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626: First Baptist, Collinsville, Illinois, USA
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First Baptist Church, Collinsville, Illinois
Mystery Worshipper: Recovering Fundamentalist.
The church: First Baptist Church, Collinsville, Illinois, USA.
Denomination: Conservative Baptist.
The building: The building consists of a two-storey sanctuary, with a one-storey wing, as well as an adjacent detached building. It is built out of light brick in a rectangular style with a flat roof that was probably considered modern in the 1960s (in other words, Protestant warehouse). A large cross spans the height of the building. Inside, the sanctuary includes a balcony in the back over a library. At the front of the sanctuary is a light brown wooden cross which matches the pews, flanked by two wreaths in fall colors.
The church: The church has gone through some rough times recently with the addition of a contemporary service that meets at the same time as the traditional service, but in the adjacent building. The contemporary service, although supported financially by the church, prefers to consider itself autonomous. On the upside, the church recently added a 24-year-old worship leader, who exhibits a lot of enthusiasm and promise.
The neighbourhood: Collinsville is a northeast suburb of St Louis, Missouri, and is considered one of the fastest growing communities in the St Louis metropolitan area, due to its rural appeal. The church sits in an older (1950s or earlier) neighborhood. A gas station/porn shop sits on the corner which church members are encouraged to avoid.
The cast: Robert Haslam, senior pastor; Brice LaBlanc, the new worship leader/music pastor; Ron Hill, visitation pastor, and an 18-voice choir (with only three men). The cast included a host of trustees who helped serve communion.
What was the name of the service?
Morning worship.

How full was the building?
Probably only 125 in a sanctuary that holds 400 or so. An untimely rain may have held back some of the less hardy souls, and an additional 40 to 50 attend the contemporary service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The man who handed me the bulletin greeted me, and several people in the sanctuary introduced themselves during the dreaded "greet the person next to you" time.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was as comfortable as most church seating, with about a one and a half inch pad on the seat.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The organ played softly while people stood around and chatted. As the time of the service drew near, the organ grew louder, as did the chatting. There was apparently some anxiety and accompanying gossip during this time because the local newspaper had that morning published the salaries of all the public school teachers (who were preparing to go on strike), shocking those who had thought teachers were underpaid, and embarrassing the teachers in attendance, since the church treasurer now knew what they were capable of giving. By the time the service began only about 40 people were actually seated. I didn't see any children or teenagers in the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning; isn't that a great program?" by the senior pastor, after the showing of a short film by Samaritans Purse about preparing Christmas boxes for the upcoming season.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
"The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration." Most people brought their own bibles. I think the pastor used the NIV, but I'm not sure.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano and organ.

Did anything distract you?
Always distracting, of course, is the applause after the special music, although I think the worship leader is trying to discourage this. Finally, the church used PowerPoint, which was helpful at times (during pre-service announcements, etc.), but was basically redundant during the service, because it was obvious to most people with a normal attention span what was going on.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Neither, but it was quite traditional with hymns, scripture reading and pastoral prayer. This was communion Sunday and most of the hymns were from the 19th century and geared toward the cross. There was a lot of music and one or two of the numbers were probably as recent as the 1950s or 60s.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
22 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The senior pastor preached from the text of the scripture reading, Psalm 11, in a soothing, non-dramatic tone of voice – nothing preachy, but overall encouraging, warm, and offering hope.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We are all susceptible to certain types of fears – fear of disaster, loss of control, loss of faith, and so forth. Psalm 11 was written when David was in the court, subject to Saul's jealousy and rage. Everything was falling apart and he felt totally vulnerable, but he was determined to face his fear and rely on God's sovereign care. We will always wrestle with why people suffer, but God is still on the throne and will bring about justice in his own way. In the meantime, he is refining us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Immediately after the welcome, the worship leader had us pause for a time of reflection and confession, during which the pianist played a thoughtful version of Holy, Holy, Holy, or something along that order. The quiet time helped get our minds centered on why we were there, to meet with God.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The "greet your neighbor" time was held between the third and fourth verses of the first hymn. Under some circumstances this would probably be appropriate, but the hymn in question was "Alas and did my savior bleed and did my sovereign die," and the flow of the hymn (as well as the mood of the worship) was interrupted. One doesn't often think of pausing for hugs, handshakes and laughter between the death and burial.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Before the end of the service we were reminded that the worship pastor would be in the back of the sanctuary at the guest center and visitors were encouraged to stop by and say hello, which I did. No one else spoke to me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no after-service beverage, but as I walked toward the back of the sanctuary, I thought I saw one of the church leaders pour something out of a thermos bottle for himself.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I lived in the area, I would feel very comfortable making this church my home. There's always a 1 in 10 chance that I would find something I liked better.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Glad and grateful.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Probably the brouhaha over teachers' salaries.
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