St Lucas, Toledo, OH

St Lucas, Toledo, Ohio, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Lucas
Location: Toledo, Ohio, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 August 2017, 10:30am

The building

A traditional structure of Sandusky limestone, dedicated in 1911. On either side of the altar area are two large paintings, one of the Crucifixion and one of the Resurrection. On either side wall at the front of the nave are large stained-glass windows, one depicting the little children coming to Jesus, the other Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Organ and choir are in a rear balcony. The altar is still against the east wall, and the impressive carved reredos has a life-size statue of Jesus draped in bold red and blue.

The church

The parish was founded in 1886 as a German-speaking congregation. Appropriately for a parish named for St Luke the physician, they pioneered an early form of health insurance called the Mutual Sick Benefit Society. Today the parish is smallish, with three celebrations of the eucharist each weekend (one Saturday afternoon and two on Sunday morning). Healing prayer is offered on the third Tuesday evening of each month. There is a strong commitment to social justice. Among other ministries, there is a thrift shop open three days each week, and a community garden next to their parking lot. An elevator was recently added to assist the disabled in getting into the primary worship area.

The neighborhood

Toledo, a city in northwestern Ohio at the western edge of Lake Erie, has the distinction of being founded twice: once in 1833 as a Michigan city, and again in 1837 after the resolution of a border dispute between Michigan and Ohio. Once an important industrial center, it is still prominent in the manufacture of glass for commercial uses: bottles, windshields, etc. But it may be most famous for being home to the actor Jamie Farr, who played Corporal Klinger in the MASH television series. Klinger was fond of recalling a Toledo restaurant, Tony Packo's, which is still serving Hungarian and American food to hungry Toledans. St Lucas is located in Toledo's Old South End, an economically distressed area of the city. Immediately surrounding the parish on one side is a residential area; on the other fast food restaurants and small businesses.

The cast

The Revd Martin Billmeier, pastor, celebrated and preached, and served as cantor for the Gloria and psalm. Mark Hetrick was substitute organist.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist

How full was the building?

Less than half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was immediately greeted by a very friendly woman who asked my name and where I was from, and then, "Are you a Lutheran pastor?" I replied that I wasn't, but had spent a good part of my life as a Lutheran church musician. At this point, Pastor Billmeier joined the conversation, and she informed him that "I thought he might be a Lutheran pastor, but he's not; he's a Lutheran church musician." To which Pastor Billmeier remarked, "Well, I know some church musicians who 'think' they are pastors." To which I replied, "I suspect we could both tell some stories, eh?" Both the woman and the pastor were quite welcoming.

Was your pew comfortable?

Wooden, fairly comfortable. No kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Fairly quiet, only a bit of chatter.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) and a carefully-prepared service leaflet. With One Voice (1991), another combination service book and hymnal, was in the pews, but not used at this service.

What musical instruments were played?

A 48-rank pipe organ. The church's first organ was installed by the MP Moller Co.; that instrument was expanded and rebuilt by the Tellers Organ Co. of Erie, Pennsylvania.

Did anything distract you?

Only the August heat (the church is not air-conditioned).

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

A formal, catholic-minded liturgy. The parish, I gather, has its "high church" moments (a thurible and sanctus bells could be seen in the area around the altar), but they were not in evidence today. The fact that the altar is still against the wall led to some atypical liturgical choreography – Pastor Billmeier led the statement of faith (a substitute for the creed, beginning "We believe in God above us, maker and sustainer of all life") facing the altar, with his back to the congregation. The eucharistic prayer, though, he prayed with his back to the altar, facing the congregation. We received communion standing, the wine by intinction. A statement in the bulletin noted that "Those who do not wish to receive the wine of the cup ... may receive only the bread and still be assured of the full benefits of the Sacrament. We do not substitute grape juice for theological and practical reasons."

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

10 – Pastor Billmeier came down into the congregation to preach. He's an effective public speaker, and his sermon seemed well-prepared.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He began by quoting from the epistle for the day (Romans 10:5-15 – salvation is for all): "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." He said he found this a comforting statement, but also worries that this verse can lead to what he called "formula Christianity." He noted that in downtown Toledo he sometimes encounters a street preacher who seems to be encouraging "formula Christianity." He noted that in the gospel for the day (Matthew 14:22-33 – Jesus walks on water), Jesus reaches out to Peter sinking in the Sea of Galilee. True evangelism calls us to be part of a community, a community that reaches out to those buffeted by the winds and storms of life.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Mark Hetrick was one of the best substitute organists I've heard. And I much appreciated Pastor Billmeier's preaching.

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

Not hellish, but I did find it odd to see the eucharistic prayer prayed by the celebrant with his back to the altar. But I'm sure Jesus still loves us.

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

I went to the back gallery to speak briefly with Mr Hetrick. As I left, Pastor Billmeier was at the door and said he hoped I would return if visiting Toledo in the future.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

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

9 – Or maybe even a 10. They take music seriously. Pastor Billmeier is a wonderful preacher, and there is a catholic sensibility to their worship. Their social justice ministries are extensive.

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


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

"Are you a Lutheran pastor?" And how much I admire the inner-city ministry this parish has embraced; many parishes would have bolted for the suburbs decades ago.

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