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  1321: St Mark United Methodist, Austin, Texas, USA

St Mark, Austin, Texas, USA

Mystery Worshipper: Travelling Vision Guides.
The church: St Mark United Methodist, Austin, Texas, USA.
Denomination: United Methodist Church.
The building: A low, modern structure with white steeple. One enters through a set of rather nondescript double doors that could have been the entrance to a supply closet if they hadn't been marked with a sign. The narthex is large and provides a well utilized gathering space. The sanctuary is small by contrast, seating around 150. The pews are arranged with shorter pews in the front, creating an interesting amphitheater effect.
The church: Their website states that they "serve God by ministering
to the community to bring people to Jesus Christ, and by growing in
Christ-like maturity through acts of joy, love, faith, and fellowship." The church sponsors a variety of social, charitable and evangelical groups.
The neighborhood: Austin, the state capital of Texas, was named in honor of Stephen F. Austin, who championed the independence of Texas from Mexico and its eventual inclusion in the United States. The city's economy is strong thanks to a thriving technology industry as well as a vibrant live music scene. It is home to the University of Texas at Austin. The church property is in the northern part of Austin on a six-lane divided road with no feeling of neighborhood.
The cast: The Rev. Tricia Newcomer, pastor, led the service. She was assisted by Pauline Denson, reader; Bonnie Harvey, liturgist; Johnny Lang, choir director; and Michele Lang, accompanist.
The date & time: July 9, 2006, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday worship service.

How full was the building?
About half full. Families tended to sit together, with spacing in between. Mostly gray-haired folk with a few bored looking teens.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, several people said hello and introduced themselves. We felt welcomed, but not smothered.

Was your pew comfortable?
I didn't notice one way or the other, so I suppose it was.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
We arrived 15 minutes before the start of the service and the choir was still rehearsing. Things were apparently not going well. The director was loudly snapping at the choir to get on tempo. Rehearsal continued until two minutes before the start of the service. There was a slide projected on the overhead screen encouraging us to meditate on the day's scriptures, but that was not really possible.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everyone! Do you know the focus scripture?" (What, I thought to myself, is a focus scripture?)

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Song lyrics and responses were projected onto a screen in the corner. The United Methodist Hymnal and The Faith We Sing were available, and hymn numbers were listed in the bulletin, but they weren't really necessary.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, two or three guitars hidden back behind the altar, and six singers standing too far from their microphones.

Did anything distract you?
During the choir anthem, the director kept counting the beat whenever the choir entered, and after they were done he let out a clearly audible sigh of relief.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was fairly subdued at first, just going through the motions. Then, during the sharing of prayers, everyone suddenly came alive, supporting each other and laughing together. The final blessing was interesting: the pastor reminded us that we cannot leave God in church. God will always be with us, and we can talk to God at any time.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Pastor Newcomer did a good job of engaging the congregation in her stories, and was a good storyteller.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
She began talking about the day's scripture reading, Jesus preaching in his home town (Mark 6:1-13). She then switched to the topic of prayer and the need to pray constantly, but never really connected it back with the scripture.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The prayers spoken in unison were all very well written and relevant to their place in the service. Several times I found myself struck by something I personally needed to pray about.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The closing hymn. They sang "We Are Marching (Siyahamba)". It was announced as a new hymn for folks to dance to. There was no dancing. There was almost no singing. There was lots of confused mumbling coming from the choir. My companion and I ended up effectively leading the singing.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several more people came up, introduced themselves, and made small talk. We were invited to come back.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We stood there for 10 minutes or so before I even noticed the coffee pot in the corner. I only saw two people with cups, so I must admit I wasn't brave enough to try it.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – There was absolutely no one in our age group. I was put off by the weak musical selections. A thriving music program is important to me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really. Most of the service dealt with the forms of Christianity and never got to its heart.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"We cannot leave God in church."
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