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977: Middletown Bible Church, Middletown, California, USA
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1224: Middletown Bible Church, Middletown, California, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Rhipidion.
The church: Middletown Bible Church, Middletown, California, USA.
Denomination: Non-denominational.
The building: It is a 70s style modern building complex. The front wall of the auditorium, as well as the pulpit and cross, were wood. The windows were draped in tones of brown and tan. I noted that the pastor in his beige suit blended in nicely.
The church: For a small to mid-sized community there was a lot going on. There was a school connected to the church, and a display offered opportunties for worldwide outreach to persecuted Christians. There was a Bible study listed for men and another one for ladies. I could not help but wonder if the men were not gentlemen and therefore had to be kept away from the women, or perhaps the women were all titled.
The neighbourhood: Middletown, with a population of less than 2,000 souls, has a long history of serving the local grape growing industry in the surrounding area. British stage actress Lilly Langtry owned vineyards near Middletown in the 1920s.
The cast: Pastor Doug Thompson not only led the service, prayed and preached, but also played lead guitar for the music.
What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
A comfortable 85 per cent, yet with enough empty seats so that the visitor felt there was room to accommodate a newcomer.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I was made to feel most welcome. A man greeted me at the door with a handshake, and then a women handed me the worship program. The pastor introduced himself before the start of the service, and during the service those nearby said hello.

Was your pew comfortable?
The padded chair was most comfortable at the start. As we sat for most of the hour-long-plus service, I was more than ready to stand at the end.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a lot of visiting all around the worship area. Clearly this was a warm and social group of people, not given to quiet prayer before worship.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Please take your seats so that we can begin our worship."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. The words for the music were projected onto an overhead screen. I found the size of the font a little difficult to read with ease, but I knew most of the songs and so it was not really a problem. Most of the people had brought their own Bibles.

What musical instruments were played?
There were a keyboard, three guitars, and drums, along with both a violin and a mandolin. I found the violin to be a welcome addition to give some depth to the simple tunes of the praise music.

Did anything distract you?
Well, it was hard to be distracted without much to draw the eye except shades of brown. I did spot a little girl with braids several rows ahead of me. I had worn braids as a child and I had a moment of nostalgia remembering my father trying unsuccessfully to braid my hair once when my mother was out of town.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was happy but not clappy. The service started with praise music but no arm waving. The pastor pretty much ran the whole service, with very little participation on the part of the congregation other than singing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
60 minutes, including sermon lead-in and post-sermon prayer.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – He had a good strong preaching voice. He used notes but was not locked into them, and moved away from the pulpit from time to time. He made good eye contact and injected humor throughout the sermon. However, his sexist language made me struggle to hear the Good News in his message.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jesus has compassion and can sympathize with our temptations because He was fully man and we are like his brothers. Most people who need our mercy do not deserve it. We may find such people to be weak or lazy, but that would not have stopped Jesus and it should not stop us from reaching out to those who need our mercy.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Hearing the violin and mandolin music. I felt that the musicians were truly offering up their gift of music to our Lord and not just simply performing, and that God was blessing their offering and sending it back to us full measure.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sexist atmosphere. I heard several times in the sermon and once at announcement time that Jesus came to earth as a man and we were the brothers of our Lord. This was underscored by the fact that I saw no women in leadership roles. This was not all that surprising, as at one point in the service the pastor spoke of the young men who were attending seminary.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As I was preparing to look lost, a woman came up and started talking to me. She offered to introduce me to the pastor, but as I had already met the pastor I declined.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. I believe that there was a Bible study before the service and coffee had been served then.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – Although they were a most welcoming group, somehow this church made me feel like I was being told that Jesus loved me less because of my gender. I also missed the more complex music found in a traditional church setting.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, if only in helping me to appreciate those worship experiences where the inclusiveness of Christ's love is revealed by both word and example.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The pastor saying that most people who need our mercy do not deserve it. As someone who has spent her life working with the disenfranchised, that statement floored me.
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