Mystery Worshipper: Portola
Church: St Mark the Evangelist
Location: Hood River, Oregon, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 May 2018, 10:00am
The church was built in 1925. A special feature is the stained glass windows, commissioned in 1984, created and installed by local artist Joyce Bryerton. After she passed away in 1996, Kristen Gerde, proprietor of a local stained glass studio, completed the final windows according to Bryerton's drawings. There is an adjacent fellowship hall with rooms for small group discussions, and classrooms that are rented to a pre-school.
For a year and a half the congregation has been looking for a new rector. There do not seem to be enough available clergy to cover every small town parish. To increase the chances of attracting candidates, the vestry increased the compensation to cover rising costs and expressed willingness to accept a Lutheran minister. (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church cooperate with one another in filling parish vacancies in more remote areas.) Among the groups of the congregation: Bible study, book discussion, supper groups, confidential support groups, men's breakfasts.
The small city of Hood River (population of 7000), established in 1858, is named after the river that originates on the north side of Mt Hood and flows into the Columbia River. It has a picturesque setting in the Columbia River Gorge scenic area. The fruit orchards in Hood River Valley produce apples, pears, peaches and cherries that are shipped world-wide. Wineries have also become part of the landscape. The area is popular for outdoor sports such as wind surfing, kiteboarding, fishing, hiking and skiing. Forming a scenic backdrop is Mt Hood itself, elevation approximately 11,000 feet (3400 meters) it has varied over the years for reasons I am about to state. The highest peak in Oregon, Mt Hood is a dormant but potentially active volcano. At present it is snow-covered all year long and is home to twelve named glaciers. Although it is considered no more than seven per cent likely to erupt within the next thirty years (it has not erupted since 1907), earthquakes do occur with alarming frequency.
Celebrant and preacher was the Revd Marilyn Roth, assistant priest. At the organ and piano was Bettie Cramblett.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist.
How full was the building?
About one-quarter full 35 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, the woman at the entrance handing out the order of service, as well as two people who came up to us in our pew.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Mostly quiet. There was a piano prelude.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to St Mark's on this Pentecost Sunday."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Hymnal 1982 and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano and electronic organ.
Did anything distract you?
During the Creed a donation can crashed onto the floor. During the announcements this can was handed through the congregation for donations to a project supporting people in need (as I learned later). I assumed that it was the regular collection, but before I could get money out of my wallet or drop in my Mystery Worship calling card, the can was long gone. I was surprised when the actual collection occurred a moment later, but again the plate passed me by before I could react. Another distraction occurred at communion time. After receiving, everyone exited the church through a side door! Are they abandoning the Divine Presence, I wondered? But then they reappeared through another door. Apparently this is how they avoid congestion in the narrow altar area, but it did disrupt my concentration.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The style of worship was formal but not stiff. It was easy to participate in the service: all of the words of the liturgy and readings were printed, allowing the worshipers to follow the spoken words and participate actively in several prayers, the psalm of the day and the Nicene Creed. Aside from the hymns, only the Sanctus and the fraction anthem were sung. As the gospel was being read in English by the priest, two women read it simultaneously in two other languages.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The assistant priest spoke clearly and lucidly. She seemed to be in tune with the congregation and addressed situations with which they were familiar. She displayed a sense of humor that the listeners appreciated.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The miraculous pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost created a new reality. The Spirit was no longer restricted to individual prophets, but became accessible to everyone. Religion was no longer restricted to the temple in Jerusalem (nor by implication to a church building) but has moved outward, seeking outreach. This outward impulse of the Spirit requires of us to be open for surprising, spontaneous and courageous decisions. The outreach of the Spirit can be seen at St Mark's in unobtrusive but identifiable situations.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At my stage in life, I am not looking for excitement in worship, but for a feeling of being comfortably at home. The general predictability of Episcopal services - the adherence to tradition, to the Book of Common Prayer, to the Hymnal , the celebration of the eucharist every Sunday - is something that I find heavenly.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Fire and brimstone are literally lurking under the earth in this area. The explosion of nearby Mt St Helens in 1980 demonstrated that the Cascade volcanoes have the potential to cause devastation of apocalyptic proportions. If Mt Hood should someday erupt again, Hood River, only 30 miles away, would seem to be in a vulnerable position for volcanic mud flows, which can bury cities (and churches).
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A member of the congregation came up to us immediately, engaged us in friendly conversation, and invited us to coffee and cookies in the fellowship hall.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
St Mark's supports fair trade coffee. The coffee was decent. The variety of cookies was fine.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – The people I encountered were friendly, thoughtful, and obviously dedicated to being faithful and looking for opportunities of outreach. Since they are going through a long period of transition without a permanent rector, they have had time to think carefully about their identity and their perspective. As a visitor I appreciated the friendliness, which was cordial, open-hearted and not intrusive. They appear very attached to the parish – an announcement was made that weeds on the church grounds appeared to be getting out of hand. Everyone was asked to come by whenever convenient and remove as many weeds as possible starting with the worst so that they would be gone when the next potential minister arrived for an interview.
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 weed removal appeal. I have no doubt that the weeds will be gone within 10 days.