Our Savior, Pagosa Springs, CO (Exterior)

Our Savior, Pagosa Springs, Colorado, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Our Savior
Location: Pagosa Springs, Colorado, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 May 2012, 9:00am

The building

A rustic, plain but attractive building set in a landscape of pine trees. One enters via the fellowship hall, a large cafeteria-style room; the sanctuary is off to the right. The interior is bright, with an eastward facing altar against a stone wall and a pitched wooden roof. Pews are angled in toward the center aisle.

The church

They sponsor a chapter of the Lutheran Women Missionary League and Mothers In Touch International, as well as a youth group, Bible study groups, and a prison ministry. Matins is said each weekday, and there is one Sunday service each week.

The neighborhood

Pagosa Springs is located on the western slope of the Continental Divide at an elevation of 7000 feet. The area's natural beauty and abundant resources attract visitors year round, as well as wealthy homeowners seeking second homes. The church is located just off Route 160 about a 15 minute drive west of downtown. Motels, restaurants, and shops of various kinds dot the road, as you would expect on the outskirts of just about any tourist-oriented town.

The cast

The Revd Steve Sanderson, vacancy pastor; the Revd Jordan McKinley, vicar; Anne Zoellner, music assistant. They recently called a new pastor, the Revd Andrew Packer, who will begin his ministry in late June.

What was the name of the service?

Divine Service, Setting 1, with Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

I counted room for about 100, and it was pretty much full, with only one or two empty places. A goodly mix of all ages, men, women and children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A lady in the fellowship hall said, "Hello. Welcome. Come in." Both the vacancy pastor and vicar came up to me, introduced themselves, and shook hands.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People tended to remain in the fellowship hall until a few minutes before the scheduled service time. As they trickled into the sanctuary, they became respectfully silent for the most part, although there was some talking. Quite a bit of noise wafted in from the fellowship hall, though. As I sat waiting, a gentleman who took a seat behind me patted me on the shoulder and said, "Good morning. Welcome." The organist played a prelude.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Christ is risen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Lutheran Service Book; The Holy Bible, New International Version; service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?

Electric organ with a very nice French Romantic array of stops and a good artificial reverberation. The organist chose her registrations well and played competently, but I'll have more to say about her playing in a moment.

Did anything distract you?

The obligatory babbling infant. Also, the vacancy pastor looked exactly like the late actor Fred Gwynne, star of such TV classics as Car 54 Where Are You and The Munsters, as well as the film Pet Sematary.

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

Conservative Lutheran. The first part of the service, up to and including the sermon, was conducted by the vicar in cassock-alb, cincture and pectoral cross; the remainder by the vacancy pastor in cassock-alb, cincture and stole. It was all done ad orientem. There were no lay readers or acolytes. Large parts of the service were chanted. In the Nicene Creed we said we believed in "one holy Christian and apostolic church."

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

7 – Vicar McKinley delivered an interesting message but I believe he had a printed text in front of him, although he tried to sound extemporaneous.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The vicar said that men are fascinated by fire. Wood cannot burn spontaneously; it must be ignited. A fire must be fueled to keep it going. Once removed from the flame, wood will tend to extinguish itself and cool off. That's how faith works. It must be ignited by the Holy Spirit and nourished by preaching and the sacraments. If we remove ourselves from worship, our faith may cool off and eventually be extinguished. The devil is ever-ready to snatch faith away from us; the sacraments guard us against temptation. Faith comes from God alone, who places us in Jesus hands through baptism. Preachers can preach God's word to us, but the Holy Spirit instills in us faith in God's word and keeps us there. God uses us to be witnesses to his work and to be agents of mercy and hope in an unbelieving world. Death is the final victory.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The welcome seemed warm and sincere, and the organ really did sound lovely.

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

But the organist played too softly to support congregational singing. The hymns were traditional and well chosen, but we all had trouble keeping up with the accompaniment because we couldn't hear it. And I have long felt that Lutheran service music is unsingable, and today's service music did nothing to disprove my contention. The congregation appeared to think so too, as singing was generally quite weak. My biggest disappointment, though, came at communion time. The service leaflet admonished everyone to read the sections entitled "The Office of the Keys and Confession" and "The Sacrament of the Altar" in the Small Catechism, which is conveniently included in the Lutheran Service Book, before deigning to approach the communion rail. As a result, I felt decidedly unwelcome at communion and in fact did not go forward to receive.

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

After the dismissal and blessing, the vicar remained at the altar to deliver an interminable series of announcements, complete with contributions from various members of the congregation. He then said, "Let us now begin our Sunday school class." I took that as my cue to get up and leave, which I did as soon as the vicar turned again to face the east as he opened Sunday school with a prayer.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

On the way out, I saw that coffee and a bowl of cut-up fruit were waiting in the fellowship hall, but I didn't stay.

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

2 – I've noticed in the past that Missouri Synod Lutheranism seems colder and more dour than its evangelical counterpart, and it seemed to me that this church fit squarely into the cold and dour mold.

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


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

An eastward facing celebration and closed communion in a Lutheran church.

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