St Barnabas, Portage, MI (Exterior)

St Barnabas, Portage, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Barnabas
Location: Portage, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 February 2013, 11:00am

The building

The red-brick building consists of two parallel wings connected by a hallway with some office space and classrooms. The older wing was the original church. In the mid-1980s the larger wing was added to serve as the worship space while the former place became the fellowship hall. The whole building would be easily accessible to people with mobility difficulties as everything was on one level. There were amply wide doorways and some shortened pews to accommodate wheelchairs without blocking aisles. The interior was warm and light with a lot of color from some stained glass in the chancel and several banners along the sides.

The church

They seem very interested in social justice. The parish is a member of the Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community (ISAAC), a local organization that addresses a number of social issues. Other outreach efforts include active support of the Portage Community Center, which supplies food and toiletries for those in need. Individuals from the parish also work with the Alcott Center for physically and developmentally challenged adults, where the volunteers help with crafts, singing, and Bible study.

The neighborhood

Portage is a city in Kalamazoo County in southwest Michigan. It has a network of trails and parks used for recreation such as cycling, running and walking. The church is near Celery Flats, a park that features several historic exhibits and that got its name from the celery plant. Brought to the area in the 19th century by Dutch settlers, celery growing was once a mainstay of Kalamazoo County's economy, but today only one grower remains.

The cast

The Revd Bonnie Edwards, rector, was celebrant and preacher.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist with Traditional Music and Choir

How full was the building?

Thirty-two people were present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We received friendly greetings in the parking lot, the coat room, the narthex and the church from four different parishioners. The rector, too, greeted us several minutes before the start of the liturgy, and another person checked to see that we had a bulletin. Their efforts were certainly welcoming, but a shy person might be overwhelmed.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a standard wooden pew with fold down kneeler and was quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet enough to pray if noisy enough to distract. The people were happily chatty.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Bless the Lord, who forgives all our sins."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Prayer Book 1979 and the Hymnal 1982. The weekly bulletin also referenced the pages for scripture readings used in the liturgy of the word, but I didnt notice anybody using their pew Bibles during the service.

What musical instruments were played?

An organ, played by director of music Stephen Snyder. A drum was also used in one of the choir anthems.

Did anything distract you?

A colorful set of banners extolling the United Nations millennium development goals decorated the side walls of the church. The banners were made by parishioners last year in response to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori calling for focus on the MDGs for Lent 2012. The several banners were a bit of a distraction, though not in a negative way.

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

The worship was happy traditional. A few lines were changed for inclusivitys sake. For example the response "His mercy endures forever" was changed to "Gods mercy..." in the printed psalm in the bulletin. I never get those changes right, but the ushers didnt throw me out.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

16 minutes.

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

7 – The Revd Mrs Edwards had a habit of asking the congregation non-rhetorical questions, such as "What did Paul go through?" or "Who was doing the tempting?" I realize that questions and answers are time honored teaching tools, but the effect was rather more like a Sunday school class than a sermon to me. The sermon was affirming, but my impression was something like: "Jesus loves me, this I know. So?"

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Times of grace are followed by times of trial. We see this in Jesus temptation after his baptism in the Jordan, in Pauls hardships after his conversion experience, and in difficulties in our own lives. We must avoid the trap of using Lent only to see our unworthiness. Rather, Lent should bolster our knowledge of Gods love.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The music generally was wonderful. The organist and choir did a fine job facilitating the congregational singing. The people sang the psalm in simple Anglican chant (in parts, yet). The hymn singing and other parts of the mass setting were sung by the whole congregation. The choir also sang a pre-service anthem and a communion anthem. Their musical offerings drew attention to God and the liturgy and not to themselves.

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

The people were reluctant to supply the answers to the questions posed by the rector during the sermon. The ensuing silence was uncomfortable, but not hellish.

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

We talked to a couple of people in the congregation while most went off to coffee hour. Like most Episcopalians, they must have figured that if we could find our way around the Prayer Book, we could find our way to coffee hour. But in time, the rector and a server did invite us to coffee in the fellowship hall.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was good coffee, served in ceramic mugs. Cookies and bagels with cream cheese were also available.

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

9 – Add some incense at the offertory, and Im in.

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

Yes. I felt welcome as if I were a cousin attending a family reunion.

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

The congregational psalm-singing.

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