Good Shepherd and St John the Evangelist, Milford, Pennsylvania, USA

Good Shepherd & St John the Evangelist, Milford, Pennsylvania, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Curiouser
Church: Good Shepherd & St John the Evangelist
Location: Milford, Pennsylvania, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 February 2008, 8:00am

The building

A charming little church, irregularly shaped, built of cobblestone in all cuts and sizes and consecrated in 1916. It replaced an earlier structure destroyed by fire. The exterior looks very solid and sports a fancy slate roof. Inside, the ceiling is quite high and the walls are white. The wooden ceiling is special as is the tiny baptistery to the left of the entrance. The windows are quite pleasing to the eye.

The church

Good Shepherd parish was founded in 1849 and held services at the local court house for many years until they could build a proper church. The church of St John the Evangelist, in the nearby town of Dingman's Ferry, was consecrated in 1888 as a summer church for vacationers in the area, but was directed by the bishop to hold weekly services throughout the year or else face closure. The church's land was seized in 1972 by the federal government for a dam project and the building was deconsecrated. After the deconsecration ceremony, the bishop led the congregation in procession to Good Shepherd, where they literally knocked on the door and petitioned that the two parishes might be merged. Today the parish seems to be a destination church, as people come from some distance to attend. They sponsor all the usual ministries, outreaches and church societies, including a group responsible for cleaning the building and surrounding grounds that calls itself – are you sitting down? – Shine Jesus Shine!

The neighborhood

Milford is a tiny little town on the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Approximately a two hour drive from New York, it has been a popular vacation spot ever since the Gilded Age. Rich in stately old Victorian houses, sprawling parklands, and a new infusion of spas, Milford along with the surrounding environs of the Delaware highlands is a little bit hip, a little bit homey, and a fun place to visit. The church is located off the main street in a residential area and counts among its neighbors a firehouse, a park, a playground, and an historic old tree.

The cast

The Revd William J. McGinty, rector, better known as Father Bill, celebrated and preached.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist, Rite II, Said Service

How full was the building?

Sparsely populated, maybe nine or ten people at the most. Everyone seemed to prefer to sit toward the back. There had, however, been a bad snowstorm that weekend.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher greeted us at the entrance with a friendly smile and gave us a service bulletin and a church newsletter plus various other pieces of colorful informational paper.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was standard wooden without attached kneelers, which gave us some more legroom than usual. There were round, tall, puffy red pillows covered with some kind of synthetic material to kneel upon. I got the impression they would float if you happened to have one to throw overboard while at sea.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Casual and quiet aside from some coughing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins; his mercy endures forever."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

What musical instruments were played?

The church has recently acquired a very grand organ built by the Andover firm of Methuen, Massachusetts. Interestingly, the organ had been delivered to the door of the church but volunteers had to be recruited to carry it inside pipe by pipe, piece by piece. At any rate, it was nicely played by the young organist.

Did anything distract you?

As is so common in older buildings in the northeast during winter, the heating system emitted a loud hissing sound. Fortunately it limited itself to that – there was no clanging of pipes or dripping of valves that I could discern.

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

A very simple, very respectful Rite II low mass, or "said service" as was advertised.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

7 – Father Bill had an odd and most distracting habit of looking heavenward as he preached. First he would direct his gaze far upward to the right, then far upward to the left, then to the right again, and so on. At first I thought he was glancing at a clock, or perhaps following the flight of a bird that had taken refuge from the cold outdoors among the hissing steam pipes. But eventually I realized it was just a habit of his. Otherwise it was a solid sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His basic message emphasized thinking about how to be a better person, build a better world, and show commitment to others. Christ is the teacher moving us toward a life of service.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The church is lovely and I really liked being there. And everyone was so friendly! The priest obviously enjoyed his calling. And during the peace everyone shook hands with everyone else, including the organist. I can see heaven as a place where the blessed are constantly exchanging happy greetings.

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

We had dressed properly for church but, as it turned out, were a bit overdressed. Everyone else was wearing sweatshirts, sweat pants and other such sports gear.

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

People smiled at us and the rector came over and chatted with us unhurriedly for quite a good while.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

If there was coffee somewhere we were not made aware of it.

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

8 – I wouldn't mind it if location permitted. The people and the rector were very kind and the service was just fine. I would go again if I were in the area.

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

Yes, I'd say so.

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

The friendly, comfortable atmosphere.

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