|887: First Congregational, Hancock, New Hampshire, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Flounder.
The church: First Congregational of Hancock, New Hampshire, USA.
Denomination: Congregational (United Church of Christ).
The building: The church is a quintessential steepled white clapboard New England meeting house. The town hall is on the first floor, the sanctuary on the second. The building and sanctuary are painted a classic creamy white. There were beautiful arrangements of native wildflowers on the altar from the previous day's wedding. A small pipe organ sat off to the left of the altar and a baby grand piano to the right. First Congregational is an old and much loved place.
The church: This small, intimate parish was established in 1788. The meeting house was built in 1820 and was moved to its present location in 1851.
The neighbourhood: Hancock is a lovely rural town in southwest New Hampshire near Mt Monadnock. The church is located in the center of town and is set among a few old buildings across from a tiny police station. On the day of my visit, I observed people riding through the town on horseback. While the town is well-kept, it is not (yet) slick and artificial like a tourist area. Unfortunately, there are signs of encroachment by outsiders here. Sadly, like everywhere else in southwest New Hampshire, Hancock is fated to become yet another suburb of Boston.
The cast: Rev. Matthew S. Crebbin, pastor and teacher; Bob Johnson, music director; and Bob Fogg, worship leader.
What was the name of the service?
Worship Service, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.
How full was the building?
About half full. People were spread out, so it's just a guess.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. The ushers had gone to their pews by the time we got there.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were standard wooden pews with comfortable cushions. Unfortunately, they were too short in the back and dug into the area just above my lower back. Within 10 minutes I got pretty sore. There were no kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
We were a few minutes late, so I cannot say.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
We arrived during the opening hymn, so the first spoken words we heard were, "Please join us for the invocation and confession."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The United Church of Christ 1974 Hymnal; The Bible, Revised Standard Version; and a weekly bulletin.
What musical instruments were played?
A small, sweetly voiced pipe organ, a piano, and an acoustic guitar. The music director played a selection by Robert Schumann (I think) on the piano.
Did anything distract you?
The piano was slightly out of tune. There was no air conditioning. Because there was no breeze, even the ceiling fans and the open doors were ineffective at dispelling the heat and humidity.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was your traditional simple, straightforward Congregational service. The only thing remotely approaching happy-clappy occurred when the minister played the guitar and led us in a folk-style hymn.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 The minister's style was immediate and approachable. He didn't refer to his notes excessively, and at one point he moved away from the pulpit to be closer to us. Sometimes he swayed back and forth slightly.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on Luke 12:13-21 and was about wise stewardship. What are our priorities in life? Will we work ourselves to death to the exclusion of our family and friends? Will we become enslaved to money and allow it to be our idol? Or will we choose to use our resources to glorify God and help those in need?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The beauty of the area with the trees and mountains in the distance. The sense of peace there. The warmth and immediacy of the service, especially the communion. I was deeply moved.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing, really beyond my splitting headache from the stifling heat and humidity!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no opportunity to feel lost, because one member of our party was the church secretary. People were reserved but quite friendly; the music director and I had a very nice little chat about music.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Ice tea was served in plastic cups. There was a tasty spread of fresh fruit, homemade cookies (mmm!), cheese, and crackers.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 If I lived there, I'd definitely consider it. The only thing I'd miss would be the Episcopal liturgy that I love so much. The music director seemed like he would be open to exploring interesting literature, which would be a major consideration.
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 sense of peace and the beauty of the area.