Mystery Worshipper: Bible-and-Rifle
Church: St Andrew's
Location: Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 September 2010, 10:00am
My first impression of the building was that it was meticulously maintained and spotlessly clean. The building is typical 1950s USA church construction, set on a hilly, triangle-shaped lot with a brick facade and a steel-framed nave. The multi-level arrangement of restrooms, classrooms, narthex, nave, and church hall was confusing at first, but showed well-thought use of space. This building has the most interesting post-World War II low-budget stained glass windows I've ever seen. The window are non-insulated steel frames glazed with full antique glass. One pane in each window has a stock black etching of simple biblical icons (none of which, however, showed St Andrew) Two of the icons reflected Revelations, which is rare iconography.
By the time I left coffee hour, I knew that this was a welcoming community. Among their many outreaches is a program for students at nearby Bucknell University and a prayer shawl ministry that presents shawls to families coping with illness, death, or other life-changing events. There are two services each Sunday, spoken and sung, and a mid-week service.
Lewisburg is a quaint little town in central Pennsylvania enshrouded in two mysteries. The first is the mystery of its street names, which appear to be based on saints (St Catherine, St George, St Anthony, etc.) but which were more likely named in honor of the "saintly" lives led by family members of the town's founder, one Ludwig Derr, a devout Lutheran. The second is the mystery of whatever happened to old Ludwig Derr, who seems to have disappeared without a trace during a trip to Philadelphia. The church fits well into its residential neighborhood, having been built at the same time as the surrounding houses and serving as a buffer between the state highway and the houses just behind. Lewisburg is home to Bucknell University, one of the first institutions of higher learning to admit women to its programs, as well as to Lewisburg Penitentiary, a high security federal prison that once numbered Jimmy Hoffa, John Gotti, Alger Hiss and others of like ilk among its residents.
The Revd Peter Harer, rector, was the celebrant.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist, Rite II
How full was the building?
One-third full on a holiday weekend. Approximately four dozen souls in a college town.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed, but given personal space, everywhere I moved in the building. When I arrived 15 minutes before the service after a long drive, restroom directions were easy to obtain. One parishioner and the rector bade cheery good mornings. Upon entering the nave, I was greeted with another "Good morning" and handed a bulletin. Upon sitting in the pew, I was given personal space for reflection.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew and kneeler were comfortable and spaced sufficiently far apart that tall people would not knock their knees even on Christmas.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Before the service, it sounded like I was in the living room of a home hosting a family brunch. Initially, conversations in the narthex could be heard in the nave, but then the conversations moved right into the nave at full voice.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer, Hymnal 1980, and the bulletin, which included full text of the readings.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. It sounded electric, but I did not venture into the gallery for confirmation.
Did anything distract you?
There were several distractions: occasional highway noise through the open windows, full voice conversations in the nave prior to the service, audible conversations during the offertory anthem, and clapping after the anthems.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship style was very musical, semi-formal, and very huggy. The day I visited, the choir was still on summer break, but all of the hymns were sung heartily and in parts by the congregation. The service was semi-formal in that the congregation knelt according to Rite I tradition, even though the service was Rite II. The huggy bit comes from one of the longest lasting exchanges of peace I've ever experienced! Many of the greetings might have been better left to the coffee hour.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The rector read his sermon from a well-prepared text. He related an uncomfortable gospel lesson (Luke 14:25-33 – whoever will not give up everything cannot become a disciple of Christ) to an everyday example.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The rector spoke of tennis great Andre Agassi's hatred of tennis as a child, and the sacrifices his father demanded of him from the age of four, which eventually led to professional and financial success. Agassi sacrificed his youth practicing tennis to achieve fame and earthly gain. As the young Andre gave up much in order to achieve a goal, so too must we make sacrifices. Christ's admonition to give up all provides no "wiggle room" and cannot easily be reduced to metaphor. Be that as it may, the rector said that he intended to hold onto his retirement savings in the hope that he would be at least marginally qualified to enter heaven.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Open, welcoming community and wonderful singing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
People talking at full voice in the nave before the service. I remembered the church where I had prayed the Sunday morning my elderly father died (not unexpectedly), and that there was prayerful space provided there for my thoughts. A troubled person at this church would be rightfully annoyed by loud conversations before the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have to wait around at all! Everyone seemed to be expecting me at the coffee hour.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
As I'd expect in a rural college town. The refreshments were provided by one family. There's a sign-up sheet on the bulletin board in the narthex. Coffee and cold drinks were served in mugs in the church hall. Nibbles included olives, crackers with two dips, and two different cakes.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I doubt that I will ever visit Lewisburg again, but if I lived nearby I'd certainly join this parish and sing in the choir.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. St Andrew's, Lewisburg, is a vibrant, loving community.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Talking in church before or during service. It's rude!