Ship of Fools
  Bulletin Boards
  Mystery Worshipper
  Caption Competition
  Gadgets for God
  The Fruitcake Zone
  Signs & Blunders
  Born Twice
  About Ship of Fools
  Support us!
  Contact us!
936: Grace Lutheran, River Forest, Illinois, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, Illinois, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Misericord.
The church: Grace Lutheran, River Forest, Illinois, USA
Denomination: Lutheran Church (non-affiliated).
The building: This attractive 1931 limetone pile is neo-Gothic of the sort that acknowledges modern architecture. The church, parish buildings and school form a coherent group. There is restrained ornament outside, while inside you find attractive stained glass and wood carving. Everything is tastefully restrained, and good quality.
The church: The church is unaffiliated, although it shares a mega-block site with Concordia College, which is Missouri Synod Lutheran. From this service, one can assume the congregation is mostly upper middle class. About one-third or so of the adults were of child-bearing age with a more mature majority. School's out for summer, though, so this may be a bit skewed.
The neighbourhood: River Forest is an older Chicago suburb, and borders the more well known Oak Park (home of many of Frank Lloyd Wright's works). Think streets of comfortable older homes (no new "McMansions") all arched-over by stately trees.
The cast: Presiding minister: Pastor Phyllis N. Kersten; preacher: Pastor Bruce K Modahl; assisting minister: Jeff Wood; cantor/organist: Jonathan Oblander; bass soloist: Dr Douglas Anderson.
What was the name of the service?
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

How full was the building?
Between 50 and 60 per cent – maybe 300 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, an usher handed me the service sheet with a "Good morning."

Was your pew comfortable?
Solid oak pews and no padding. The church is known for good choral music in season, and provide a venue to many an early music series for their west suburban audiences, so acoustics are important. No kneelers, naturally. Actually, the pews were a little tight front to back.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I was plenty early and there was much kerfuffle left over from an earlier service or Sunday school, but it quieted down in time for the prelude. There were not many children around, so maybe they are cared for elsewhere during the 11 o'clock service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Lord be with you." ("And also with you.") "Good morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The (green) Lutheran Book of Worship and a (blue) hymn supplement.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ complemented by a very professional soloist. The choir has the summer off, but a lover of good music was not left wanting.

Did anything distract you?
Several small things marred what could have been a perfect score: chiefly the green fabric slung from pier to pier which could only hope to celebrate "ordinary time". This looked a bit silly, in this setting. Conversely, the altar dossal curtain was most drab. Class-up the textiles, and the interior would be just fine.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a quite normal Lutheran service with communion. Most music came right out of the worship books, with a simple psalm setting for cantor-congregational response in an insert. I did notice a few people crossing themselves at the usual points in the service. These are indicated in the Lutheran service book, but usually Lutherans ignore or eschew this in practice, so maybe it was slightly higher church than most. Lutherans generally don't do happy-clappy too well, and at Grace they wisely choose not to.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
I lost the exact timing because it was so good, but somewhere between 12 and 15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pastor Bruce K. Modahl tied the readings together into a theme of God's reversal of our expected order, with the Gospel lesson of the dinner table ("He who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted"). He noted that there had been more lofty themes in readings from Luke in previous weeks, but made a convincing case that this domestic example has much that is practical to teach us. He also related it effectively to the other two readings, which emphasized humility and generosity of spirit. Good job.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Good preaching, that and the beautiful music offered by their soloist. I would pay good money for a recording of him singing the Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A peculiarity I noticed was that all the adult men were wearing not just a suit, but a black suit at this service! It made me wonder where the casket was. Ladies were properly attired in summer suits (not slacks). I have never felt so under-dressed (in a white dress shirt, khakis and linen jacket) at church in August! Well, okay, about one in 10 adult men were not wearing a black suit (didn't get the memo?), but it was astonishing. They weren't even navy blue.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance to be lost! The lady next to me struck up a conversation before letting me out of the pew, and she was most engaging: Was this my first visit? Where was I from? How did I happen to be visiting Grace Church? She also filled in a bit of history in that when the parish left the Missouri Synod (back in the 70s), it was stipulated that if they were to join a denomination, the land they are on would revert back to Concordia College (Missouri Synod). Interesting.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was coffee in the spacious, airy, glassed-in prefunction space adjoining the church; but no cakes, alas. I saw a good spread left from an earlier service as I entered, so was expecting they would reappear. Most odd. Coffee was fine, though.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Having grown up Lutheran, as an adult I personally prefer Anglican worship. That said, this seems like a fine place, with extensive programs going on, and a K-8 school. They seem to be doing just about everything right. Someone donate a new dossal curtain.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
You bet.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The men in black.
The Mystery Worshipper is sponsored by, the internet service provider from Christian Aid. By offering email services, special offers with companies such as and, surefish raises more than £300,000 a year for Christian Aid's work around the world.

Click here to find out how to become a Mystery Worshipper. And click here if you would like to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Top | Other Reports | Become a Mystery Worshipper!

© Ship of Fools 2005
Surefish logo