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3009: Good Shepherd, Acton, Massachusetts, USA
Good Shepherd, Acton, MA (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Albert Ross.
The church: Good Shepherd, Acton, Massachusetts, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Massachusetts.
The building: It's an unapologetically modern building – I would guess it was built in the late 1960s-early 1970s. Nice place, with natural light flooding into the sanctuary. No stained glass anywhere – the windows frame the woodland outside.
The church: They seem very keen on social justice issues in general and work with a parish in El Salvador. They put on a number of events, including a Caribbean dinner; something called Bread and Banter that was not described further; a garden party and auction; "Kirkin o' the Tartans" (which was again not described further); a candy sale; and newcomers' gathering. There are two Sunday services plus a Wednesday morning eucharist with healing followed by pot-luck breakfast.
The neighborhood: Acton is a large affluent suburb of Boston, but this church is literally out in the woods – hence its nickname "a spiritual oasis in the woods."
The cast: The Revd Gareth C. Evans, rector. Tish Anne Kilgore, A.Mus.D., music minister.
The date & time: Sunday, April 17, 2016, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist – Liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Apparently they use different liturgies throughout the year, and they are using the Scottish liturgy for the Easter season.

How full was the building?
I'd say it was about three-quarters full, with about 60-70 in total in attendance. We were told that this was somewhat light due to school vacations.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A smile and welcome at the door.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not too bad: wooden without cushions, but plenty of legroom.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
We got there just in the nick of time due to a few "misunderstandings" with my wife and daughter about what "We really need to leave now" actually meant.

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

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were three but we didn't use any of them: Prayer Book 1979; Hymnal 1982; Wonder, Love and Praise (supplement to the hymnal).

What musical instruments were played?
There was a baby grand piano and an organ masked behind a large cotton banner.

Did anything distract you?
Nothing terrible – a few noisy kids and a particularly long line of folks taking the microphone in the pulpit for announcements (mostly related to coffee hour) at the tail end of the service.

Good Shepherd, Acton, MA (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
About as middle of the road Anglican as one is likely to encounter in New England. Relaxed, informal, welcoming – but with vestments, a decent choir, and attention to the liturgy.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Conversational and embracing in style.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was a meditation on Psalm 23, comparing the concept of a shepherd in Jesus' time to modern day life in Acton, Massachusetts (are there actually any sheep being farmed in Action?). Shepherds back then were essentially outcasts doing a difficult and dangerous job. Being a Christian is not without danger and challenges today. (Incidentally, the rector didn't think there were any actual sheep in Acton, but a congregant begged to disagree.)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The eucharist was ministered reverentially and seriously. I liked that in contrast to the easy-going approach to the rest of the service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I realize it's more a matter of my curmudgeonly nature, but I did think the exchange of peace went on a bit. A couple of folk seemed keen on shaking every hand in the house. The row in front and the one behind is more than enough in my book.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were spotted as new faces and swooped on pretty quickly. Fortunately it was done with a smile and sense of humor, and it was clear that we were definitely staying for coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good – it was El Salvadorian Fair Trade with some strawberries and dried bananas for snacks. I didn't actually manage to get a cup, however, as I found myself talking to a few regulars including the rector. Somehow we got on the topic of postal code changes in the UK during the 1970s and what similarities that had to the practice of gerrymandering in the US (drawing electoral district lines in such a way as to achieve desired results for a particular political party).

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I liked it very much and will likely pop in again in future.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The gerrymandering discussion.
 
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