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2208: University Presbyterian, Rochester Hills, Michigan, USA
University Presbterian, Rochester Hills
Mystery Worshipper: Angel Unaware.
The church: University Presbyterian, Rochester Hills, Michigan, USA.
Denomination: Presbyterian Church (USA), Synod of the Covenant, Presbytery of Detroit.
The building: A conglomeration of a buildings. A former manse turned office building is detached from a sanctuary constructed in 1978. But an appended education wing built in 1992 makes the interior passages hard to navigate. The sanctuary was recently renovated to celebrate the churchís 50th anniversary and the result is beautiful. A new terrazzo floor reflected dazzling light from clerestory windows that flooded the space with natural light.
The church: The church worships each Sunday morning at 9.00 and 10.30 throughout the school year; 10.00 during the summer. University Presbyterian offers Sunday Christian education programming for grades K-12 in addition to various adult continuing education opportunities. There are also many social groups for youth and adults.
The neighborhood: The church is nestled in a beautiful suburb of northern Detroit, Rochester Hills. The area is highly sylvan in nature, appealing to local athletes, celebrities and business executives looking for privacy and upscale housing. The Oakland University campus is just up the street from the church and occupies the former estate of the Dodge family of automobile fame. To the northwest is the Palace of Auburn Hills, home court venue of the Detroit Pistons basketball team.
The cast: Two white-robed ministers presided: the Revd George Portice, senior pastor, and the Revd Marianne Grano, associate pastor.
The date & time: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 31, 2008, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
The Service for the Lordís Day.

How full was the building?
A bustling, robust and talkative crowd of about 130 congregants.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one greeted me or approached me. I approached a young usher and requested a bulletin for the day; it was then that he smiled and said good morning. Most of the crisply-dressed congregants were engaging in a pre-service mingle that excluded guests.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews are new, of beautiful ash wood trimmed with a contrasting stain. The bottom seat – though not the back – was upholstered.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The church was lively as people found their places. The sanctuary layout is of a cruciform shape, so it was easy to see congregants entering and visiting amongst themselves. The organ prelude, which began three minutes to the hour, failed to quiet things down.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Grace and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Presbyterian Hymnal, and music from another hymnal copied onto an insert. There was also a service leaflet that contained a rather strange statement: "Stewardship is ... adding to a compost pile." Iím still confused as to what in the world this had to do with anything else happening in the service that morning.

What musical instruments were played?
The churchís electronic organ was played by the senior pastorís wife.

Did anything distract you?
I learned that in celebration of the churchís 50th anniversary, the sanctuary had just been remodeled – in fact, this was only its second week of use. Predictably, the new public address system was not working properly. The associate pastor wore a microphone headpiece, and apparently thought the glitch was due to the manner in which the headpiece was balanced over her ear. She kept adjusting the mouthpiece as though she were swatting a fly. The hand-held microphones passed during the sharing of prayer concerns did not work either.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Worship in this new space felt lively and robust. An excellent acoustical space, combined with the use of a hymnal that included four-part harmony, made for some wonderful singing – even if the organistsí tempi were consistently stodgy.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Pastor Grano had a very effective, crisp and eloquent style. She was easy to listen to, well prepared and polished. Despite the unintentional but consistently offensive caricatures of "poor black people" versus the "rich white folk," the sermon had a good message and she made her point clearly.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Using the lectionary text of the day from Matthew 16 (Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah), Pastor Grano wondered how, in our modern world of diversity, we are to follow Christís call to be one in him. Our world is not only diverse, but often we create even more disparities amongst each other. Thus the only remedy for unity is to know God in Christ, and to show the love that God has shown us to someone else.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing from a hymnal in four-part harmony.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As children were invited to "come on down," Pastor Grano unfurled and fluffed a large white blanket, set it on the floor, and sat upon it with the children. It seemed – well – unseemly! And we were instructed to stand and sit at various times. The resulting confusion and havoc evoked peals of laughter from the Presbyterian congregation apparently unused to such calistenics.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People filed out past me. I then asked a random parishioner about the microphones, and it was she who explained that the system was relatively new. Then she too hurried away.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Nondescript and weak; surely an institutional blend.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I would return for the hymnody and message. My hesitancy would be that it would be difficult, socially, to find a place in what felt to be an already well-bonded congregation.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The minister trying so hard to be discreet as she fiddled with her microphone headpiece. And that stewardship is adding to a compost pile.
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