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Presbyterian, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA
Worshipper: Angel Unaware.
Royal Oak, Michigan, USA.
The cornerstone of this large cement-gray church dates the building
to 1953. One enters via a very small rear vestibule that opens
to a central aisle leading to the chancel. The sanctuary has
divided choir stalls and a traditional-looking "altar"
placed against the wall under a vaulted ceiling. It bore two
candlesticks and a cross. The interior walls are of painted
cinder block, interrupted by several narrow lancelet stained
glass windows. The space is poorly lit, but there were at least
four light bulbs burnt out or not switched on. Frankly, the
most lasting memory of the space was the smell: stale, 1950s
"old church" mustiness!
They describe themselves on their website as Christ-centered
and family-friendly, with a friendly and growing congregation.
There are several ministries listed there also, but frankly
I was struck by the number of activities mentioned in the bulletin
that seemed to have little to do with the mission of the church:
Ukrainian easter egg decorating, quilting bee, soup supper,
baseball outing, and a class on rain gardens and soil conservation.
Royal Oak is a trendy, northwest suburb of Detroit, and a magnet
community for young, urban professionals who are drawn to the
communityís lively downtown bar scene and ample studio and loft
living opportunities. The church is located one block from Woodward
Avenue, the first paved street in America, which Henry Ford
provided for his suburban employees to travel to and from the
Ford Factory in their Model Tís.
I donít know. The churchís clergy were listed on the worship
folder, but the three who led the service never identified themselves
save the preacher, who was the senior pastor, the Revd Thomas
F. Rice. He appeared very uncomfortable in his Geneva gown,
stole, and over-the-ear microphone competing with his eyeglass
frame. He looked all the world like a bird wanting to molt.
The date & time:
Palm Sunday, April 1, 2012, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
Service for the Lordís Day.
How full was the building?
This was the second service of the day, and the sanctuary was
loosely half full mostly older parishioners who carried
a seat cushion in one hand and a large-print liturgy and palm
frond in the other.
Did anyone welcome you
Was your pew comfortable?
No. Solid wood with an uncomfortable angle for the back and
behind (which explains why many were toting their own seat cushions).
Additionally, there was very little room to stretch the legs,
as my knees were against the hymnal rack.
How would you describe the pre-service
When I arrived five minutes before the start, I was about the
tenth person there. I seated myself, as the usher was too busy
passing out the seat cushions, large-print liturgies, palm fronds,
and copies of the sermon (read on!).
What were the exact opening words of the
What books did the congregation use during the
The Hymbook (1955 edition) and Worship and Rejoice.
However, and confusingly, it was not indicated in the liturgy
which song was from which book. By trial and error I deduced
that the songs were exclusively from Worship and Rejoice.
What musical instruments were played?
A pipe organ under the excellent command of Joseph Jackson.
Also leading the liturgy was a 30-member robed choir. The choir
selections were appropriate, but as most of the voices were
older, the collective vibratos wreaked havoc on the pitch.
Did anything distract
The overwhelming odor of "wet sidewalk" mixed with
"old, musty church", for lack of a better descriptor.
Seriously, someone needs to throw open the windows for a week
and steam-clean and thoroughly dry all the carpets ... before
replacing the burnt out light bulbs! The choir appeared to be
constantly in motion. First, they processed down the side aisle
to participate in the opening hymn. Next, they recessed to the
back of the church to join the clergy in their entrance procession.
Having arrived at their choir stalls, they processed to the
chancel steps to offer the first anthem, the choir director
scurrying behind toting a portable music stand. During the offertory
they moved again, this time huddling together in the center
chancel. And so it went until they finally recessed for good.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
High Presbyterian. When the entrance procession arrived, the
ministers genuflected. The liturgy followed the classic order
for morning prayer, but with some perplexing twists. For example,
the first reading was from Psalm 118, and the second reading
was from the psalter (Psalm 118!). Thus we heard the same psalm
twice in succession; once as the first reading and immediately
again as the psalm. The prayer of confession sounded more appropriate
for Advent than for Palm Sunday, e.g. we confessed that we were
not "praying for the coming of the King" lest we be
disappointed "when the Chosen One appears."
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
5 Hereís the strange part: the morningís sermon was actually
on the website before Sunday, and a transcript was offered at
the door prior to the service, passed out with the cushions,
large-print bulletins and palm fronds a lot of luggage
to tote to the pew! We knew exactly what was going to be preached.
The preacher read the transcript verbatim (skipping a few paragraphs,
though) while most folks silently followed along.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Jesus coming to Jerusalem on a donkey (an animal that has the
shape of a cross in the fur of its mane) was in complete contrast
to other political parades of the day. In fact, one could even
say Jesus looked foolish. Today, also, we are to "make
fools" of ourselves for Godís kingdom.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The inspired playing of the organ to accompany the hymns (never
mind that the singing itself from the congregation was lackluster
at best or non-existent at worst). I was relieved and blessed
to be singing out of a hymnal with fine organ accompaniment
rather than, say, singing off of projection screens with a praise
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
Watching a Presbyterian minister reverence a "high altar."
I still cringe. And the choir could really benefit by taking
a break from the weekís choreography and use the time instead
to work with a vocal coach to improve tonal quality and pitch.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. There was no written or verbal invitation to coffee
or fellowship, so I simply took off after the organ postlude.
How would you describe the after-service
What after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 Not sure. Iíd go back for the organ playing. But Iíd first want to volunteer to be on the building committee to air out the place and brighten it up a bit. It was difficult to be focused and worshipful in that dark, dank space.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That the Presbyterian minister genuflected upon his entrance
to the sanctuary! John Knox is turning over in his Edinburgh
grave, Iím sure.
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