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899: St Paul's, Marquette, Michigan, USA
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St Paul's, Marquette, Michigan, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Misericord.
The church: St Paul's, Marquette, Michigan, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church, USA.
The building: A gothic revival church of Upper Peninsula red sandstone, probably circa 1900.
The church: Summer worship is probably atypical in attendance with people vacationing and visiting, but it was mainly a mature congregation, with a scattering of younger people and families with smaller children.
The neighbourhood: Located near the center of this moderate size town, St Paul's sits on a quiet, pretty street along with older homes. A Methodist church of similar age and appearance is at the next corner.
The cast: The Rev. Mother Rise Thew Forrester was the celebrant; Mr Hugh Kahler was the guest preacher; Jan Brodersen was the organist and choirmaster..
What was the name of the service?
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, 10.00am Worship.

How full was the building?
One-third full, with about 60 people plus choir and altar party.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, a greeter wished me a good morning and handed me a service bulletin and insert with the readings. Some people in neighboring pews smiled.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very. The nicely maintained divided pews were probably original to the building and included a padded cushion. The kneeler was awkward, but I was able to kneel satisfactorily by moving away from the hymnal rack.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Some people exchanged quiet greetings, while others were at prayer. A few well-behaved children moved about less quietly than their parents, but the overall tone was really very appropriate and fine.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. We have a few announcements to make." I personally like getting the announcements out of the way first.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymnal 1982 and Book of Common Prayer 1979. The psalm response was printed in the service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
A pipe organ, probably the instrument that was installed when the church was new, and apparently maintained in good playing order.

Did anything distract you?
No, nothing. The room was a comfortable and tasteful example of what we in the States call Victorian. Not too fussy, and it had no unwelcome modern additions. Everyone and everything was just what you would hope for from a small town Episcopal parish. Being July, the weather in this part of the country couldn't have been better, and windows and doors were open to the gentle breezes.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Not stiff, but standard Anglican worship. No incense, just a short procession, and the gospel was read from the lectern, so it wasn't really high church. There were no guitars or clapping or projected titles or things of that sort. They did have a choir of ten older adults. I had low expectations, but was pleasantly surprised by how well trained and disciplined they were with the psalm, a short anthem, and the service music.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – This was the weak point of the service. The rector was away this particular Sunday, and Mother Forrester took the service with a lay parishioner giving the sermon. He was a World War II veteran and a retired physics teacher, and came across as a kindly old storyteller.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He told a number of anecdotes and related them to Luke's gospel story of Mary and Martha, and encouraged us to praise the Lord for our gifts.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Finding a well-trained small choir of older adults doing a very creditable job in the middle of summer in a small town in Upper Michigan. What a treat!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing was that disturbing. Worship was a positive experience, with the sermon being more neutral than negative. I might have expected a more effusive greeting than the one I got. It certainly wan't cold, just not that inquisitive.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I followed the crowd through a small door into a room where refreshments had been set out. I got to see the rest of the physical plant, which included a pretty, very Victorian chapel, a fellowship hall, meeting rooms, offices, restrooms, and accessible entrances, all worked very tastefully into the original decor. Good remodeling and good upkeep showed everywhere.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Okay coffee, and nice little cake-and-bar things and fruit, were arranged on a table in the social hall. I seem to recall there being lemonade too, but I went for the caffeine. I was greeted and made to feel welcome, but not pawed over. I probably looked like the visiting vacationer that I was.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I lived there, St Paul's is where I would worship, no question. It was nice to see an Episcopal parish (especially in an area where most residents have historically been Lutheran or Catholic) apparently thriving and with everything clicking.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Certainly. The liturgy projected the love of God. Nothing seemed makeshift, experimental, or like they felt they needed to try things to make people stick around. The sacraments, good hymns and prayers, and a welcome feeling are all that I require of any church. St Paul's had all that, and probably on a typical day one would find the rector giving a more conventional sermon.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The kindly old gent preaching the sermon -- that and the high standards of their small summer choir.
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