Amazing Grace, Lawrenceville, Georgia, USA

Amazing Grace, Lawrenceville, Georgia, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Amazing Grace
Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 January 2010, 11:00am

The building

Dating from 1989, the church is a modern structure with a tall, long, narrow nave and slope-roofed aisles that have the appearance of flying buttresses. Gothic in shape but not in detail. The parishioners themselves did as much of the construction work as possible. Much has taken place over the years, including finishing the basement and youth room, remodeling the choir loft, pastor's office and narthex, building the childrens Sunday school rooms, remodeling the kitchen, building the coffee clutch, replacing the carpet, painting various areas, putting in sidewalks, installing new signs, etc. Currently the church is engaged in a capital program to update and tend to the needs of their current building.

The church

Among their ministries are a Bible study group, Jobseekers, a food bank, and youth group. There are two worship services each Sunday, plus Sunday school, and a midweek service on Wednesdays.

The neighborhood

Lawrenceville is a small but growing city in north central Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. It was named after Captain James Lawrence, a naval commander in the War of 1812, whose dying words "Don't give up the ship!" every American schoolchild can recite. The community is a mix of socio-economic strata found in most suburbs in America. The downtown area features some buildings of historical interest as well as new upscale condominiums, town homes and courtyard residences.

The cast

The Revd Jason Talsness, pastor, assisted by Lois Simon, adult and youth choir director, and Alayne Brown, organist.

What was the name of the service?

Contemporary Eucharist

How full was the building?

Seventy per cent full, about 100 people. I was told that a number of men were away at a men's retreat.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes, both at the door and inside! They do indeed know how to welcome a visitor.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew had a padded seat, with ample leg room.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Welcoming, warm, with a good blend of respect and openness. It was neither stuffy nor overly syrupy.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome. It is an amazing day at Grace."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The service was projected onto two screens and was based on Now the Feast and Celebration, an alternative Lutheran eucharistic service by the contemporary American liturgical composer Marty Haugen, known for his settings of both Roman Catholic and Lutheran worship materials. The scriptural readings were taken from The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version. In the pews were the Lutheran Book of Worship and With One Voice.

What musical instruments were played?

Keyboard, guitar, bass guitar, clarinet, flute.

Did anything distract you?

The pastor said at one point, "We love all the gifts people bring to worship, warts and all." I had no idea what he was talking about, but I was afraid it meant we were in for a bad liturgy or poorly executed service. Luckily this did not happen.

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

The worship was warm and open, flowing freely from one section to the next.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

8 – Pastor Talsness had a good command of the readings and his presentation style was straightforward.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Love, the three types of love and how God loves us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The beautiful eucharist setting by Marty Haugen, flowing freely under the leadership of the pastor, supported by the musicians and the singing and praying of the congregation.

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

To be honest, the service ended too soon. We really enjoyed the worship.

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

We were immediately engaged by the folks around and thanked for joining them on this Sunday. The pastor also was very willing to engage in conversation and seek common ground (i.e., shared acquaintances and shared denominational circumstances and strategies). They really do know how to welcome you.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was no coffee. We were given four exquisite cookies as new visitors.

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

9 – If we moved to Lawrenceville we would consider making this our church home.

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

Yes indeed.

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

The wonderful contemporary music and how the whole worshiping community participated in bring it to life.

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