Mystery Worshipper: William Dewy
Church: Harmony Primitive Baptist
Location: Matthews, Indiana, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 15 April 2012, 10:30am
The brick structure was built in the last half of the 19th century. The present building replaced an older one that was located on the other side of the country road. The interior of the church is simple, with painted plaster walls. It is without ornamentation of cross, candles, or pictures. Some fresh lilacs in a glass vase and a hand painted porcelain vase on a table in front of the pulpit were all I noticed in the way of decoration. The room was lovely, though, and bright and airy and clean. It appeared that the original building was a single large room with double doors on each end. A generation or so ago, an addition with bathrooms was built onto the east end of the church.
There were members of at least three congregations present. Harmony has services on first and third Sundays of the calendar month, and several of their members were present. A number of people attending were visitors from other Primitive Baptist churches in central Indiana, but I was the only unknown visitor that day.
Matthews is a small town in rural Grant County, Indiana. The town has a population of about 600, but it was once quite a boom town in the middle of the central Indiana natural gas fields. Matthews once had a population of many thousands and made a serious bid to replace Indianapolis as the state capital. When the gas boom went bust in 1903, so did the town's dreams of grandeur.
Brother John Edward Johnson led the service. The guest preacher was Brother Bill Blackburn, from Mount Carmel, Indiana. I didnt catch the name of the sister who started the hymns.
What was the name of the service?Service.
How full was the building?
There was plenty of elbow room. Fifteen souls were present for the first note of the singing and a few more came in before the preaching started.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Oh, my, yes. No fewer than a dozen people shook my hand, introduced themselves to me, and welcomed me to the service before the appointed hour.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, the wooden pew was comfortable. There were several seat cushions scattered about, which some people used. There was a vertical board for support under each pew. I didnt know that I have a habit of putting my feet under my pew, but I banged my Achilles tendon against the brace a few times.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Warmly friendly. People were talking and visiting and shaking hands (and hugging necks) with other folk.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"It's time to sing."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
John R. Daily's Primitive Baptist Hymn and Tune Book. A few people brought their own copy of The Holy Bible, King James Version, to which they referred during the sermon. Primitive Baptists believe the KJV to be the one authoritative English translation of the scriptures.
What musical instruments were played?
Absolutely none. Not so much as a pitch pipe or tuning fork. Primitive Baptists believe that there is no precedent in scripture for the use of musical instruments in New Testament worship. The people sang in two or three part harmony. I could generally hear soprano (or lead) and bass, and sometimes an alto.
Did anything distract you?
Not really. I found a couple of modern folding tables a little discordant with the woodwork and pews in the same space, but it wasn't particularly jarring.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Primitive Baptists say that their church services "consist of nothing more than preaching, praying, and singing." I wouldnt call the worship formal, but it certainly had structure. We sang hymns for about a half hour: a person would request a song by number and we sang every verse. After the singing part of the service, Mr Johnson read Psalm 100 and a portion of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and said a few words. Then followed Mr Blackburn's sermon and two or three more hymns, during which we shook hands with the preacher and each other. That end of the service seemed to me like passing the peace, and I found myself telling individuals, "Peace be with you" instead of singing the song (which I didn't know from memory anyway).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – Despite Mr Blackburn's earnestness, I can't say I came away knowing what I was supposed to do to live a Christian life. I was, however, reminded several times of the strong sense of election or predestination. Primitive Baptists reject many elements of Calvinist practice, although they do embrace what are generally called the Five Points of Calvinism.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The principal text for the sermon was Matthew 16:13-19 (Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ). Flesh and blood do not reveal Truth, but the Spirit reveals Truth to whom he wills. The keys to the kingdom of heaven are given to the elect by Jesus himself.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Twice during the singing, a song was called that had been pasted into the front or back of the book. People within reach of me handed me a hymnal opened to the right page. No explanation, just action.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Although I felt welcome in the assembly, I stuck out like a sore thumb. And I was fearful of leaving the Mystery Worshipper calling card. There was no passing of an offering basket or plate. So instead of being fully present at the service, I was preoccupied wondering how I was going to leave the card.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people (at least five members of different families) invited, nay, insisted, that I stay for lunch.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A meal, carried in by the various church families, was served in the church after the service. A member told me there was a full basement where fellowship could take place, but since some church members had mobility difficulty, meals and other social events took place upstairs in the church proper in recent years. Lunch included salads; some garden sass; a homey yet delicious boiled dinner of smoked sausage, green beans, and potatoes; and desserts of lemon pudding, cakes, and cookies. I found it noteworthy that while the men and women sat together for the church service, during the meal they were sitting at separate tables.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I would love to visit frequently, but I would miss the Prayer Book sacraments.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The overwhelming and sincere hospitality of the people of God who worship in that place.