Chapel by the Sea, Clearwater, FL (Exterior)

Chapel by the Sea, Clearwater, Florida, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Chapel by the Sea
Location: Clearwater, Florida, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 October 2012, 10:30am

The building

A plain white building with red tile roof and stained glass windows and doors dating from the early 1950s. The grounds are extensive and impeccably groomed, green and verdant. In addition to the main sanctuary, there is a small chapel as well as a prayer garden.

The church

They have a multitude of activities such as Bible study, a book club, and a ministry for teenagers that includes babysitting training leading to certification. The chapel is a very popular venue for weddings.

The neighborhood

Clearwater, in west-central Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, is a beach and resort area. The climate is Mediterranean: palm trees and everything else tropical abound. During World War II, the city served as a major training base for U.S. troops, with virtually every hotel in the area being converted to barracks. The chapel is two short blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. The area has small older homes, motels, and rental condominiums.

The cast

The Revd Herb Freitag, pastor, was the preacher. The liturgist was Jan Burke. Marilyn Michael, Ed.D., music director, presided at the organ. Soloists were Flo Bickel and Heather Haskel.

What was the name of the service?

Communion Sunday

How full was the building?

There were about 100 present in a chapel that could hold about 450. The age distribution peaked in the 60s. Dress code ranged from formal (coat and tie) to slacks and shirt. One of us was decidedly under-dressed in shorts.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. A greeter couple welcomed us, asked where we were from (we obviously weren't regulars), and gave us the extensive paperwork that defined the worship event.

Was your pew comfortable?

Regular pew with cushioned seat.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People were chatting quietly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"The Lord be with you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The 14-page(!) bulletin-newsletter-hymn sheet; Hymns for the Family of God; The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version.

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ and piano.

Did anything distract you?

The worship style itself – robed clerics, robed choir, liturgical responses – it all seemed like a Protestant time warp. One expected to hear them pray for President Eisenhower.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Congregational model, using liturgical response, choral music, and community hymn singing. At communion we had the option of wine or grape juice (indicated by dark or light individual cups).

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 – The pastor had an unusual preaching style, with short, declarative sentences delivered is a quick, almost military tone. And yet the style gave the message a certain power.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Light, specifically light of the world. The pastor reviewed the historical value of light, and the cost of being light, because generating light consumes the medium producing it. Light comes by fire, which is oxidation, but rust is also oxidation. We choose to be light or rust.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

There were several things: First, Flo Bickel and Heather Haskel sang a professional-quality duet. Second, the sermon was worth listening to. Finally, we stayed seated for the organ postlude. Mark Twain made a bit of a case that an eternity of worship would be boring or embarrassing, but our experience here argues otherwise.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

There was the feeling, even a wish, that it should have been a time warp; otherwise it appears demographics will end this form of worship.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Everyone went off to the orange juice (Florida, of course) reception.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Since we didn't attend, we can't describe – but it looked like the regulars had assembled for a social hour.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

10 – For one of us, the style went back to university days.

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

Yes, especially the earnest effort to participate in a traditional worship pattern.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The music – organ, choir, mezzo – and the option of wine or grape juice, which we do not expect ever to see in our own church back home.

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