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907: Normandy United Methodist, Centerville, Ohio, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
Normandy United Methodist, Centerville, Ohio, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Wright Flyer.
The church: Normandy United Methodist, Centerville (a suburb of Dayton), Ohio, USA.
Denomination: United Methodist Church.
The building: A wonderful stone manor home, in a style imported from Europe to Ohio, and built by a leading industrialist as a country home in the 1920s. It became a Evangelical United Brethren church in 1954 and a United Methodist church with the denominational merger in 1968. Additions have retained the architectural integrity of the original building. The house has warmth and elegance, especially in the smaller, older parts such as the chapel, library and old dining room, and in the grounds.
The church: It seemed like a pretty typical suburban mainline Protestant church.
The neighbourhood: The church is in smart suburbs, near a "beltway" interstate highway intersection. The building looks right at home.
The cast: Jan Harry (one of the two co-pastors), a layman reader-liturgist, the organist/pianist, a vocal duet, and the acolyte.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday 10:00am sanctuary worship.

How full was the building?
A comfortable two-thirds.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived a little too early for the Visitor Center or door greeters to be on duty. I wandered around for a few minutes, looking at their bulletin boards and literature, and some folks said hello on their ways through. When I approached the sanctuary door, I was greeted by a lady who is the co-pastor. She and a member chatted with me for a moment and then handed me off to a friendly, bulletin-toting usher, who showed me to a pew. After I was seated, other people then sat nearby, and we exchanged good mornings or head-nods. After the service, both couples in my pew, having seen my "visitor" check mark on the friendship / registration pad, also welcomed me.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, Padded pews. Nothing remarkable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a slight undercurrent of friendly chatter. However, when the organist sat down on her bench, right before the prelude, she struck a hand-chime several times and everyone hushed up immediately and completely. That was impressive.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The co-pastor greeted everyone, there were a few brief announcements, a longer announcement for a Bible study class, and then came the organ prelude, as the acolyte lit the candles.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1989 United Methodist Hymnal and a New International Version Bible were in the pew racks. The words to the hymns were projected on a large screen at the front of the sanctuary so the hymnals were not needed, although some folks used the hymnals anyway. Not many people reached for the pew Bibles during the scripture readings and there did not appear to be many folk who brought their own Bibles, either. Baptists they ain't.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and piano.

Did anything distract you?
No. The sanctuary has clear glass "palladium" windows along the side walls, that afford an excellent view of the sky and trees, and that may be a distraction to some, but I thought it was great (I work in a windowless office, and my home church has stained glass windows that are up too high to see out of, anyway). Sound system, lights, pews, carpets, odors, etc., all in good order.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Composed, dignified, refined, restrained – it felt normal to me. There were two brief outburstsof spontaneous applause, one for the offertory piano solo, and the other for the anthem (a man-woman duet). There were a few chuckles for the laugh lines in the sermon. Pretty good Methodist worship manners.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes. The entire service was only 45 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – She read from a manuscript, but her delivery was good. There were three things that bothered me: 1) She did not read the New Testament lessons before preaching, but instead worked them in to the body of the sermon. Not being familiar with her preaching style, I was worried she had forgotten the Bible readings. 2) She used the Message Bible, which I dislike, and is not the church's pew Bible. 3) She made reference to two 20-year old "popular inspirational" books, which was OK for me – I read them back when they were new – but which may have been meaningless to today's 30somethings and Gen Xers.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The need for faith in times of trial and suffering. Christianity does not give you an exemption from the pains of life.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The man-woman duet was "I was there to hear your borning cry" – a song about God's presence from birth and baptism, all through your life, to death and beyond. I thought of my grandparents, aging parents, late mother-in-law, and many other "saints," and how much they have meant to me. Later at home I found a midi verson of it on the Internet and shared the music and words with my wife.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The lay reader-liturgist read the Old Testament lesson just a bit too fast, and, maybe I heard it wrong, but what I thought I heard was an "all right" instead of an "amen" at the end of the silent prayer time.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A very amiable 65-to-70-ish fellow grabbed me, showed me all over the building, introduced me to some of his friends, and got me a cup of coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
What can you say about a 30-cup percolator and Styrofoam cups?

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – If I were a dyed in the wool Methodist and new to this part of town, this church would be worth serious consideration.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The duet, and the manor house, made into God's house.
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