First Immanuel Lutheran, Portland, Oregon, USA

First Immanuel Lutheran, Portland, Oregon, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Saint Redevivus
Church: First Immanuel Lutheran
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 19 February 2006, 11:00am

The building

A very traditional building, with some modern additions. The interior is brightly painted.

The church

This church has chosen to stay where it has been for many years, through all kinds of changes. It's moniker is "A Community Reaching Out to Do Christ's Ministry." The congregation is diverse racially and culturally. The clergy are a husband and wife clerical team, with many lay people involved.

The neighborhood

The church sits on a corner in northwest Portland, near the Pearl District and Nob Hill areas. Portland's Pearl District, formerly an industrial area, is a thriving artistic and residential community where old industrial warehouses have been transformed into retail spaces and residential lofts. The upscale Nob Hill area features elegantly restored Victorian era houses. Many street people wander to these areas from the more impoverished sections of the city to avail themselves of the ministries conducted by several organizations.

The cast

Pastor Aaron Couch and Pastor Melinda Wagner. They were assisted by Kirsten Thom, assiting minister; Lynn Akerman, lector; Megan Borwieck, acolyte; Linda Ruler, choir director; and Karl Jurisons, organist.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

Mostly full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes, in two groups. First, at the bottom of the stairway that leads up to the church from the street were two people who shook hands with everyone entering there. Then, at the top of the stairs, there were two ushers who greeted everyone again and handed out bulletins. They were all very friendly.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People were talking quietly, but every now and then there would be a child talking or baby crying. Some hearing-challenged people were louder. When the organist started his prelude, people were quieter.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and welcome!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A bulletin with some music, Lutheran Book of Worship, and a supplementary hymnal entitled With One Voice.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and piano.

Did anything distract you?

During the sermon, Pastor Couch's microphone acted up. The other pastor (his wife) came to his aid, giving him her mike, and he continued without drawing attention to the interruption.

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

The service was a good mix of traditional and contemporary, formal and informal. It made the visitor feel very much at ease.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

7 minutes (children's sermon) and 15 minutes (adult's sermon).

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

9 – The preacher's style was easygoing, revealing some years of experience. He was very energetic, having earlier read the gospel in an animated manner. He is obviously in love with the Word (most Lutherans are, I've found) and loves to preach. His sermon was part of a series.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The children's sermon was a very simple rendition of the gospel with questions for the kids, who answered intelligently and often with humor. The other sermon, aimed at adults, intelligently commented on the gospel reading from the standpoint of "Have you ever been stuck?"

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Seeing a young father look after his children during the children's sermon, sitting with them on the floor. This church is comfortable with all ages, and the older folk in the congregation that day seemed quite at ease with the younger ones among them.

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

The microphone failure and unpleasant noise during the sermon. Also, I'm not used to receiving the wine from little individual glasses, and I would have preferred a chalice to drink from.

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

I chatted briefly with someone I recognized. Soon I was approached by a woman who handed me a gift from the church and heartily invited me to the coffee hour downstairs. The gift turned out to be some drink coasters with the church's name emblazoned on them. I then visited with the pastors and had a lively and interesting conversation with them.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I didn't go to it as I had another appointment. But, having to use the facilities in the undercroft, I saw the coffee hour all laid out. Lutherans also love to eat after services!

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

10 – If I were a Lutheran I would seriously consider this place. I'd heard about it for a long time, mainly through a good friend who is a key member there.

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

Yes, indeed! I felt strengthened by word and sacrament presented in such a loving way, without much fuss. It was good to be welcomed there.

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

The warm welcome and the conversation with the pastors. Also, the many children and the diversity of ages.

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