Holy Trinity, Chicago (Exterior)

Holy Trinity, Chicago, Illinois, USA


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Holy Trinity
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 10 January 2016, 10:30am

The building

A simple rectangular shape, built in 1922. There are stained glass windows that are simple and non-representational. Organ and choir are in a rear gallery. In several areas around the church there are icons and votive candles featuring saints both ancient and modern (e.g., Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador who was martyred in 1980 and beatified by Pope Francis in May 2015; Romero is commemorated in the Lutheran Calendar of Saints on March 24).

The church

The service leaflet noted a number of activities in the coming week: an eco-justice conversation, book group meeting, and "Introduction to Holy Trinity." In addition to two Sunday eucharistic services, "Holy Trinity in the Loop" offers a Saturday night Lutheran eucharist at Grace Place, the home of Grace Episcopal Church in the South Loop. The music program is extensive, featuring both choral and instrumental ensembles.

The neighborhood

Holy Trinity is in the Lakeview neighborhood and is near Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. The immediate neighborhood is largely apartment dwellings and single family homes.

The cast

The Revd Craig Mueller, lead pastor, presided at the eucharist and the welcome of inquirers. The Revd Michelle Sevig, associate pastor, presided at the two baptisms, read the gospel, and preached. David Brackley, minister of music, was organist and choir director. The assisting minister was Alex Clark, a seminarian. Intercessions were led by Patty Erickson and Carol LaHurd. Alison Strickler read the first two lessons. Ken Duckmann was bread baker for this Sunday.

What was the name of the service?

Eucharist. There were also two infants being baptized this Sunday, and a ceremony described in the bulletin as a "Welcome of Inquirers," admitting three young adults to a formation program that will lead to their renewal of baptismal vows at the Easter Vigil.

How full was the building?

The building seats roughly 300 and was 85 to 90 per cent full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher handed me a service leaflet and then asked "Are you ushering today?" I replied that I was only visiting.

Was your pew comfortable?

Quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

We arrived shortly after 10.00 and there was quite a bit going on. Pastor Sevig was walking the parents and sponsors of the two infants being baptized through their role in that part of the service, while someone else was rehearsing the acolytes who would be accompanying the gospel procession. Beginning at 10.15, a meditation bowl was periodically rung to (from the bulletin) "call us to silence, centering and reflection as we prepare for worship." But with a lot of children and visitors present, this call to silence was more aspirational than actual.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Please stand and face the rear of the church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Evangelical Lutheran Worship, commended for use in the ELCA in 2006, and a very-well designed service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?

A 30-rank, three-manual organ – a hybrid instrument, based on the church's original 1923 Möller pipe organ, and augmented in 2006-2007 under the direction of Triune Music of Elmhurst, Illinois. Augmentations include a Rück Positiv division by Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua, Italy, and several digital stops by Rodgers Instruments Corporation of Hillsboro, Oregon.

Did anything distract you?

The bulletin noted that incense "is part of our multi-sensory liturgy. The assembly, gospel book, and table ... are honored with incense." Incense was carried in the entrance procession, and the altar was censed, but it did not reappear until the recessional. I kept waiting for it to show up again.

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

Very Catholic-minded, but without a whiff of the museum. The incense noted above was carried in a bowl; the infants being baptized were plunged (without clothing) into the baptismal font. The three catechumens were marked with a seven-fold sign of the cross (forehead, ears, eyes, mouth, shoulder, heart, and feet), and then given a Bible. Music was fairly traditional, including chanted preface, dialog, and Lord's Prayer, which the congregation sang beautifully. We received communion at the front of the nave – real bread, and one could either receive the wine from a common chalice or intinct. The bread was delicious – one could truly "taste and see that the Lord is good."

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

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

10 – Pastor Sevig is an accomplished public speaker, very well-prepared.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

She began by noting that she works as a hospice chaplain with clergy from other faith traditions. She shared with us a parable she had heard from an Orthodox rabbi (yes, she noted, rabbis still teach in parables). A rabbi visited one of his colleagues and noticed that the curtains in his house were closed. "Why," he asked, "are the curtains closed if you have windows you wish people to look in?" The rabbi answered his own question: "I'll tell you why. If there are people who love you, you can open the curtains and they can look in." She said that all week long she had been thinking of those curtains in the rabbi's house as being somehow like the "curtain" of heaven being opened up at Jesus' baptism. God opened up the curtains at the moment that Jesus was called. We, too, are called, and when God opens the curtain, he is saying "I see you; know that you are loved." The various manifestations of God's love recounted in the Epiphany season are deep water – you can't just dip your toes in.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

A beautiful Buxtehude organ piece played before the service; a carefully prepared liturgy; an active, worshipping congregation who sing beautifully.

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

All of the hustle and bustle before the service (not really hellish, but ...), and the futile ringing of the meditation bowl trying to call us to silence.

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

There was a congregational meeting scheduled just after the service. Pastor Mueller suggested in his announcements that those staying for the meeting should move to the front of the nave, and those not staying might use the postlude to depart. So Materfamilias and I departed, with Pastor Sevig greeting us briefly at the rear door as we left the church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Pastor Mueller announced that there would be a coffee hour following the congregational meeting. But having no idea as to how long the meeting would last, we hailed a cab and made our way to the Amtrak station.

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

10 – This seems to be a very active parish, with a progressive, evangelical-Catholic liturgical tradition, and superb music.

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


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

Waiting for the incense.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools