|32: St Stephen's Church, Longmont, Colorado|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Traveler.
The church: St Stephen's Church, Longmont, Colorado.
Denomination: Episcopal Church of the United States of America.
The building: A simple red brick building in the Church Economical style. Without its cross, it could easily pass for a public elementary school.
The neighbourhood: Longmont is a small city on the high plains of Colorado, approximately 20 miles east of the Rocky Mountains. The church is in an attractive middle-class suburb on the outskirts of the city. The county government has controlled growth by greenbelting certain areas, while allowing limited development in other areas. The result is a spectacular view of the mountains from almost any part of the city.
The cast: Rev. Max Bailey.
What was the name of the service?
The First Sunday of Advent.
How full was the building?
Just short of 100 and one-half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A man and a woman wearing name badges handed me a service sheet and said, 'Good morning'.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. It was the usual Episcopalian bench of polished wood and kneeler. I was happy to see Bibles in the book racks, which isn't usual, unfortunately.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of old friends greeting each other, while a few knelt and did some pre-service praying.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Fr. Bailey said: 'Good morning. There are still a bunch of people in the parish hall. I went back there and said, "Hey, we are starting".' He made several announcements, and then a tenor sang 'Comfort Ye', from Handel's Messiah, for our prelude.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Prayer, The Hymnal 1982, and Jubilate Deo, a book of songs from a local publisher.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano and guitar. A 15-member choir sang a strikingly beautiful communion hymn, 'How Deep the Father's Love for Us', by Stuart Townsend. Overall the music was excellent surprisingly so for a small neighborhood church.
Did anything distract you?
Fussy children in the last pew. Their beleaguered parents kept rushing them out when they carried on too loudly.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
An interesting contrast of traditional (during the consecration an altar bell was rung) and casual contemporary (during his sermon, Fr. Bailey questioned the congregation and encouraged comments from them).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 or 7. 7 because the sermon was short, simple and relevant to the readings. 6 because I would have liked more thematic development.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We are in a time between the first advent of our Lord and his coming again. Even though it is hard to live in the present, celebrating his birth while watchfully awaiting his return, that is what we are called to do. Consider how you would live today, if you knew the Lord was returning tomorrow. The time is now to walk in the light of the Lord.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The young acolyte who carried the Gospel high above her head during the procession and recession had a joyful and triumphant expression.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That came later, during the coffee service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I asked a woman handing out cardboard donation boxes where the coffee service was. She directed me to the parish hall, where she said there was also 'a special cake' to be had.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
They may have had a special cake, but they also had a blood drive in progress. I took one look at the blood-letting equipment and donees, and couldn't bring myself to enter. I'm not particularly squeamish, mind you but I just couldn't see sipping coffee and munching snacks with that kind of floor show going on around me.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7. If I moved to Colorado, I'd join the choir, first thing.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The abundance of blue. Fr. Bailey's new blue chasuble. The matching blue drape for the chalice. Blue cloth (representing Christ's robe, perhaps) hung to either side of the cross above the altar. And a yellow fish surrounded by a stream of bright blue stained glass.