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17: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Long Beach, California
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Trinity Lutheran
Mystery Worshipper: The Traveler.
The church: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Long Beach, California.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The building: The church building, a gentle gothic, was built in 1928, shook apart during the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, and was rebuilt and rededicated in 1934.
The neighbourhood: The church is close to downtown Long Beach, in a formerly white, middle-class neighborhood that is now multinational and what I've heard described as 'transitional'. Dilapidated California bungalows have mostly given way to nondescript stuccoed strip malls and apartment houses, some of which have in turn been bulldozed for upscale security condominium complexes.
The cast: Among others: Bishop Paul W. Egertson, Ordaining Minister, Rev. Mark Knutson, Presiding Minister, and Rev. Glenn M. Libby, Preacher.
What was the name of the service?
A Celebration of Holy Communion with the Rite of Ordination.

How full was the building?
Well over 100 worshippers – mostly friends, family, and/or colleagues of the woman being ordained.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
And how. A man just inside the entrance said 'welcome' and offered me a program for the service. I took two steps and my hand was warmly shaken by a woman who asked if I was family or a friend. 'Yes', I managed to say before she handed me off, like a practiced square dancer, to a lady with a guest book.

Was your pew comfortable?
My pew was standard issue, no kneeler. It had two inch-thick red cushions, with buttons. No complaints.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet waiting, with the musicians warming up. This was followed by a surprisingly long and varied prelude section, the most memorable of which was an enthusiastic rendering of the gospel song, 'Keep Your Eye on the Prize', joyfully sung by members of the New City Parish Ensemble. (My favorite verse: 'The only thing we did wrong / Is stay in the wilderness too long!') Even the most staid among us were clapping or singing along.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Well, good afternoon and welcome.' We were told that childcare was available in the nursery, and we were reminded to turn off our beepers, take no flash photographs, stand for the hymns, and face the cross until the Bishop passed.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hallelujah! A 25-page program printed specifically for this service, plus two hymns from the Lutheran Book of Worship – I become hopelessly lost at Lutheran services when called upon to speedily juggle a prayer book, one or two hymnals, and a photocopied bulletin.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, trumpet, piano, flute. Two choirs sang.

Did anything distract you?

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Reserved, as is usual for a Lutheran service, but heartfelt . Much of the service was sung, and sung well.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
A good 25 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
I'd give our preacher, Rev. Libby, 8. He was purposeful, understandable and often impassioned. He turned several times to preach directly to the choir and the musicians, and earned 'amens' from some of the members of the New City Parish Ensemble.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The meaning of Christian ministry: to proclaim God's message, be persistent, suffer patiently, carry out the ministry fully until God's purpose is accomplished, and by example, by 'laying down one's life for one's friends', to bring others into communion with a wondrous God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
During the Rite of Ordination, when at least a dozen ministers gathered closely around the ordinand to participate in the laying on of hands. It was (to me) a symbol of the fact that we are not alone – we are all supported and strengthened by others in the body of Christ.

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

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was an announcement that a reception would immediately follow in the fellowship hall. I wandered downstairs and joined a line of people waiting to congratulate the newly-ordained minister.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Hot and tasty, with real cream. They also offered a bright fluorescent-red fruit punch, cookies and nuts.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7, if I lived in Long Beach.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and I wasn't alone. As I exited the church, the man leaving behind me exclaimed to his friend: 'This service made me glad I'm a Lutheran!'

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
An hilarious snippet of conversation I overheard after the service between two ministers who were comparing their attire. One, rather casually dressed, described his own appearance as 'quasi-hippie priest', and said he was grateful he had left his Birkenstocks at home.
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