|169: The Moody Church, Chicago|
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Mystery Worshipper: Shy Town.
The church: The Moody Church, Chicago.
The building: When driving by, you'd have to look very carefully to note that the clerestory windows are stained-glass with a slightly Romanesque cast. Otherwise, the building is a brown-brick, wholly utilitarian-looking place. It could be a National Guard armory or an old-style civic amphitheater. Thanks to the engaging quirkiness of Chicago zoning laws, the church is cheek-by-jowl to a Shell station. The church was founded by D.L. Moody, the 19th-century evangelist.
The neighbourhood: The church is located at the confluence of three distinct neighborhoods: Gold Coast on the edge of downtown, where the rich and powerful have their town houses and co-ops; Lincoln Park, home to the bourgeoisie; and Old Town, a mix of shops, stores, ages and incomes. A lot of people walk to the church, but clearly most don't: the church has six satellite parking lots.
The cast: The minister is Dr Erwin W. Lutzer, LLD. The announcements were given by Rev Roy Schwarcz, whose bailiwick is evangelism (the church staff includes 20 ordained ministers in specialized fields such as "urban outreach" and "visitation").
What was the name of the service?
10.30am worship service. Theme: "Riches of His Glorious Grace".
How full was the building?
The sanctuary holds 3,800. The main floor was all but full, and the balconies maybe a third full. I'd say 80 percent occupancy overall.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I slipped in during the reading of the announcements and asked the uniformed usherette who gave me a bulletin if it was OK to go upstairs. She said, "Surely, just avoid the roped-off areas."
Was your pew comfortable?
They weren't pews, they were theater-style seats with no padding. Moderately comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Can't say, but there was some flutter as my fellow latecomers came in behind me. I have no right to complain, though.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Sorry, I wasn't there for that.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
About a third of the people brought Bibles and they were the most assiduous note-takers. The pew racks contained The Word Hymnal, a very successful, privately marketed hymnal and exactly what I would expect to find in a moderate or conservative non-denominational church.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and synth.
Did anything distract you?
As the announcements were mostly in-house administrative matters, I focused instead on the sanctuary's detailing. Fascinating. The chancel is transverse and framed by a huge marble proscenium arch. There is no lectern and the pulpit is right in the middle of the thrust stage or dais. The balconies wrap around the sanctuary horseshoe-style and taper off into zig-zag staircases that lead onto the dais. In other words, everything possible has been done to draw the eye to the pulpit.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Respectful, no whiny kids, no Stepford wives, no cult of personality. The order of worship was even more of a "sandwich" of music and message than the Methodist sermon-centered services I remember as a boy. I was surprised there was only one Bible reading, and that one was an epistle, not Gospel. The hymns were traditional the congregational responses were sung and post-1975 in content, which seemed a pretty good compromise to me. The service lasted just over 1:20 and I was surprised it had taken that long. As I am a clock-watcher, that is a compliment.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Roughly 25 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8. I would have given it a "7" but it was nearly noteless and I admire that. He pulled off an intelligent multi-point sermon without condescending to the listeners, yet left enough transitional "markers" so we wouldn't get lost.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was a sermon I've heard several times before in my life. That giving doesn't hurt as much as we think it will, and that it will be repaid many times over both spiritually and materially. The one and only Bible reading was 2 Corinthians 8 (the Macedonian churches giving money in spite of their poverty. Dr Lutzer was quite frank that this wasn't the stewardship sermon, but merely a prelude to a massive fundraising campaign the church intends to undertake, that will entail buying and condemning a small business block adjacent to the church and erecting a multi-million-dollar Christian education and youth center in its place.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Actually, the part I liked best was seeing my fellow Chicagoans of all races and ages represented in pretty much real-world proportions among the congregation. Would that the 99.9 per cent lily-white "name-brand" downtown churches like the Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans could achieve the same mix. They do go on and on about diversity but don't seem to achieve it.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
My growing irritation about 10 minutes into the sermon when I realized that I'd been had. I came to the church for a session of worship and praise but wound up immersed in a Total Design Concept being sold a stewardship campaign that meant nothing to me. And not even a campaign, but just advance notice of a campaign!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had been advised by the parking attendant prior to service that it was a good idea to get my parking ticket validated right after church (to not do so would mean shelling out $8 to park in a private garage instead of getting it for free). The church lobby after service was a madhouse of special interest tables, folks standing in line like me for parking validations, and people who just had general-information questions for the information wicket. And, of course, people shaking the pastor's hand on the way out. The atmosphere was impersonal, but cheerful, kind of like break-time at a convention.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
If they had any refreshments, I wasn't made aware of it.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4. They're good people and do good work, but I'm not really the NIV Bible-carrying type. And I'm pretty sure I would find myself falling from grace if forced to sit thru too many more stewardship sermons, no matter how well crafted.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, in spite of the somewhat mercenary feel of the theme.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The comfortable mixing of ages and races, which, outside of sporting events and election day, happens all too seldom in the Windy City.