Mystery Worshipper: Sinner No. 48
Church: Memorial Baptist
Location: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 June 2013, 11:00am
An unremarkable building dating from the 1960s, in red brick with a white neo-classical portico, in a neatly manicured garden setting.
The congregation had its beginnings in a Sunday school formed in 1934 by a newcomer to the area who found no existing local church to his liking. By the 1960s, as more Baptists moved to the area, the congregation began meeting in private homes and finally established itself as a church in 1965. Today they sponsor visitation teams, youth groups, prayer meetings, and an annual Bible challenge, among their other activities. They have a worship service in Spanish every Saturday evening, as well as Sunday morning and evening services in English.
Gettysburg, in south-central Pennsylvania near the border with Maryland, is remembered primarily for a bloody three-day battle that marked the turning point in the American Civil War, and for the speech that President Abraham Lincoln gave at the dedication of the cemetery where the war dead were interred. Lincoln (so the legend goes) hastily scribbled his remarks on the back of an envelope while in his railway carriage en route to Gettysburg, and the speech lasted all of two minutes. But his simple words have gone down as one of the best-remembered moments in all of American history. Today's Gettysburg is a tourist magnet that attracts visitors to its Civil War historical monuments as well as to the home of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It is also the site of Gettysburg College and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.
The Revd Steve Baker, pastor.
What was the name of the service?150th Anniversary Service: Remembering the Past through Music, Restoring America through Revival
How full was the building?
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were in jeans, shorts, and t-shirts and a little embarrassed. The two ushers who asked us to sign the guest book were very friendly despite our state of dress. Six different people greeted me during the handshaking period. They asked if we were from out of town.
Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable padded wooden pews.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The pre-service atmosphere was jolly, full of old voices greeting each other, with people standing up and going between pews to say hello, full of good fellowship.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The pew Bibles were King James version, but neither they nor the hymnals were used during the service. The words to songs were projected up on a screen.
What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, electric guitar, guitar, and violin.
Did anything distract you?
I shouldn't have been, but I was distracted by little mistakes of speech: "1683" instead of "1863", "conversation" instead of "conversion", a prayer beginning with "Father, we pray to God..."
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I think it qualifies for "clappy-happy": every single song, by soloist or congregation, had clapping afterwards.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Good sound preaching but no going into specifics. They post their sermons on-line but seem to be about a month behind.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pastor Baker deplored the previous week's Supreme Court decision without mentioning that it concerned same-sex marriage. He deplores sin and is all for revival.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
An old man with a guitar gave a rendition of Aura Lea, a love song from the Civil War era (Elvis Presley borrowed the tune for his "Love Me Tender"). It is not a religious song, but the down-to-earth beauty was heavenly, if I may so confuse adjectives.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The congregation stood and pledged allegiance to the Bible, to the Christian flag, and to the United States flag, in that order. Incense before the emperor?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were very willing to talk to us.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – It was a truly Christian church, unsophisticated, where you wouldn't learn much from the sermons or be disciplined, but with nice people.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was good to see simple people being Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The Pledge of Allegiance being said in church.