Mystery Worshipper: Vagrant Congregant
Church: Third Lutheran
Location: Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 July 2010, 10:30am
An imposing red brick structure dating from 1931. The church door, painted the customary red, sits atop concrete steps and is flanked by twin towers. The inside is cozier than one would think judging from the cathedral-like exterior. There are banners hung throughout.
The congregation began as a Sunday school ministry of First Lutheran Church but became independent in 1886. They sponsor a variety of activities, many in conjunction with other area churches. They support the Rainbow Spiritual Education Center, where (quoting from that organization's website) "people come together to discuss spirituality."
Louisville, in north central Kentucky on the border with Indiana, is Kentucky's largest city. Founded in 1778, the city has always been an important river port. The thoroughbred racing event known as the Kentucky Derby is held at Louisville each year. There are several traditions associated with the Derby, including the drink known as the mint julep (bourbon, sugar, and water over ice, flavored with a hint of crushed spearmint). The list of famous people who were either born in Louisville or spent a significant part of their lives there is endless, and includes boxer Muhammad Ali, inventor Thomas Edison, pioneer film director D.W. Griffith, and journalist Hunter S. Thompson, to name only a few. Harland Sanders, better known as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, was actually born and raised in Henryville, Indiana, across the river from Louisville. The church is located on Frankfort Avenue, an area that is being gentrified by young couples.
The Revd Steven Renner, interim minister.
What was the name of the service?Morning Worship.
How full was the building?
About a quarter full. I counted 30 people total in attendance.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There was a greeter who welcomed me. Many of the church members said "hello" and "welcome" during the peace. With such a small church, it had the feel of a large family. Everyone seemed very close.
Was your pew comfortable?
Typical of a wooden pew!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There were announcements when I arrived. People were standing up discussing local community happenings, birthday announcements, and building updates.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be the Holy Trinity, one God, who forgives all our sin, whose mercy endures forever."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used – the whole service came from a handout. The hymns were fairly traditional Lutheran hymns. I did note the Lutheran Book of Worship (also called the green hymnal) in the pews.
What musical instruments were played?
A piano was played and there was a cantor.
Did anything distract you?
The PA system was turned up a little too loud, so when the cantor sang and during the sermon it felt like the speaker was shouting at us!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was very familial – one could tell everyone had known each other for quite some time. The prayers and hymns were more formal and from the book.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The preacher used a good amount of statistics and data in his sermon. His style indicated he may have been a teacher.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The importance of viewing God not as an angry or jealous God but as Abba or daddy. He tied this in with the importance of fatherhood in our culture and modern parenting models.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
How friendly the congregation was, as well as how involved they were (despite their size) in the local community.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The blaring of the PA system coupled with singing every verse of the hymns. Five verses are more suited to a long processional/recessional.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The minister asked me questions and seemed genuinely interested in me. The people encouraged me to return the next weekend.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. They have a gathering once a month.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere but couldn't stand being blasted out by the PA system every week.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. There certainly was a lot of affection among the members.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The very thorough peace – you weren't leaving until everyone had wished you peace!