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314: St Luke's, Des Moines, Iowa, USA
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St Luke's, Des Moines, Iowa, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Abed-Nego.
The church: St Luke's, Des Moines, Iowa, USA.
Denomination: Episcopalian.
The building: An unexceptional modern building, very well groomed and surrounded by mature trees. Excellent parking.
The church: A cross-section of middle-class Iowans of all ages.
The neighbourhood: Sylvan suburbia near the campus of Drake University.
The cast: Rev. Fr. Robert Elfvin.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Prayer and Eucharist – though the only evidences of Morning Prayer were the suffrages and a "second lesson" instead of the Gospel (very odd).

How full was the building?
Reasonably full – about 100 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Since my companion and I parked in the lot at the back of the church, we entered through a rear door – clearly marked – and found ourselves floating in a sea of surpliced choristers. One of them welcomed us and pointed us to the nave.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was fine, except that those who kneel are required to have very short legs! Heels collide with the tip-up type kneeler of the row behind. However, this blight was lifted the moment the person behind used their kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Virtually everyone arrived at the last second. Presumably there was some social gathering place I did not know about.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Jesus said, 'there is no love greater than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer 1979, Hymnal 1982.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ. Each hymn was preceded by a melody-only introduction from the organ.

Did anything distract you?
The man who entered before the service and greeted his friends in the front pew. His loud – though inoffensive – conversation was clearly audible to all. Another distraction was the tubular bell that "donged" alarmingly at the moment of the elevation of the blessed sacrament. The sacrament, however, was not elevated.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was as if formal Anglicanism had been confronted by informal Protestantism. Fr. Elfvin led a traditional, if wildly inconsistent, liturgy – out of which he burst forth with some highly "hail fellow" notices, and a sermon that was most uncharacteristic of the setting.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
23 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – The preacher wandered around, anxious to make direct eye contact with everyone. He delivered a free-flowing and seemingly unprepared address (well, not much preparation anyway). He laughed a lot at his own jokes. We didn't!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His subject was Christian unity. He informed us that unity was un-American and downright undemocratic. He painted a domestic waking-up scene in which his wife asked him what he wanted for dinner without first informing him what he could actually have! He concluded that unity would only come through prayer and not the will of the majority.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Not much, I'm afraid. Maybe the two candelabras on the high altar. The altar appeared to be laid out for the benediction of the blessed sacrament, which wasn't the case, of course.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the offertory, the sizeable choir sang "Into the sky, our Lord has gone". Unfortunately, pitch, rhythm and ensemble had gone in the same direction! It was painful...

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It took some time for anyone to spot us, but a nice, jolly chorister called Bob noticed us hanging around near the rear entrance – the one through which we had entered. Bob led us into coffee hour and introduced us to others.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I was pleased to drink a good cup of brewed "decaf" and enjoy a chocolate chip cookie.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I don't think I could take the dominance of this hearty priest on a weekly basis.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, because I was with fellow Christians celebrating holy eucharist.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The young lad who ran through the church at high speed, apparently unattended, on more than one occasion.
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