Kirkpatrick Memorial, Ringoes, New Jersey, USA

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Mystery Worshipper: Kathie
Church: Kirkpatrick Memorial
Location: Ringoes, New Jersey, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 August 2009, 9:30am

The building

A 19th century neo-Gothic brownstone building with tower and pointed steeple. The interior is open and airy but the paint is peeling and it smells a bit musty, especially the rooms at the rear of the sanctuary that are used for offices and classes. The church is named for the Revd Jacob Kirkpatrick, who served for 56 years at the three Presbyterian parishes in the area until his death in 1866 and who championed the founding of a church in Ringoes.

The church

They sponsor men's and ladies' prayer groups and Bible study, as well as youth ministries for children in all age groups. Of special note are Sunday night house parties for high school students, held at parishioners' homes on a rotating basis. They also rotate a lecture series with other churches in the area.

The neighborhood

Ringoes is a small rural community in the western part of central New Jersey, near the border with Pennsylvania. The town is named after John Ringo, who in colonial times owned a tavern in the area that attracted such clandestine groups as the Sons of Liberty, who advocated the independence of the American colonies. Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian Church is the last remaining church in the town's historic district.

The cast

The Revd Ryan Balsan, pastor.

What was the name of the service?

Combined Contemporary and Traditional Service.

How full was the building?

The attendance started out fairly light when worship began, but by the time the service had been underway for about 10 minutes the sanctuary was about half full. The church community tended to be on the older side, but there were some young families as well.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No one welcomed me at the door or handed me a bulletin to use in the worship. I searched the tables at the entrance for what I might need. No one spoke to me as I entered the sanctuary or as I took my seat. I was, however, stared at by three young children who turned out to be the pastor's children. They did not smile or give any friendly gesture. I know they are young, but being stared at is uncomfortable as well as rude. A smile would have been nice.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews are old, short and narrow. They do have pads on them that add to their comfort. The windows were open so the temperature was very pleasant. There were boxes of tissues in every pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The atmosphere was on the quiet side, with light murmurings as people spoke to each other upon entering and sitting down.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and welcome to Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian Church." This was followed by announcements. The service started with "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Let us pray."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Holy Bible, New International Version, and Hymns for the Family Of God.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and keyboard.

Did anything distract you?

Doors to the sanctuary were open so that you could hear the traffic going by, especially the motorcycles. A little old man came in after worship had started and said very loudly to a gentleman already seated, "Where's your pants?" (The gentleman was indeed wearing trousers – well, shorts, I should say.) I couldn't help but chuckle. There was a computer set up to project the words to some of the songs on the wall, but it kept going into screen saver mode.

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

The worship was on the casual side. Pastor Balsan did not wear a robe, but rather a shirt, tie, and slacks. He walked up and down the aisle as he took prayer requests and called most people by their first name. He also walked around the front of the sanctuary while giving his sermon. Singing was not that exuberant from the congregation, but the choir and soloist were very enjoyable.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

17 minutes.

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

6 – There were no distracting eccentricities. I felt Pastor Balsan had a good strong voice and presence. However, I'm not sure I agree that the parable is an allegory for how God wants us to act.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was based on Luke 19:11-27 (the parable of the ten minas) and titled "Taking Risks." The nobleman took a risk when he gave his servants money to invest for him. Some of the servants risked investing the money in order to increase its worth (although one servant did not, and suffered for it). God wants us to take risks to live in a godly way and to spread his teachings. The nobleman in the parable was greedy; God is not.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

A gentleman from the congregation sang a solo, that old standby "I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked," and he sang it with passion! During the passing of the peace, I was greeted warmly by the pastor and his wife as well as others in the congregation near me. I know that this can be a very uncomfortable time for a newcomer, but it made me feel very much welcomed.

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

The prayers of the people. A member of the congregation would state a request out loud, and then the pastor would repeat it and write it down on a clipboard. This continued through dozens of requests. Then, as prayers were offered, each request was repeated yet again. There must be a better, less time-consuming way. I believe in people requesting prayers, but the repetitions were too much.

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

A woman approached me after the service and invited me to coffee time, showing me the way. Each time it seemed like I would be left standing alone, a member of the congregation would come over to me with introductions and information about the groups and happenings at the church. One couple even invited me to go with them to a baptism that was taking place at a member's house on the river. A complete reversal of the non-greeting I received upon entering!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The coffee was set up in one area, tea across the room, and a table in the middle with lemonade and different foods. Some of the carafes weren't labeled so you needed to ask questions. The hot drinks were hot. There were thick, dark, crunchy rye crispbreads on offer, with jam available to put on. There were also donuts, mini coffee cakes, and even, I believe, pretzels. But I did not see any type of plate or napkin to use.

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

7 – All told, I did feel comfortable. The people were warm and friendly, even if not at first. It seemed as thought the congregation is an active one.

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

Yes, I enjoyed the service. I felt that this church has a lot to offer its members as far as small groups, Bible studies and youth activities go.

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

The soloist and the welcome I received at the coffee time.

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