|723: University United Methodist, College Park, Maryland, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Lost on the Highway.
The church: University United Methodist, College Park, Maryland, USA.
Denomination: United Methodist.
The building: From the outside, the tall steeple is its most impressive attribute, but once you walk inside through the Sunday school wing and toward the sanctuary you notice that, despite the modern building, the design reflects a traditional cathedral structure. The sanctuary is very simple in its decor but impressive all the same for its commanding pillars to the side and the elegant windows far above well beyond the reach of a step ladder.
The church: The church is smack dab in the middle of one of the larger universities in the country, hence the name. This lends the church some diversity, but perhaps not as much as one would expect; it was mostly an older congregation, at least at this particular service.
The neighbourhood: It's just beyond a stone's throw from Byrd Stadium, home to the Maryland Terrapins football team and Cole Field House, the legendary former home to the Maryland Terrapins basketball teams.
The cast: Rev. Laura B. Easto; cross-bearer, Zenas Chang; acolytes, Katelyn Fosta and Nick Fosta; choir director John E. Wakefield.
What was the name of the service?
Fifth Sunday in Lent.
How full was the building?
Half full – or is it half empty?
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed by a woman in the parking lot who slowed her pace to greet me as I walked up, uncertain which of the three doors I should take. She also held the door open for me which I thought was a kind gesture.
Was your pew comfortable?
I didn't fall asleep and I didn't wake up with back pains the next morning.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was awfully quiet. Reminded me of a library, which reminded me of college, which... It was like the quiet before a storm, although as I walked in I did hear one gentleman rather loudly say, "I called and told him to send the money."
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"I welcome you in the name of our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Standard red Methodist hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ and during the offertory the smallest bell choir I've ever seen.
Did anything distract you?
Well, the first thing that attracted my attention was this outfit one of the bell choir members was wearing. Well, actually I noticed it before I discovered she was in the bell choir. It was rather colorful and almost tribal in design and the most distinguishable part of the getup were the large yellow bells mixed in with the design. She was in the bell choir all right, and she was loud and proud.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was... forgettable. Which can be a good thing.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon. Instead, we had to endure an Easter cantata, which for the most part was decent aside from the fact that the choir was in a balcony at the back of the church, impossible to see even if one's neck were made of rubber. Try situating yourself to look forward for 20 minutes as people behind you sing. Luckily, there was a cute girl within my diagonal line of vision that I was able to rotate glances toward.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A woman named Millicent sang a traditional spiritual called "Calvary" that was just breathtaking. And I don't know if it was so much her voice as it was the song.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Announcements. It's always the announcements that kill me.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Well, there were a few newspaper articles on a bulletin board I started reading and after that I started shuffling through different materials and a couple of older ladies said hello. Then I started pacing the hallway between the sanctuary and the room with all the goodies and decided it was high time I got some snacks.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The cup was way too small. It was like the size of those paper cups that your mom would make you drink water out of as a kid. You know, the ones that always leave a bad taste in your mouth no matter what is in them. I had a brownie that was half-decent, but the fact that no one attempted to strike up a conversation with me, even when I asked questions, kind of ruined the whole experience of standing in an overcrowded room bumping into people.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 I got a big rejection letter when I applied to the university for graduate school two years ago. Had I made it in I could see myself attending there a couple more times.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely. I left the church with a good feeling, even on one less hour of sleep.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sign out front. "A Bible in the hand is worth two in the bookcase."