|506: Spring Hill Presbyterian, Mobile, Alabama|
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Mystery Worshipper: Fidelis.
The church: Spring Hill Presbyterian, Westminster Way, Mobile, Alabama (in the western suburbs of Mobile).
Denomination: Presbyterian Church of the USA.
The building: Spring Hill Church is a Georgian, red brick building with white columns and a tall spire. The interior is light-filled and stately, with tall windows, plantation shutters, brass chandeliers and a wooden altar framed by Corinthian half pilasters. One's eye is drawn to a large brass cross floating above the altar. Tall brass candlesticks and a vibrant arrangement of red roses graced the altar.
The church: The church has a vision statement: "In grateful response to God's grace, we seek growth in Christ through worship, study, service, stewardship, fellowship and witness."
The neighbourhood: The church is located in a pleasant residential area of Mobile near the Country Club on Westminster Way.
The cast: Dr Norman H. McCrummen III, senior pastor; Rev. Chandler M. Willis, associate pastor; Seung Min Oh, organist.
What was the name of the service?
Fifth Sunday in Lent.
How full was the building?
The sanctuary, including the balcony, were full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A pretty young girl welcomed us outside the door and an usher inside, recognizing us as visitors, introduced himself and handed us bulletins.
Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden pew and olive green cushion were quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very noisy and chatty until the prelude began, then suddenly silence and music, and a call to worship by the Senior Pastor, Dr Norman McCrummen.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"As we prepare our hearts for worship, let us read together from the 15th chapter of Romans beginning with the 7th verse."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Presbyterian Hymnal, 1990; Bible, RSV; bulletin with the order of worship; children's bulletin.
What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ and piano.
Did anything distract you?
The pre-service chatter was unexpected, but was followed soon enough by reverential music and prayer.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This service was one of the finest examples of blended worship I have seen, including traditional hymns, classical music and contemporary songs, a collect from the Book of Common Order (Church of Scotland), a call to worship by St Patrick of Ireland, recognizable phrases from the Book of Common Prayer, readings by members of the congregation from the Old and New Testaments, and extemporaneous intercessory prayers. The music included, "Dona Pacem," by the children's choir, the contemporary "Somebody's Knocking," by the youth choir, an offertory from Handel's Messiah, "Amazing Grace" and Karen Lafferty's "Seek Ye First." A procession with a cross and the choirs added an Anglican touch to a Presbyterian service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 Dr McCrummen is one of the great preachers and Bible teachers of the South today. His style is earnest, closely thematic and eloquent. His sermon was well grounded in the scriptures, clear in its message and passionately but gracefully delivered.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Dr McCrummen preached on the existence and meaning of suffering. The texts were Malachi 3:1-3 and Romans 8:14-37. He began with the person and work of Christ. Jesus pleaded with his Father not to go to the cross, yet he went to Calvary out of obedience and for the sake of the world. God is present in human suffering. Nothing can separate us from the love of God; nevertheless, as stated in Malachi, we are subject to the refiner's fire which we wish to avoid but cannot. God's grace is in the fire as we become purified by God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Dr McCrummen tenderly held and baptized a baby, extemporaneously praying. The congregation sang, "Jesus Loves Me" for the baby as she appeared to listen intently.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing was that bad. A tad chatty as we walked in.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several members of the congregation introduced themselves and invited us to come back to worship.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We did not stay for coffee, anxious as we were to beat the Baptists to the nearest buffet line.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 If we lived in the area we would definitely consider joining Spring Hill as the preaching and music are wonderful.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. This appears to be a warm and caring faith community.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The powerful preaching of the word of God, the touching baptism, and the Spirit-filled singing of "Amazing Grace."