|193: First St Paul's Evangelical Lutheran, Chicago|
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Mystery Worshipper: Shy Town.
The church: First St Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Chicago, USA.
Denomination: Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.
The building: The outside has a plain curved brick 1960s façade. Inside, modernist space is put to good use with checkered brick wall, altar and pulpit in tension with one another simple, stark and beautiful. According to the bulletin, First St Paul's is the oldest Lutheran congregation in Chicago.
The neighbourhood: The church is on the campus of Sandburg Village, a housing development from the sixties that opened up the area to middle- and upper-middle income inhabitants. Apartments and high-rises dominate the area.
The cast: Rev. Delayne H. Pauling, Senior Pastor, and Rev. H. David Brummer, Associate Pastor.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
110 per cent of capacity there were people sitting on the brick ledge behind me!
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was quickly ushered into the last row as the announcements had already begun. My pewmate showed me which prayer book to use.
Was your pew comfortable?
Modern and quite comfortable. The kneeler was well padded.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I can't say, but the congregation was well behaved and babies that showed tendencies toward crankiness were quickly taken out.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Lutheran Hymnal, which the church refers to as "the red book". The church alternates this with the prayerbook/hymnal from the other large Lutheran denomination, which they call "the green book". They also alternate between communion services and plain worship services. If I understand their schedule correctly, one can go to church for a month and not encounter the same format twice.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
There weren't any distractions.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Everyone seemed well behaved and attentive. Well-dressed formal, but not "stiff".
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7. A tad academic, but easy to follow.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Lent isn't just a time of discipline, but a time to assess ourselves in terms of God's creation.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It sounds strange, but the placement of the altar and pulpit were so simple and so perfect they seemed almost otherworldly.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My pewmate thanked me for worshipping there. She could tell I was not a member.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
They had coffee available, but as it was melded in with the activities table, I avoided it.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4. Although very close to downtown Chicago, this is still a neighborhood church. I liked the fact that any baptized Christian can take communion at First St Paul's, which is a surprisingly liberal policy for a Missouri Synod church. I do not think I would like to be part of the Missouri Synod, though.
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 spare beauty of the chancel.