Mystery Worshipper: Portola
Church: Christ Church Episcopal
Location: Kalispell, Montana, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 August 2014, 10:00am
The parish was established in 1891 and the present stone neo-Gothic building was dedicated in 1957. The wood of the ceiling and the altar area give the sanctuary a warm atmosphere. Stained glass windows on the sides of the nave depict the life of Christ from birth to Ascension. The east window features a display of lilies. The church hall, where after-service coffee was offered, is directly under the sanctuary.
They support programs that offer financial help for the destitute, food for the needy, health care for the uninsured, etc. They also conduct a ministry in Brazil. There is an educational program for children, a youth group, a mens fellowship group, a prayer chain, and "Women for Sobriety." Fellowship activities include a brunch and discussion group, a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper, a parish picnic, a St Francis Day blessing of animals, and other activities.
Kalispell is a city of about 20,000 in northwest Montana. It calls itself the gateway to Glacier National Park, which attracts more than two million visitors a year and which was our reason for being there. Kalispell is also a center for outdoor sporting activities such as boating, hunting, fishing and skiing. Prominent on roadsides are fruit stands offering cherries and huckleberries. Christ Church is adjacent to the old downtown but is also part of an attractive residential area featuring picturesque vintage houses and streets lined with trees that form leafy tunnels.
Lay reader: John Faure;
lector: Tom Carlson;
acolyte: Holly Ward;
guitarists: Tom Carlson and Mark David. There was also a small choir.
What was the name of the service?Morning Prayer
How full was the building?
About 35. The capacity, according to my estimation, is 250-300.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The lay reader went through the congregation before the service and greeted everybody cordially, including us, asking us where we came from. Then a lady, recognizing us as visitors, greeted us in a pleasant manner, asking where we came from and inviting us to sign the visitors book. She told us that there would be morning prayer instead of the eucharist, as the priest was absent for several days. She also explained that usually an organist played the hymns, but today they would be accompanied by guitars.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The guitar players practiced. People greeted one another quietly. Just before the service, the chimes in the bell tower played tunes.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Today we have Morning Service and ..." (sorry, I couldn't quite get the rest).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer, Hymnal 1982, a sung version of the Lords Prayer on an extra sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
Two guitars. The organ, an opus of the 19th century American firm of Joseph Gratian & Company, installed in 1893, loomed silently in the organ loft at the back.
Did anything distract you?
The first distraction was the feeling of let-down that there would be no eucharist. One reason I like to visit Episcopal churches is that they invariably offer holy communion every Sunday, and I love the reverent language of the eucharistic liturgy. Second distraction: just before the service began, I realized that I had left my bag with all my money and bank cards in the car. So I ran out to get it and ran back to the church so I would not miss the beginning and came back breathless. Third distraction: in front of us was a teenager who provided me with lots of opportunities to read body language, as she was apparently having trouble concentrating on the service. Also directly in front of us was a family with small children who were not always quiet, but I am always happy to see children in a church. Fourth distraction: The collection plate did not reach us, so I had no chance to drop off my Mystery Worship calling card. We wondered why the ushers made no effort to take our offering. (Afterwards, someone suggested to us that they probably did not want to impose on visitors.) Fifth: there was a discrepancy between the hymn numbers in the bulletin and on the hymn board. It was announced that the hymn board was correct. Despite this clarification there was sometimes confusion as to the correct hymn.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
On the one hand, the service went by the book, following the liturgy of the spoken morning prayer. On the other hand, there was an informal atmosphere, suggestive of a family gathering. The giving of the peace was an extended moment of lively fellowship, in which everybody greeted just about everybody.
A young mother who had just gone through a difficult birth and whose child was born with impairments went to the front of the church after the sermon to present flowers to three women who had supported her during her difficult pregnancy. There were several spontaneous comments from various people about this situation, directed to the congregation but not spoken loud enough so that the entire congregation could understand what was said. During the announcements it was mentioned that among the visitors were people from Germany. Afterwards at the final hymn (sung to Beethovens Ode to Joy), one of the guitarists said, "We didnt plan it this way, but in honor of our guests the final hymn is by some German guy."
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – John Faure read a sermon that clearly someone else had written. It was not a smooth delivery, as he occasionally stumbled and had trouble pronouncing some words and names. But he was a likeable person, so the lack of polish was not decisive. The sermon dealt with the gospel reading for this Sunday (Matthew 16:13-20 – Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah). However, whoever had written it did not actually interpret the Biblical text, but rather projected onto the text his thoughts and experiences about witnessing for Christ.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jesus questioning his disciples as to his identity can be compared to a schoolteacher interrogating his students. If a student has not done his homework, he tries to be inconspicuous or he fakes competence. Perhaps the disciples felt the same way when Jesus asked them who they thought he was. Christians often respond like unprepared students when challenged to witness to their faith. So how do you express your faith? Do you do it with love and passion, as Peter did when he spoke for the disciples in confessing Jesus to be the Christ? Or do you respond in a text-bookish, luke-warm fashion, like an unprepared pupil? Christians are called to be prepared and to be passionate about their faith.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The warm and sacred atmosphere of the sanctuary was the most heavenly part of this service. In addition, due to the informal family atmosphere, I was worried that I would have to introduce myself as a visitor during the announcements. I hate doing that! When this moment passed, I felt heavenly relief.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Because of the distractions mentioned above, I felt detached from the service and never really participated in worship.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A friendly man and his children engaged us in conversation. Two women approached us also and exchanged pleasantries with us.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was decent. Cookies, watermelon slices and home-made cake were offered. The church hall was set up for a rummage sale, which gave it a messy appearance, but it was agreeable to look at the conglomeration of flea market items. On the back wall were photos of all the rectors of the church, from first (the Revd Thomas E. Diedey) to last. The Revd Mr Diedey's kindly gaze reflected the pioneer spirit of the people who came to Montana more than 100 years ago, not to mention the style of sacerdotal collar popular at the time.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – This Sunday was an exception; I have to leave this question open.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What I appreciated about this service was that it was conducted entirely by lay people who clearly care about their church. Also, there was no lack of friendliness to visitors. In this sense, it made me feel glad to be a Christian. But I felt uncomfortable with the untidiness of this service. Too often things were said spontaneously that were inarticulate or were only understandable to insiders.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Calling Ludwig von Beethoven "some German guy."