Mystery Worshipper: ChurchChat
Location: Newtown, Pennsylvania, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 May 2006, 10:00am
The building, obviously new, is a low white structure with a steeply pitched roof. Everything is well kept and very clean. Inside, the sanctuary setting is very intimate and comfortable and encourages focus on worship. It felt like church, if that makes sense. Some other sanctuaries almost have a theater or lecture hall feel to them.
Several social and religious programs are listed on their website. They have recently called a new pastor and so are in a time of transition.
Newtown is a small, rather charming community located amid the farmland of Pennsylvania's Bucks County, to the north of Philadelphia. Legend has it that William Penn, after laying out the plan for Philadelphia in 1682, took an excursion to the Bucks County area and exclaimed, "This is where I propose to build my new town." Newtown abounds in bed and breakfasts, curious old cemeteries, and carefully preserved colonial houses and other buildings.
The Rev. Eric Royer, pastor. Several laymen also took part in the service but their names were not listed anywhere.
What was the name of the service?Celebration Service
How full was the building?
About half full. Being good Lutherans, mostly the back half.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered, someone immediately shook my hand.
Was your pew comfortable?
Cushioned chairs – very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There weren't very many people in the worship space until just before service time, so things were fairly quiet. There was a baby crying but that was only briefly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to worship at Ascension Lutheran Church."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None at all – in lieu of bulletins, they use a projection system.
What musical instruments were played?
Pre-recorded organ and piano.
Did anything distract you?
The temperature in the sanctuary was a bit cool. The projection screen was positioned such that I had to hold my head at an uncomfortable angle to see it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Well, it was "different contemporary." Other contemporary services I've been to have usually had some traditional elements included, such as live music and bulletins. This service had pre-recorded music and all of the text was projected onto a screen. It made me wonder what, if any, thought they'd given to accommodating those with limited mobility or vision/hearing impairments.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The pastor swayed in the pulpit a bit, which was a little distracting, but he preached well. He was able to hold my attention for the majority of the sermon.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was about Jesus as the Good Shepherd and his commandment for us to love one another.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The congregation were very warm and welcoming during the sharing of the peace. People moved about to greet fellow worshippers and seemed to make a point of sharing the peace with visitors.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was some scratchy, squealy feedback coming out of the PA system at the beginning of the service. And should I return again, I'd try to find a seat that would let me see the screen without having to strain my neck.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A few members introduced me to the pastor and encouraged me to partake of refreshments.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I'm not a coffee drinker (although it was available), but there was a very nice selection of cake and cookies.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I'd have to try it out a few more times before I could decide. The congregation is very small, which is nice for someone looking for an intimate worship setting. Since they have just called their new pastor, this could be a good time to become a regular worshipper here. New beginnings and all that.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It was a nice service but it didn't leave me feeling especially uplifted. The contemporary service is a fairly new worship style for them, and there are some kinks to work out, but there seemed to be a lot of excitement about it and so there is every reason to think that it will grow and flourish.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The atmosphere of the sanctuary – "it felt like church!"