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952: Christ Church United Methodist, Charleston, West Virginia, USA
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Christ Church United Methodist, Charleston, West Virginia, USA
Mystery Worshipper: The Eccentric Ecclesiologist.
The church: Christ Church United Methodist, Charleston, West Virginia, USA.
Denomination: United Methodist.
The building: One of the oldest Methodist congregations in town, Christ Church is celebrating its bicentennial this year. The church moved to this location in 1910. The main building was destroyed by fire in 1969 and rebuilt with a unique worship space they call the Centrum. This is a large square space with high ceilings and lots of stained glass. It is well lit and acoustically very lively. Instead of pews, chairs are used to allow different seating configurations for different types of services. The altar is moveable and there is a pipe organ in one corner whose pipes tower nearly to the ceiling. The building has a separate chapel where the 9.45am service is held, a large fellowship hall where many community meetings are held, a gymnasium and a full compliment of education rooms. The church also operates a pre-school onsite. A large bell tower, which was saved from the 1969 fire, is the dominant exterior feature of the building.
The neighbourhood: The church sits between the downtown business district and an older, once affluent residential area.
The cast: I only know that the pastor, Dr Randy Flanagan, was the preacher since his name was projected on the screen before the sermon. The piano player and song leader who opened the service and the man who led the announcements were not identified. The woman who did the children's sermon was introduced, but I did not catch her name. I was given a bulletin and other papers on arrival, but the order of worship in the bulletin was for the two other services, not the one I attended.
What was the name of the service?
The church website list the 9.00am service as "Centrum Alternative Worship Experience". It was not identified by any sign, printed material or spoken announcement before or during the service.

How full was the building?
About a quarter full. The Centrum looks as if it could hold 400 or so.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I received several warm welcomes before I found my seat, and then a few more after I sat down. As with most larger churches, I got the feeling that people weren't quite sure if I was a visitor or just someone they didn't often see at worship.

Was your pew comfortable?
Padded chairs. Very comfortable for the short service.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty. The pastor was walking around welcoming people and catching up on prayer concerns, children were allowed to be children and everyone seemed glad to see everyone else.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome. We are not able to use the screen today because of a software problem, so please turn in the supplement to page 2156."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The United Methodist Hymnal Music Supplement.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
At the beginning of the service the afore-mentioned software problems were being fiddled with by someone somewhere out of sight, and the projection screen that was set up behind the altar was displaying the computer monitor. On a couple of occasions I had to suppress the urge to shout out advice: "Hit Shift + Alt + enter!" They finally got it working and we didn't need the supplement any longer, but the musician wasn't aware that it was fixed so he continued to instruct us to turn to the song in our books.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very loose; Happy but not clappy. We opened with a hymn, and then remained standing for a couple of praise choruses with the piano player announcing the numbers (he wasn't aware that the PowerPoint was now working). After the warm-up singing, we settled back to hear announcements. A children's sermon was presented, but no microphone was used so I couldn't really understand the gist of it (which, by the way, is fine with me: I think children's sermons should be directed toward the children and not become a veiled mini-sermon for the adults). While the children were being dismissed, some video clips were shown of "man on the street" type interviews asking people what they would do if they knew they had one year to live. The audio was quite bad on these clips and it was difficult to understand what most of the people were saying.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – While the delivery and content was good, I got the impression that the sermon was truncated for this shorter and more casual service. It would have been interesting to hear it at one of the other services. Dr Flanagan wandered around freely and his presence and wonderful speaking voice held everyone's attention.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"What would you do if you knew you had one year to live?" The sermon began with a music video clip of country singer, Tim McGraw, singing, "Live Like You Were Dying." The audio was even worse for this clip, so bad that I could not make out more than one word in 10. The sermon was all about what would you do if you knew you were dying, and leaned heavily on the lyrics of the song. Since I have never heard the song before, I really felt left out of the parts of the sermon which were about the song. I felt more included when he raised the issue of how Jesus used his waning hours as an example of how we should live. He concluded by offering his personal reflections of what he would hope to do if he were to find out he only had a year to live. That was quite meaningful.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The praise choruses were sung with good volume and the lively acoustics of the room made it sound like there were more of us than there were. It was a nice worship moment.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing as bad as that, but the sound quality of the video clips was a bit painful.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have a chance to look lost. Nearly as soon as I rose from my seat several people greeted me and warmly offered to show me to Sunday School or give me a tour of the building. It was most welcoming.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't see any sign of coffee, although I know the church has a large fellowship hall where they serve lunch after service so I probably would have been offered some if I had gone on the tour.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – The church has such a varied menu of ministries that I am sure that they have something for everyone, even a curmudgeon like me.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Unfortunately, the poor audio quality will probably stick with me longer that anything else that happened.
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