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340: Lincoln Park Presbyterian, Chicago
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Lincoln Park Presbyterian, Chicago
Mystery Worshipper: Shy Town.
The church: Lincoln Park Presbyterian, 600 W. Fullerton Parkway, Chicago.
Denomination: Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA).
The building: In the church's own words, from the order of worship: "The present building was erected in 1888 using Michigan buff sandstone and contains red oak pews, unusual stained glass and a historic Johnson & Sons tracker organ."
The church: "This congregation is a More Light Church which means that all Christians are welcomed to full participation and membership regardless of sex, age, race, ethnic background, disability, marital status, sexual orientation or worldly condition." There were indeed a number of nonwhites in attendance, although no African Americans. The big Presbyterian church downtown is not More Light and is not likely to be anytime soon; homosexuality is almost always the sticking point.
The neighbourhood: To the East, a mix of gorgeous prewar and postwar high-rise cooperative apartments overlooking Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan; on the other side, enormously expensive redbricks and greystones. This area is a consumer's delight and offers anything one could want, except a place to park on-street. The church, quite sensibly, has arranged a sweetheart deal with a nearby car park.
The cast: Rev. Dr Jeffrey Doane, preaching and presiding; Elder Steve Crow, liturgist; Elder Gerry Parker, lector.
What was the name of the service?
The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, 10.00am service.

How full was the building?
About 85 congregants in a sanctuary that could hold 300. The rear half of the nave had been roped off so that we had to sit in reasonable proximity to each other.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I got in at the very last moment. A kind lady smiled, handed me the order of worship and said, "There's a great spot for you halfway down on the middle right."

Was your pew comfortable?
Average curved wood pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I didn't catch much of the pre-service atmosphere, but dress leaned toward the casual. Three of the roughly 30 males there wore neckties.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good Morning on behalf of Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
NRSV Bible. The Presbyterian Hymnal. Plus "Everflowing Streams," a softbound supplementary hymnal, which was more folksy than the denominational one.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and piano with a solo accompanied by tape-recording.

Did anything distract you?
I would guess the median at this service was just shy of 50 years of age, which isn't bad for a mainstream Protestant denomination. I also noticed that of the under-50 age cohort, close to a third consisted of same-sex couples. That wasn't really distracting, but it was sociologically interesting, as was the fact that females in attendance outnumbered males by almost two to one.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The people were relaxed. The liturgy had been well thought out, modernized but with good taste. If one took, say, the 1970 as the jumping-off place for a "standard" PCUSA worship service, this one was a recognizable Presbyterian service down to "debts" and "debtors" in the Lord's Prayer, but containing significant differences as to both content and format. In content, for example, the doxology was still sung to the tune of "Old 100th", but the line "Praise Him all creatures here below," became "Praise God, the Word in flesh born low." I didn't mind this, because other hymns and responses indicated that the liturgist wasn't out to ban terms like "Lord" or avoid all mention of Jesus as a male. Communion took place by intinction and was open to "all those who have found Christ in their hearts."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes, and it was called "meditation".

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – It wasn't straight syllogistic logic but an overlapping of similar themes. Nonetheless, it worked.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The power of genealogy. The importance of the Elijah/Elisha story. How Jesus is "our living spiritual presence".

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The nice mix of ages, races and sexualities. I can't say whether there was mixing of income or class, but if the church lives out its stated mission in this area, too, it is a rare bird. Also, the exterior and interior of the church harmonized and I felt it was a comfortable yet holy place to be.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Purgatory No. 1: After eucharist by intinction we remained standing in a circle to hear the announcements. I thought I had encountered mood-killers before but this one took the cake! Purgatory No. 2: Time was allotted in the order of worship for "A Silence." This couldn't have lasted more than 15 seconds. I can barely clear my throat, spiritually speaking, in that amount of time.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Three women introduced themselves to me and invited me to coffee and lemonade on the front lawn.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee in proper ceramic cup and saucer. Lemonade in adult-sized cups, for a change. A big glass-jar "kitty" for monetary contributions.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – It was appealing but not overwhelming. If I were Presbyterian or lived closer to the church, though, I would probably consider it seriously.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Probably the handsomeness of the church's exterior and the interior.
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