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534: First Baptist/United Church of Christ, Bloomington, Indiana
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First Baptist Church/United Church of Christ, Bloomington, Indiana
Mystery Worshipper: Auntie Kate.
The church: First Baptist/United Church of Christ, Bloomington, Indiana.
Denomination: This is a combined congregation, affiliated with both the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ.
The building: Predominantly wooden structure. Good-sized worship space, with many classrooms and a library. Has ramps retrofitted into the building (one of which is a little steep). Several people with wheelchairs were in the building, as were others with walkers or canes. There were also several sets (maybe 8 or 10) of assisted hearing devices available on request. No stained glass, but a very beautiful series of 13 banners in the nave/auditorium space.
The church: From their brochure: "Organized in 1825, the First Baptist Church of Bloomington moved to this building in 1957. In 1967, when a small UCC congregation began worshipping in the chapel, the Sunday Schools were merged. On Palm Sunday of 1973, the two churches joined to become one congregation, now affiliated with both the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ."
The neighbourhood: This church is surrounded by other churches – Evangelical Community Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Catholic, and the regional headquarters of the United Methodist Church office building. They are (almost literally) a stone's throw from the Indiana University campus; north is a residential area and east is the biggest shopping area in town.
The cast: Rev. J. Thomason, Senior Minister, did the sermon; Deborah McCray, Minister of Christian Education and Youth read the Old Testament scripture. Alison Bates was the soprano soloist.
What was the name of the service?
Easter Sunday Worship (No communion).

How full was the building?
About 2/3 full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several people (maybe as many as 20) came up and said hello or "Happy Easter," but only two asked my name.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not really – long wooden pews, too close together. A limited number of cushions were available on request from the ushers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty. Very chatty.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Lord is risen: He is risen indeed." The entire formula was said by the presiding minister, rather than being done as a litany or proclamation/response.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
RSV translation Bibles were available but not used. Interesting song book: The New Century Hymnal, 1995. Each hymn in the book is accompanied by a verse of scripture that it was based on or somehow applies to, plus a little history of how the hymn came to be written. It was fun to read those little notes at the bottom of each page.

What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ and baby grand piano. Excellent, and I mean excellent, choir. Bloomington church music is almost always great. So many in the churches are students or faculty of the Indiana University School of Music, one of the top music schools in the world.

Did anything distract you?
There was some sort of unidentified rattling noise that seemed to be coming from the choir balcony at the back of the nave, but I didn't turn to try to find out what it was. This occurred during the sermon.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Somewhat on the casual side. The congregation did a wonderful bit of singing – very good for people in the pews, and they were probably helped by the choir in the rear balcony. No candles were lit, and there was no procession of any kind. The "time for greeting one another" was a cacophony. Although I was "Good Morning!"-ed a lot, no one asked my name – but people wandered about for a full four minutes chatting with friends, arranging lunch dates, asking about one another's relatives. The assistant minister called everyone to order for the next hymn, or there's no telling how long this would have continued. A real break in my concentration.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
19 minutes, 12 seconds.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The sermon was well-written and well-organized. Notes were used. The minister's theatrical gestures were a bit distracting: upraised arms, arms extended forward, arms brought up to his chest.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Sermon title: "A Familiar Voice." He wove together images of darkness, light, and hearing the voice that is familiar and reassuring, to lead one home. We are to listen for Jesus to speak your name, as he spoke Mary Magdalene's name. "The journey to Easter begins in darkness, but moves us into the light." Also, "The story of salvation is not transmitted by doctrine, creed or grand theology, but person to person the story of salvation is told."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The fervent singing and reciting of the Lord's Prayer. This congregation seems to be a very committed, believing bunch. It was touching that a church that has declined in membership and sold a part of their property to make ends meet, was willing to give away all of today's offering to another charity, "One Great Hour of Sharing", which deals with hunger and refugee needs. That suggests a strong faith in the providence of the Lord.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The cacophony of the "time for greeting one another." If there had been coffee cups, this time during the service would have been indistinguishable from the after-service hubbub. It felt terribly out of place, and really caused me some problems in getting centered for worship again.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Again, lots and lots of "hellos", but it took four minutes of standing near the doorway before a 40-year member took the initiative to come to me and ask my name and introduce herself, her husband, and later, the assistant minister.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee, tea, and a very nice fruity punch were served in disposable cups. There was also a variety of donuts, little cakes, cheese cubes, and some fresh fruit.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Not my denomination. But this congregation does seem to walk in faith. They had a lot going on for the few children and youth that they seemed to have. Lots of service projects and adult education in evidence as well. If there were no church of my denomination in town, I would strongly consider it.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. These people very obviously believed and put their faith in action. But they could have been a bit more hospitable.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
At the start of the service, when the choir had to get from the choir rehearsal room to the balcony at the back of the church, there was a hidden stairway, then a bridge that traversed the length of the auditorium along the west wall. I have never seen anything like it!
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