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832: Old South Church, Boston, Massachesetts, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
Old South Church, Boston, Massachesetts, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Ralegh.
The church: Old South Church, Copley Square, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Denomination: United Church of Christ.
The building: Impressive stone church built in 1873 in "Ruskinian Gothic" style. Shades of colors are made by using different colored stones. There is a tall bell tower and a large, ornate central dome. The interior is filled with beautiful carved wood and large stained-glass windows.
The church: The church was formed in 1669 by dissenters from the First Church of Boston and was originally known as the Third Church in Boston. It was a Congregational church that was the only one in the city to remain trinitarian during the Unitarian movement in the early 19th century. It became a member of the United Church of Christ as a result of the merger of Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1957. Today the church is well attended with lots of activities and charitable works. It has made a point of reaching out to the local lesbian and gay communities.
The neighbourhood: The church is located on Copley Square in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. This is largely a commercial neighborhood with lots of banks, restaurants, and stores.
The cast: Carl F. Schultz, minister. Jennifer Mills-Knutsen, assistant minister. Guy Pealer, ministerial intern.
What was the name of the service?
11.00am Worship Service.

How full was the building?
I'd say from two-thirds to three-quarters full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A man held the front door open for me and said, "Good morning." A woman handed me a worship pamphlet as I entered the narthex and smiled.

Was your pew comfortable?
Ornately carved wooden benches with worn red cushions. Very pretty, but not especially comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pretty quiet. A little chatter as people made their way to the pews, but once seated, very quiet before and during the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Praise be to God!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version; the New Century Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
A pipe organ and a 13-person hand bell ensemble, ably conducted by Gregory Peterson, the organist.

Did anything distract you?
I was distracted by, of all things, the lack of response. I kept waiting for someone to say "Amen" at the end of each prayer, but the prayers were merely said by the minister and then the service moved on. In fact, the only time anyone in the pews spoke was at the Peace, and when directed by the service pamphlet. They did sing the hymns.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I'd have to say "stiff upper lip" due to the congregation's silence, and the formality of the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The preacher, Carl Schultz, was the best I've seen. He was well-organized, modulated his voice well, was clear, concise and humorous where appropriate. When he talked about how we should rely on Jesus' life and sayings and not try to reconcile our lives with every word in the Bible, I felt like standing and shouting "Amen!" but that would have been poor form at this church.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
There is a plaque frequently applied to church pulpits that reads "We wish to see Jesus." Christianity is the only faith that has as its central revelation a being – Jesus – as opposed to a book or code of behavior. Although Muhammad and Buddha are central figures, they are not the focal point; their teaching is. Jesus is the Word. This makes Christianity different, but not better than the other faiths. As a living being, Jesus was a spirit person (he knew God), a healer, a teacher of wisdom, a social prophet, and a movement initiator. It is essential that our preachers enable us to "see Jesus."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The performing of the hand-bell group, particularly their performance of the "Ukrainian Bell Carol." I find hand-bell performing visually mesmerizing as the musicians rhythmically ring and still the bells, and the carol, involving all the members, was particularly beautiful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I've been wracking my brains about this, but I really can't come up with anything distinctly hell-like.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was pretty much ignored. I think one person nodded at me, and another appeared to be just about to speak to me but was suddenly caught up in a fit of coughing.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were two tables in different parts of the room with the same food generally. At both a person served warm coffee in paper cups at your request. There was also pre-poured apple juice in cups. There were a few different types of cookies and some muffins, all store-bought. Immediately after coffee they were having a Christmas pageant and potluck luncheon, so there may have been less food than usual.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I'd miss some of the trappings and rituals I've gotten used to in the Episcopal church, particularly weekly eucharist (there was none at the service today), but despite their ignoring me, they seemed like a friendly, dedicated group of people and much about the service struck well with me. The minister is only an "interim" minister, so despite my immensely favorable impression of him, I'm not sure how much longer he'll be around.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and the sermon made me feel good to be an Episcopalian in this time of controversy.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Definitely the sermon. It gave me a new way to look at some issues I had been struggling with.
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