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636: Faith United, State College, Ridgway, Pennsylvania, USA
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Faith United, State College, PA, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Barnabas.
The church: Faith United Church of Christ, State College, Ridgway, Pennsylvania, USA.
Denomination: United Church of Christ (UCC).
The building: The church is built in the classic English gothic style. It has a stone facade with some ornate carvings and scrollwork and the inside is mostly whitewashed plaster with some stonework and exposed wood beams. There is a small gallery on either side of the nave and an abbreviated chancel. The chancel features some beautiful woodwork with a high altar against the wall below a gorgeous stained glass window. The architecture gives the general impression of an English country parish.
The church: Faith UCC has the reputation of being the "inclusive" church in the State College area. The congregation is as diverse as it gets in central Pennsylvania, with a good mix of ages, mostly white but with some racial diversity. All in all, an interesting mix of background and lifestyle.
The neighbourhood: The church is located directly across the street from the Pennsylvania State University, an approximately 40,000-student university and the largest learning and research institution in the state. The church is in the small downtown area surrounded by gift shops, restaurants, and the obligatory college bars.
The cast: The Rev. Mary Ruth Smith, preacher; Virginia Schiefelbein, liturgist; Koya Ohmoto, pianist.
What was the name of the service?
Worship (Fourth Sunday after Pentecost).

How full was the building?
The building was about half full, and I got the impression that some key players were missing. Rev. Ann Graves, who is the pastor, and others were representing the congregation at the annual conference meeting for the weekend. The guest preacher was an ordained Presbyterian from the neighboring town of Altoona who has a counselling ministry in the area.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Definitely. As soon as I entered the building two greeters were stationed at the doors and gave me a very warm "hello and welcome." Two ushers were stationed just outside the nave to hand me a bulletin and I got another warm welcome from them. When I sat down several people in the pews around me made a point to say hello as well.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was your typical pew – not good enough to bed down in for the night, but not torturous to sit in either.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The service was to begin at 9:30 and I arrived at about 9:17. Not many people had come in yet and those who were in their pews were chatting amiably with each other. It did, however, make listening to the prelude a bit difficult.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to this service of worship."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The only book we used during the service was the New Century Hymnal but the RSV version of the Bible was in the pew rack as well.

What musical instruments were played?
All the music was from the baby grand piano in the front of the nave, but there was an organ as well.

Did anything distract you?
They are in the process of making some major renovations which include parts of the chancel area. Their attempt to hide the construction in the chancel was to drape the whole thing in red curtains and it created the effect of a giant red velvet cube behind the pulpit. It was a bit distracting and I couldn't help but be reminded of a changing tent at the beach.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The style of the worship was basically mainstream liberal Protestant. The piano instrumentals were by composers like Mozart and Brahms, and the hymns were mostly inclusive-language. There was a call to worship adapted from Psalm 84 followed by a corporate confession that used themes of discipleship and recognizing Christ in those around us. As soon as the confession was over, we sang two verses of "Amazing Grace" and then shared the peace. Everyone around me was eager to share the peace and was very warm in doing it.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Just about 12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The preacher had a very soothing voice and she used it well. There wasn't really any humor, but it was delivered in a clear, effective style.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The theme of the sermon, as well as the theme of the whole worship experience, was hospitality. Hospitality is not just good things we do for other people, it is an essential part of living the Christian life. It was an understated yet very powerful message.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The warm hospitality from the congregation and its echo in the hospitality theme in the sermon.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was a point in the service where a hymn began and the bulletin clearly said, "The people may stand," so I stood. The rest of the people didn't. So I sat down again feeling very conspicuous only to have the congregation stand up at once and sing!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As soon as the postlude finished, an elderly couple introduced themselves to me and began to make conversation. Everyone seemed genuinely glad to have me there and made a point of inviting me to come again.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was the standard boxed cookies and juice in paper cups. This took place in the nave due to the renovations in the rest of the building.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – The whole congregation really seemed to practice what they preach about being welcoming and hospitable, and I felt very much at home despite my preference for a bit more liturgy.

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 great welcome and smiling faces.
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