|40: Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church, Los Angeles, California|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Traveler.
The church: Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church, Los Angeles, California.
Denomination: Independent Baptist Church that appears to be loosely affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
The building: A rectangular wood-frame and stucco building with an extension to the north side, which nearly doubles its size. Inside at the front is a large pulpit, a graduated dais for the minister, deacons and choir, and an area for musicians. Above these is a blue neon cross over a baptismal pool, with a very pretty 'descending dove' mural behind it.
The neighbourhood: The church is located only a few blocks away from an area prominently featured in the news during the 1994 Los Angeles riots. I saw no traces of these earlier troubles just a sunny and well-kept residential and business neighborhood, with churches on a lot of corners.
The cast: Dr E.E. Stafford, pastor, and Brother John Nash, preacher.
What was the name of the service?
Early Morning 8.00am Call to Worship.
How full was the building?
Packed! At least a thousand.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
My friend and I were late. Ushers wearing white gloves were stationed in every aisle, seating latecomers. We were waved down front and squeezed in.
Was your pew comfortable?
Didn't notice it after sitting down, so yes, it must have been.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Maybe it was like the post-service atmosphere: lots of friends chatting happily with each other. I got the feeling that this is a real community.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The Pastor's opening words (after the Gospel solo, sung by a teenage girl), were: 'So you don't have to hear it from anyone else, you can hear it from me. That young woman is my girlfriend.' Everyone laughed (I took this as a playful allusion to President Clinton's troubles).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everyone brought their own Bible.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, keyboard, bass, drums.
Did anything distract you?
No. I was completely riveted throughout.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Thoughtful, emotional and fervent, without being chaotic. I come from a staid Protestant background where any emotional response I might have to a worship service is likely to elicit inquiries as to my health. My friend comes from a Pentecostal background and is in search of something a bit more organized, traditional and enduring. We both thought the church and service were just perfect.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In the 8 to 9 range.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It wasn't your typical three-point sermon. Brother Nash, a visiting minister from Louisiana, started with the Gospel reading (John 9:1-4) and went where the Spirit led him. Basically, he spoke about the transforming power of Jesus, which heals, regulates, and stirs us up with an urgency to be about God's business.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A feeling of being lovingly enveloped in that congregation.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Dropping the Mystery Worship calling card in the offering basket. My friend and I were the only white people in attendance. It felt a bit obvious.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
An usher invited us to Sunday school. Another woman warmly welcomed us and invited us to come again.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There didn't seem to be any. The ushers began setting up for the next service.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not only that, but both my friend and I are determined to find a similar church in our neighborhood.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Hats! Everyone was so well turned-out and handsome. I was glad I had taken a few extra moments that morning to make myself presentable, and that I hadn't decided to wear blue jeans!