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Lutheran, Portland, Oregon, USA
Lutheran, Portland, Oregon, USA.
Church in America, Oregon
A large, traditional, brick church building that looks (not
surprisingly) much like other large, traditional brick church
buildings in this city. The interior was nicely decorated with
candles and trees, but otherwise unremarkable – except
for the interesting Native American prayer banner hanging on
one wall in the front.
This church has four services each Sunday: one for those who
like a more contemporary feel (guitars, snare drums, etc); one
for those who like the traditional Lutheran feel (pipe organ,
robed choir, traditional worship book, etc); one for Native
American Christians (flute, drumming, sage burning, etc); and
a jazz/gospel service. This church also does a lot of community
service and social justice work.
Located in rainy Portland, it sits on a moderately busy corner
in the Irvington neighborhood among upper middle class homes,
with high-end shops not far away.
The Revd WJ Mark Knutson, senior pastor, assisted by more than
two dozen choir, liturgical, and other assistants throughout
the service. There was also a visiting Episcopal priest there,
but her name was announced so quickly I didn't catch it.
The date & time:
Christmas Eve, December 24, 2010, 11.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
Candelight Carol Service with Organ and Choir.
How full was the building?
There were a few empty seats but no empty pews that I could
see. Having been to other "midnight" services where one felt
as if packed into a stale airplane, it was nice to have a little
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A somewhat Scrooge-like man grumbled "Merry Christmas" and handed
me a bulletin, while a smiling teenage boy beamed "Merry Christmas"
as he handed me a small white candle.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a traditional Protestant wooden pew, without kneelers
– and yes, it was comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service
There was friendly chattering among those coming in and those
already seated. The advertisement for the service said there
would be singing for the half hour before the service, but no
one sang until about 15 minutes 'til, when some choir members
got up and sang a song and then just stood there unmoving for
several more minutes. We were among those confused about what
was going on. Were we supposed to be reverent? Were they waiting
for something? Was there something else we were supposed to
do? But once the service started everyone was attentive.
What were the exact opening words of the
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
What books did the congregation use during the
Only the bulletin, which had all the words to the traditional
Christmas carols as well as the order of liturgical events,
printed within. There was an Evangelical Lutheran Worship
book and The Holy Bible, New International Version
in the pew back, but no one used them.
What musical instruments were played?
Someone played a Native American flute while someone else read
the first two dozen or so verses from the book of John. After
that, they only used handbells and the pipe organ. At the beginning
and end of the service, someone rang the large church bell as
Did anything distract you?
Choir members apparently do not have assigned seating (except
in the back balcony, which wasn't used), and so after each number
they would wander individually back to whatever pew in the church
happened to be seating their families or friends. Then, when
it was time for them to sing again, they would all file back
up, sing, and then scatter back among the pews again. The choir
member who happened to be sitting ahead of us left and came
back three times during the service before she disappeared entirely.
Also, when I went to communion, someone had dropped their wafer
into the wine cup, which seemed fully to embarrass the young
woman offering it. It gave me a moment of pause, but then I
just continued on.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Although this was a traditional service (except for the Native
American flute, I suppose), the worship atmosphere was friendly,
happy, open, and relaxed, all without losing the mood of the
occasion. During his sermon, for example, the pastor fairly
beamed friendly joy all over those in attendance.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 I gave the pastor an additional point for his friendly
enthusiasm, but he did go on a bit too long, listing example
after example after example until I truthfully zoned off about
15 minutes in, only awakening to mark the number of minutes
he'd spoken. Personally, I don't mind a longer sermon; it was
the too-numerous examples that sank my attention span.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
"All are welcome at the manger". Much of the sermon mentioned
social justice topics that are most current in the church and
Which part of the service was like being in
I really enjoyed singing all the traditional Christmas carols
with so many who were obviously also enjoying singing them.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The wandering choir members and the too-many-points sermon were
the worst, but we also suffered from an overly enthusiastic
opera singer wannabe behind us who seemed to make it her mission
to ensure no one ever lost their place in any song.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The crowd basically pushed us with it out the front doors, where
we found ourselves at 15 minutes past midnight surrounded by
a few dozen people loudly yelling, "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!"
out into the neighborhood, like folks who've stumbled out of
a sports stadium. One woman (who wasn't participating) turned
to me and commented that she hoped the neighbors were forgiving,
and I agreed. Because we were embarrassed, we left without standing
around much longer.
How would you describe the after-service
There wasn't any available.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 If I were a Lutheran, I would very much consider making
this my home church. The friendly atmosphere, community involvement,
and racial and other kinds of diversity here are very inviting.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
It did indeed.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The open, diverse, friendliness of this community.
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