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572: Gulf Beach Presbyterian, Panama City Beach, Florida
Other reports | Comment on this report
Gulf Beach Presbyterian Church, Panama City Beach, Florida
Mystery Worshipper: The Holy Fool.
The church: Gulf Beach Presbyterian, Panama City Beach, Florida.
Denomination: USA Presbyterian.
The building: This is my first visit to a pink church, and all in all, it looked very Floridian. The sanctuary is connected (at a right angle) to the fellowship hall, with pews in both. This makes a slightly odd arrangement as a quarter of the congregation is sitting out of view from the rest of the congregation. There is a very interesting piece of artwork hanging on one wall (copper plating and some sort of ink drawing) depicting the face of Christ. I sat near this and enjoyed contemplating it during some of the meditative times of the service. In the fellowship hall section there were some nice banners (Joseph's coat of many colors and the burning bush). Also in the fellowship hall was a sofa with a throw on it depicting Nelson Mandela. The pastor mentioned "our South African friends" during the sermon, so I suppose the church has some connection with South Africa.
The church: The church seemed a very nice mixture of older, retired folk (not unexpected for Florida) and younger families. There were probably 80 people present. During the children's sermon, 12 children came forward – not a bad percentage considering my initial perception that this might be an senior citizen church. They obviously like their pink motif as it appears in the worship bulletin and they proudly announced that they had pink business cards for members to give to friends.
The neighbourhood: The neighborhood is all businesses servicing the tourist industry: hotels, restaurants, etc. I doubt anyone can walk to this church from home. In spite of this, there didn't seem to be many visitors there that morning. Most people seemed to know each other.
The cast: The worship leader was the pastor, Dr. Ken Churchill. Apart from one man who made an announcement about the new pink business cards no one else spoke "from the pulpit." A number of people spoke from the pew offering their concerns and celebrations.
What was the name of the service?
The worship celebration

How full was the building?
About two-thirds full

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Ushers at the door warmly greeted me. I sat down and looked around and got a huge welcoming smile from a 30-something woman. The exchange of peace was rather informal and not limited to liturgical language. Most folk said, "Glad you're here" or "How are you doing today?

Was your pew comfortable?
Padded and quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The organ played as people caught up with all the latest news. While not particularly reverential, it did display a community of faith.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Bible (pew version was RSV, the pastor read from a very modern sounding version); the Presbyterian USA hymnal; the Upper Room hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Mostly organ and piano both played (at different times of course) by Mrs Norma Davison. During communion Mrs Davison played piano with a violinist. They played "I surrender all" which really resonated within me. Her piano solo during communion was also very beautiful.

Did anything distract you?
My biggest distraction wasn't the church's fault. I arrived only a couple of minutes before the service started and already needed to make a visit to the bathroom. By the end of the service I was in agony! A very minor distraction was the when I saw the choir passing a bowl down the row during communion. They had already received the bread and wine (both were brought to the congregants, rather than the congregants going forward to receive them. The wine was served in little individual plastic communion cups.). I wondered what they were getting out of the bowl: breath mints? Then I realized they were putting the little plastic cups in there. Apparently the choir loft isn't equipped with the little holders for these.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was basically a mainline liturgical service. It certainly wasn't "happy clappy", but neither was it stiff. The choir struggled through "Lift high the cross" but the congregation did a pretty good job of singing the Doxology, "What wondrous Love is this?", and "I love to tell the story".

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Dr. C (as the worship guide once refered to him) preached both a children's sermon (not included in the time question above) and a regular sermon. He did not use the pulpit for either, but stood in front of the congregation – I liked that.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Children's sermon: "Who do you belong to?" I mention this because he asked the children to whom they belonged. They answered, "Mom, dad, uncle so-and-so..." That tickled me a little bit because in my experience most children in the U.S. Southern USA know that the answer to every children's sermon question is "Jesus!"

"Regular" sermon: His sermon was a single illustration told in first person of a South African seminary student whose professor gave the whole class a grade of A in order to demonstrate to them God's grace. God gives us all A's, Dr. C. told us. Although it was a nice illustration, it didn't have much depth and certainly didn't explore the profundities of the scripture lesson that day (Romans 3:19-26). In some ways he contradicted that passage when he asked, "What grade would you get on your own merits? Some of us would get A's, others B's...." The passage told us "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." That seems to mitigate against any of us getting A's by our own strength. In his defense, he did a good job of connecting both with the children (often calling them by name) and the congregation.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Most special was the 30-something young man who stood during the portion of the service for shared concerns and celebrations. He said that he had built a couple of literature racks for the church out of 400 year old Florida Cyprus. He was presenting them to the church that day because it was the one year anniversary of his membership there. What made this so special was that he didn't seem to fit the demographic profile of the rest of the church. He seemed more blue collar (in both dress and speech) than the rest of the church. He obviously felt very accepted by the church and was quite thankful for the yearlong association he had with the church. One lady shared the supplemental hymnal with me and hugged me after we sang telling me I ought to join their choir – that certainly felt communal and not at all forced.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
My extreme discomfort due to needing a restroom. That might be a useful illustration of the other place for preachers.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people spoke to me. Once they discovered I was a tourist on vacation, they lost interest pretty quick. I suspect that if I lived in the area, they would have been much more inviting.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a coffee and fellowship time afterward, but it seemed to be patronized almost exclusively by children.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

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 man who gave the literature racks to the church.

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