|901: Messiah Lutheran, Brownsburg, Indiana, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Misericord.
The church: Messiah Lutheran, Brownsburg, Indiana, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The building: Dating from the 1960s, the building appears to have been enlarged substantially in the 1990s. It is located along the main north/south road through Brownsburg and is surrounded by older houses and small businesses. The older part of the building is brick ranch-style with a typical 60s vertical element marking the old worship space. The new addition (pictured) looms behind this, facing the parking lot.
The church: What may once have been predominantly a farming area seems to have a large professional or service-sector economy these days. The parishioners were a mix of ages from pre-school through the elderly, and all in between. It was a very family-oriented congregation with few singles.
The neighbourhood: Situated west of Indianapolis, Brownsburg appears to be a once-small rural community that has now been almost totally absorbed by urban sprawl. It tries to maintain a downtown at the crossing of two main streets, but is being inundated by strip development along what were formerly farming roads. The road this church lies on looks like it will be widened at any moment.
The cast: Bill Steinke, senior pastor; Doug Givan, assistant pastor; David Webb, organist.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion Service, 14th Sunday after Pentecost (11.00am).
How full was the building?
About half full, with something around 150 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. Two older ladies greeted and shook hands with arriving worshipers, and a young man ushered and distributed service sheets.
Was your pew comfortable?
Pews were new and padded, to go with the carpeted floors.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
In spite of the admonition in the service sheet to enter the sanctuary in silence, the din of the corridor/narthex spilled into the worship area, with much chatting and socializing.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Lord be with you." ("And also with you.") Announcements followed.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Lutheran Book of Worship and With One Voice, a music supplement. Also available were a very complete service sheet and weekly newsletter.
What musical instruments were played?
An electronic organ with synthesized chimes.
Did anything distract you?
The electronic chimes used as a call to worship sounded very fake, and struck a particularly cheesy note. I also found distracting the complete lack of sacred art in the church, i.e. stained glass, carvings, painted or textile art works. I realize that the style and age of the church mitigates against these things, but I still wished for them.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was rather casual/happy in most respects, but the propers and responses were mostly sung, not spoken and taken at so fast a tempo that the congregational parts were actually hard to sing, and would have been impossible to clap to had the music called for it.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes, divided between the children's and the adults' sermon.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 The younger pastor Doug Givan gave both sermons. Both were well delivered, if a little vague. Smaller children went up to the communion rail and sat with Pastor Doug on the carpet. As the sermon began, the lights were dimmed.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The children's sermon seemed to be about Winnie the Pooh. I didn't quite get the point of it, except to reinforce their excitement about returning to school after the summer recess. The adult sermon was generally about having God within us and living enthusiastically. Pastor Givan told a great joke about an atheist who was attacked by a grizzly bear and cried out "My God!" Immediately the bear froze in place, and a voice boomed down from heaven, saying "Will you now become a Christian and believe?" The man replied "No, but could you make the bear a Christian?" "So be it," replied the voice. Whereupon the bear (with the atheist still pinned below him) folded his paws in prayer and spoke: "Heavenly Father, bless this meal of which I am about to partake." Maybe some of you have heard this one, but it was new to me, and pretty effective.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The enthusiastic and affable sermon delivery. It was a little simplified (though not quite what I would call dumbed-down), and maybe it was a little scattered in the points it made, but I still enjoyed it.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The frenzied pace of the music was disturbing to someone who appreciates the historical quality of Lutheran worship and musical tradition. Also it seemed a bit melodramatic to dim the lights during the sermon.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The same frantic level of socializing that had preceded the service started right up again following the blessing and final hymn. The clergy shook everyone's hands on their way out, with more "good mornings" from strangers, but everyone was pretty busy with their family and friends.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Surprisingly poor coffee served in styrofoam cups.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 Unlikely, as I don't live in the area, but if I did, I would perhaps consider it.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Sure. It beats being eaten by a bear every time.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I'll try to forget the double-time singing, and will instead remember the joke in the sermon.