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2844: St Andrew's, Gaylord, Michigan, USA
St Andrew's, Gaylord, MI (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: High Tory.
The church: St Andrew's, Gaylord, Michigan, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Eastern Michigan.
The building: A contemporary-style building. As St Andrew's has lacked a steeple or belfry since the roof was replaced a couple of years back, it would be easy to mistake the place for a large house or commercial building. The church's main entrance is through a north porch that takes one into a communal space called Hewitt Hall, where coffee hour and social gatherings take place. I was unsure of what to expect inside, based on the unappealing exterior, but the decor actually worked. The sanctuary itself has a square, perhaps even octagonal, nave with a moveable altar. From the altar, aisles radiate outward into several rows of pews. Against the north wall and atop a slightly raised floor is the quire with a pulpit and three chairs. There is an abstract art-style stained glass window on the east wall, which I found to be stunning, with all the light shining onto it at this time of morning.
The church: St Andrew's offers a weekly holy eucharist service at 10.00am on Sundays, with Bible study every Thursday – except the third Thursday of the month – at 12.00pm. The church also participates in community food pantry and homeless shelter programs. Their website is basic at best and has little information. To put it into better perspective, the e-mail address listed for the church is invalid. At least it was for me, as I tried unsuccessfully to contact the church a couple days before to confirm the time of service.
The neighborhood: Gaylord is a tiny city in the northern part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. It receives abundant snowfall in the winter thanks to what is known as the "lake effect" (wind picks up moisture from the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes, which then falls as snow when the wind hits relatively cooler land masses), and as such is popular as a ski resort. It styles itself an Alpine village, with architecture reminiscent of that found in the Swiss Alps. St Andrew's itself is a small parish church in a city dominated by a Roman Catholic cathedral (Gaylord is the smallest city in the United States where a cathedral is found), a prominent United Methodist church, and a plethora of other Protestant churches, including an evangelical mega-church and a very active fundamentalist Baptist congregation. There are also three Christian radio stations.
The cast: The Revd Pamela Lynch, priest-in-charge, vested in alb, stole and chasuble, with black slacks peeking out from underneath her alb. Assisting her was Jackie Skinner, vested in cassock-alb with cincture, who did triple duty as the crucifer/acolyte, lector, and eucharistic minister. Josh Howell presided at the organ.
The date & time: Second Sunday of Easter (Low Sunday), April 13, 2015, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?
About a quarter full, with 25 congregants scattered about the nave. Excluding myself, only three other gentlemen were present. Of the other 21 people in the pews, 19 were ladies, all of them at least 50 years of age. Two were teenagers – presumably grandchildren.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The main entrance at the north porch brought me to the center of the church hall, where most of the congregation were drinking coffee and loudly conversing with each other. I was immediately spotted and handed a service booklet by an older gentleman, who said, "You'll need one of these." After taking my seat in the second row of the nave, I was welcomed by a husband and wife who sat behind me and also by another lady. All three shook my hand and sincerely welcomed me.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew wasn't bad, but the white vinyl cushions made considerable noise whenever someone wiggled about. I found the kneelers rather difficult to unfold discretely.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was difficult to sit in quiet and reverent contemplation because noise from the pre-service gathering in the social hall filled the nave.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome and please stand for our opening hymn on page 205 of your hymnals."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The service booklet contained almost everything we needed, but the Prayer Book 1979 and Hymnal 1982 were also available. The gentleman who had greeted me told me that I'd find everything in the booklet, but I replied that I didn't mind looking in the Prayer Book now and then. "Well, this is nice and easy," he answered.

What musical instruments were played?
An electronic organ with good sound.

Did anything distract you?
I wasn't sure of how they would handle communion, as there are no altar rails. However, the priest-in-charge and eucharistic minister simply stood at the head of one of the aisles and ministered the Sacrament to people as they approached.

St Andrew's, Gaylord, MI (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was pretty middle-of-the-road. The liturgy was basically Rite II with Eucharistic Prayer B, although the confession of sin and absolution were omitted. The service booklet referred to the sermon by the happy-clappy evangelical sounding name of "message." The priest-in-charge did seem to be of higher churchmanship than the congregation, judging by her wearing of a chasuble, her partial chanting of the liturgy, and her bowing of the head. Absent were any bells and smells.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The Revd Pamela Lynch seemed to be reading her "message" from a prepared text, but it was understandable, timely, and not overly intellectual.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
She discussed the gospel reading, John 20:19-31 (the risen Jesus appears to the disciples and then to Thomas). The disciples had abandoned Jesus before the Crucifixion, and yet Jesus wished them "peace" when he returned to them. He even wished peace to Thomas, doubtful as he was. Jesus and his peace are there for us if we only open our eyes, our ears and our hearts.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When the priest-in-charge chanted the sursum corda and preface, notwithstanding the contemporary language of Rite II.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The exchange of the peace lasted what seemed like an eternity, with several congregants even slipping out to use the facilities. Everyone – and I mean everyone – shook everyone else's hand and even managed to engage in casual conversation that should have been left for the post-service coffee hour. I also didn't like the fact that no one, including the priest-in-charge except for the ritual lavabo, cleaned their hands after so much hand-shaking before going to to communion. I could only hope that those who returned from the toilets had washed theirs. If I come here again I will bring hand sanitizer with me.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I expected a postlude from the organist, but there was nothing. Everyone made for the parish hall, where coffee hour was to take place. The lady who had warmly greeting me before service implored me to stay for coffee. She seemed genuinely disappointed when I explained I couldn't because of family commitments. The priest-in-charge, standing in the doorway, thanked me for visiting and wished me safe travels. She didn't, however, introduce herself by name or ask for mine.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
N/A.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – St Andrew's is an extremely small congregation in a city full of churches of all denominations and of no denominations. From my impression, however, it seemed as if the church is struggling to compete and, as a result, offers little to attract new members. By demographics alone, the church will be without congregants within ten years unless younger people take to the pews. In all honesty, it felt more like a church for the local retired ladies' club.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The timely and very appropriate sermon.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The lack of gentlemen in the congregation.
 
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