Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago

Trinity, Princeton Park, Chicago, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Trinity
Location: Princeton Park, Chicago, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 December 2007, 12:00am

The building

The building looks to be fairly modern, maybe built in the 1980s or early 90s. The blocky exterior is practical looking brick and masonry. The worship space seems a little larger than the 2,000 seats I was told it has. It feel like a small megachurch. The sanctuary has some stained glass and the natural light helps it seem more connected to the outside world than some auditorium-style churches I have seen. There is also a chapel, a large bookstore, computer training center, and the usual offices, social hall, and classroom/nursery spaces. There was an announcement about building a school, which I guess might mean they are considering building a church-affiliated elementary school.

The church

Revd Wright noted that their mission includes specifically supporting Black values and outreach, and that this was never commented on outside of their doors until that one famous member of their congregation declared himself a candidate for President of the United States earlier this year. Senator Obama was busy campaigning in Iowa on this day, and his family was not in attendance, but his presence and support was felt. Read the Trinity mission statement. Their success and vitality seem to bear out God's blessing on their mission.

The neighborhood

The church is on 95th street just west of I-94. The immediate area is a middle class/working class neighborhood of single family homes. The congregation arrrives on foot, by CTA bus, and the car parked behind mine was a new Bentley. A pretty wide demographic of African-Americans call this their church home.

The cast

The officiant was Revd Dr Jeremiah A Wright Jr, senior pastor. Revd Otis Moss III, pastor, led a prayer. The choir was directed by a woman, who was not listed, so maybe Robert Wooten, the director of music, was away.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Worship with Ordination of Deacons

How full was the building?

Every pew and folding chair was full, the chapel and social hall were utilized (by closed circuit TV). And this the Sunday after Christmas.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. There was a prayer service going on before the congregation entered. Once the doors opened, a very smiling, gracious lady bid us to enter. I asked her advice about main floor versus balcony, and she said I should sit anywhere. I was told about how popular the place is, and to show up early, and I would have had a hard time getting a seat if I was any later.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews were startlingly well padded and cushy. This turned out to be a good thing.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was an energized, joyous sort of milling around, visiting and taking of seats. The instrumentalists were playing as we filed in, in a gospel/light jazz idiom.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Please rise for our choral call to worhip."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

They passed out an elaborate service booklet with order of worship, words to hymns and readings, and extensive pages listing announcements, special events and contact information for programs and opportunities for getting involved. There was even a page lined out ready for me to write notes on the sermon. This was a first for this Mystery Worshipper.

What musical instruments were played?

Electric organ, electric piano, synthesizer, drums, percussion and saxophone.

Did anything distract you?

I was fairly close behind one of the closed circuit TV cameras, and that was a minor distraction. The camera and operator were on a platform in the aisle. Not really a bad distraction, just really the only one I noticed.

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

Lots of clapping here, both keeping time to the music and applauding each hymn, announcement, ordination or testimony. At several points we were enjoined to introduce ourselves to those around us, take our neighbor's hand, and even tell the person next to you that you love them. I am ordinarily not pleased by this familiarity, but it felt absolutely right and comfortable here.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

35 minutes.

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

9 – Revd Wright is a seasoned preacher, and his fiery style is backed up with substantial preparation and scripture scholarship.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His reading was from John 4:28-42 about the Samaratian woman witnessing about Jesus, saying "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!" Revd Wright noted how this passage should be understood that a lot more than meets the eye of the casual reader was actually going on. He related the racial, religious and political tensions and divisions of Israel of that time, to racial, religious and political tensions of our present and particularly of the waning year of 2007. I was thrilled by the sermon, and I'm certain it impressed and moved his large congregation.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I expected to be thrilled by the choir, and I was, but the striking thing was actually the ordination. The seven candidates stood up and were questioned about their knowledge of scripture, Christian tradition and history, and the beliefs and sacramants that characterize not only the United Church of Christ denomination, but other Christian denominations as well. It was a good natured grilling that went on for a good half hour, and I was impressed by the poise and command of information of the deacons. It was very illuminating.

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

At such a loosely structured service, it is hard to judge how long you are going to be planted in that pew, and this one broke the three-hour mark. I also felt like the amplified percussion, bass, keyboards and drums overbalanced the choir a bit. I really like to hear the voices, and could just barely hear them some of the time. It might have been my position off to a side under the balcony.

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

When the service ended, I made for the loo as gracefully as I could. Also when we visitors stood, we were given a visitor card to fill out to be redeemed in the bookstore for a free CD, so I went for that too. The folks on all sides of me had already greeted me pretty thoroughly at several points during the service. Their words and handshakes were genuinely warm and there was a sweetness about the whole congregation that was very attractive.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was coffee, but given the hour, I made my exit, as I had other plans for the day which were rapidly approaching.

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

6 – This is tough to answer. I live on the opposite side of town, would miss the Anglo-catholic sacramantal worship of my home parish, and as I was perhaps the only caucasian face there, it isn't likely to be my regular church. But that said, it was a very positive, warm and welcoming bunch of people.

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

Oh yeah. Given the difference in my church and racial background, the love and welcome I experienced was really faith-affirming. I'm very glad I made the trip.

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

The choir. I should have snapped a picture of them, but felt like a flash picture might be rude. I have included a posed picture of them from their website.

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