disciples, and then to Thomas). She started by noting all of the sermons she has heard over the years about "Doubting Thomas." But Thomas, she has decided, doesn't seem very doubting. Yes, he wanted to see Jesus, and see his wounds. But he did not leave the community, and as soon as he did see Jesus, he continued to witness to Jesus' teaching and resurrection.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This is clearly a community that cherishes sharing Word and Sacrament with each other, and is comfortable welcoming the stranger in their midst. Also, Ted Wyman played three selections from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier beautifully, and was a sensitive accompanist for the congregation's singing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
They need to give some thought to their webpage. I clicked on a link for NAM News, and the most recent post was from July of 2011. I also missed singing portions of the liturgy (five hymns constituted the whole of the congregation's singing).
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several in the congregation welcomed us. As Materfamilias and I were leaving, Dr Harmon asked us to sign their guest book, which I did. After that, Dr Harmon and I talked further. She was quite generous with her time.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
If I understood a conversation during the announcements correctly, there was to be a birthday celebration for one of the Presbyterians. We had a number of errands to run and a drive back to the western part of the state, so we got on our way.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If we were to move to Ann Arbor, we would probably first look for an Evangelical Lutheran parish as welcoming as St Aidan's. If that search were to prove unsuccessful, we would be back at St Aidan's, and could probably be quite happy there.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Driving back home, and hoping that we had not offended the Presbyterians. I should note that they were just as welcoming and friendly as the Episcopalians.