|580: Myers Park Baptist, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Joe Baptist.
The church: Myers Park Baptist, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.
Denomination: American Baptist Churches in the USA.
The building: A beautiful Williamsburg Colonial building, quite unlike any other Baptist church I've ever been in. It is a Baptist cathedral, complete with altar and a divided chancel. One unique feature of this church is that the baptistry is not in the sanctuary, but is in the chapel.
The church: This is not your ordinary Baptist church, especially a Baptist church in the south eastern United States. The church dropped their affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention several years ago because of the direction the SBC was taking. This is a progressive congregation, one that strives to make all feel welcome and one that stresses the love of God and Jesus Christ.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in the historic, old-money section of Charlotte (Myers Park), right across the street from Queens College.
The cast: The Rev. Dr. H Steven Shoemaker, senior pastor; The Rev. Robin P Coira, executive minister; Mr. Paul E. Oakley, minister of music; Mrs. Frances L Morrison, associate minister of music; The Myers Park Summer Singers; Dr. Michael Lehtinen, guest accompanist.
What was the name of the service?
The Worship of God, second Sunday after Pentecost.
How full was the building?
The sanctuary seats approximately 1200 people. Today it was about two-thirds full. In the past when I have visited, it was packed to capacity. This being the first Sunday of June, most people with families were already on summer vacation.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived just following the opening hymn, not knowing that for the summer, the service was at 10.00am not the usual 11.00am. I snuck in the side door to the narthex, but was greeted by a very friendly usher who welcomed me, handed me an order of service bulletin and directed me to some vacant seats in the upstairs balcony.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews are comfortable enough, not the typical baptist pews that are padded on the front and back side. The balcony pews here are beautifully carved walnut with burgundy velvet pads. On the main floor, the pews are in typical colonial style, being pew boxes, complete with doors.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I am not sure how today's atmosphere was, being that I arrived just after the opening hymn, but on previous visits to the church, there is hushed anticipation and quiet chit-chat, until the organist and senior pastor come into the chancel, and all noise stops once the opening voluntary is played.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
I'm not sure, since I missed this in being late.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Scripture readings for the day are printed in the bulletin. The hymnal the church uses is "The Myers Park Baptist Church Hymnal" a book that they compiled and printed themselves. It is a unique hymnal, quite fitting for this unique church. Overall, it contains most of the traditional protestant favorites, with additions by modern day hymn writers like Brian Wren, et. al.
What musical instruments were played?
The church's Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ and a grand piano (not played together like most baptist churches).
Did anything distract you?
The biggest distraction is the wooden covering over the pulpit. I kept thinking that it was going to drop from the wrought iron chain suspending it over the pulpit. I know that in old churches this was a necessity to aid in the projection of the preacher's voice, but in modern days with PA systems, it's purely for decoration. I guess it could also be used to snuff out a dull preacher.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship here is very high church. I think that it is higher than most of the Episcopal churches in this area. The only thing that would have made it higher is if they had a thurible billowing clouds of incense.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 While the service was very high church, the sermon was very relaxed with a good use of humor.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"The Spirit in Worship: Tongues, Amens, and Clapping." Based on texts from I Corinthians, the pastor talked about being expressive in worship when it is appropriate, how it is appropriate, and why it is appropriate.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing of "When in Our Music God is Glorified." This is one of my favorite hymns and Paul Oakley led it very creatively from the organ. We sang a new text to the tune "Aberysthwyth" accompanied by the piano and it made me think of the lush rolling pastures in the country. It just flowed beautifully, which was a great analogy to the Holy Spirit text of the hymn.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The guest accompanist's improvisation following the choir anthem building up to the singing of the Doxology. It was just plain ugly a sonic nightmare. It sounded like he was playing in tongues.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
During the closing voluntary, I raced downstairs to see some friends who sing in the choir. They took me over to the church fellowship hall for the Summer Adult Sermon Talkback. During the summer, the 11.00am hour features a time of dialogue between the congregation and the ministers regarding the sermons. It's a great time for non-judgemental expression of what one thinks about the sermon topics.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
They had lemonade and iced tea, but I didn't have any.
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?
Overall, yes it did. The enthusiastic singing and the friendliness of the congregation made it a great worship experience.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Being afraid the pulpit canopy was going to squash the minister while he spoke.