Mystery Worshipper: Portola
Church: Christ Lutheran
Location: Mount Shasta, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 May 2010, 10:00am
The service was led by the Revd James Cavener. The organist was Clara Chapman.
What was the name of the service?Divine Service, Setting Four in the Lutheran Book of Worship (but without the holy communion, which is normally a part of this setting)
How full was the building?
The church was about one-third full; I counted 30 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We arrived at about 9.40am and no one was standing at the door, but a woman sitting inside greeted us and engaged us in conversation. She invited us to stay for refreshments afterwards. Another woman arrived and sat next to us; she gave us a bulletin and talked with us. In this rural congregation it would have been impossible to remain anonymous; we were immediately involved in explaining who we were and where we came from.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, the pews were comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As congregational members arrived, they greeted one another and conversed. There was meditative organ music 10 minutes before the beginning of the service which accompanied the conversations.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Lord be with you (and also with you). Welcome to Gods house!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The hymn book was the Lutheran Service Book of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The liturgy was easy to follow because it was presented in the bulletin.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The heating system had a loud fan that went on and off during the course of the service. Actually, the heating was not necessary, as it was a bright, warm day.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was formal and liturgical. Unusual for me was that the pastor did everything; he did all the readings and he was lead singer. Also distinctive was that we sat during the creed and knelt during the closing benediction. At the end of the service the pastor asked all visitors to introduce themselves. Immediately, all heads turned in our direction. It was a bit unnerving to suddenly be the center of curiosity. We had the feeling that we stuck out like sore thumbs. However, it was a gesture of friendliness.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – It was a sermon loaded with interesting observations and illustrations; each had a place within the structure of the sermon. Sometimes the anecdotal observations took on a life of their own, so that the thread running through the sermon was not always recognizable. The pastor had obviously put a lot of work into the preparation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Trinity: We see God through three Persons. We know God the Father through his works of creation. The vastness of the universe and the beauty of creation reveal the greatness of God. But the God of creation is not enough. Through God the Son, who reveals the love of the Father, mankind becomes connected to God. The Son frees us from fear of judgment. The Holy Spirit helps us to tune into God. Materialism and hedonism are what people are usually tuned into. The Holy Spirit brings us back to God through the grace of forgiveness.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Mount Shasta is known as the place "where heaven and earth meet." Before going into the church, one can see this magnificent mountain framed in tall pine trees, and this view is the prelude to the service and gives worship a heavenly dimension. Additionally, a liturgical worship that combines historic/traditional elements with appropriate melodies is for me a foretaste of heaven. I especially appreciated the setting of the Gloria in Excelsis, which was pleasingly formulated and easy to sing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The "other place" (and who goes there) was defined in no uncertain terms at the time of the confession of faith. What made this service unforgettable and thought-provoking was the use of the Athanasian Creed in celebration of Trinity Sunday. This creed begins with the warning that whoever does not keep the Trinitarian faith whole and undefiled shall perish everlastingly. I once heard this creed summed up in the following way: "If you try to understand the Trinity you will go crazy; if you dont believe in it you will be damned." Using this creed as an element of worship is daring and provocative! I think that this creed should be taken seriously, but the eternal threat it imposes needs to be clarified in a credible way before being spoken by a congregation. How many people, who were brought into eternal fellowship with God by Jesus, could have confessed with integrity the Athanasian Creed?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance to hang around looking lost. Before we got out of our seats, people approached us and engaged us in conversation, inviting us to stay for coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was mild and in real cups. Home-baked cookies gave it a personal touch. I appreciate the time the pastor took to answer my questions about developments in his congregation and in his denomination.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – This congregation approaches visitors and makes them feel welcome. I also like the pastors striving to preserve the historic identity of the church in worship. Due to the small size of the congregation I would feel somewhat limited if I was a member.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, because of the good-natured friendliness of the people and the agreeable liturgical order of service.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
How awkward it felt to be asked to stand up and introduce oneself.