First Lutheran, Moline, Illinois, USA

First Lutheran, Moline, Illinois, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: First Lutheran
Location: Moline, Illinois, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 August 2010, 9:00am

The building

The building towers over its surroundings in downtown Moline. There are two striking features: a mural over the reredos in a vividly realistic, 19th-century style depicting the ascension of Christ, and a horseshoe-shaped balcony on three sides of the church. This is the parish's second home, which the parish voted to build in 1875. The building was extensively renovated in 1918 to include, according to their website, "a massive high altar to reflect the increasing sacramental and liturgical developments in the Augustana Synod."

The church

First Lutheran was founded in 1850 as the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, at about the same time as a Swedish Methodist and Swedish Baptist church were also founded in Moline. By 1867 they reported a baptized membership of 1,550. Today they offer a fairly typical mix of educational opportunities, women's groups, and social justice ministries. They provide a nursery for students at Black Hawk College, a local school with programs in nursing, law enforcement and computer science, among others. They also sponsor classes in English as a second language and participate in other community services.

The neighborhood

Moline, along with another city in Illinois and two in Iowa, comprise what is known as the Quad Cities. Collectively, these towns form the largest metropolitan area on the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and Saint Louis. Moline is best known as home to Deere & Company, maker of the John Deere line of tractors and other large farm implements and gardening machinery. First Lutheran is in the middle of downtown Moline, across the street from a collection of small businesses.

The cast

The Revd Daniel Witkowski, pastor, presided and preached. The organist was Grayson Brottmiller.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion

How full was the building?

About three-quarters full. I estimate the church seats about 260 (not counting the balcony).

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was handed a service leaflet as I entered.

Was your pew comfortable?

A fairly comfortable wooden pew. No kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Fairly chatty when I first entered; it quieted down fairly quickly when Mr Brottmiller began his prelude (an Andante by Cesar Franck).

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, and welcome to First Lutheran."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) was in the pews, but not used. The service leaflet contained all of the music and liturgical texts for the service. These were for the most part not from ELW, but from the 1995 With One Voice.

What musical instruments were played?

A Zimmer pipe organ. Their website describes a large choir, which (alas) as it was August, I did not have the opportunity to hear.

Did anything distract you?

Pastor Witkowski, who began the service vested in alb and stole, disappeared after the sermon, to reappear near the end of the hymn of the day in a chasuble, in time to lead the congregation in the Apostle's Creed and intercessions. I have seen Lutheran and Episcopal presiders "dress for dinner," but this was the first time I had seen a presider "dress for the Creed."

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

A very formal, catholic-minded eucharistic liturgy, framed at both beginning and end by some very informal announcements. Communion was received kneeling. Music was fairly traditional.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

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

8 – Pastor Witkowski is an excellent speaker, with no distracting idiosyncrasies.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel for this Sunday was Luke 12:13-21 (the parable of the foolish rich man). He began by talking about barns in the Midwest, and all of the ways that imagery of barns has entered Midwesterners' vocabularies: barn-raising, barnstorming, etc. He contrasted our abundance today with what he termed a "culture of scarcity" in Jesus' day. The community in Jesus' day did not look favorably on the rich; it was a sin, in this culture of scarcity, not to share. The parable is not only about material goods. Our "barns" can be filled with power or prestige. We should remember that, like the wealthy landowner, we will ultimately have to face God stripped of our possessions.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Seeing a fairly full church on an August Sunday morning reverently celebrating the eucharist. And I appreciated Pastor Witkowski's preaching.

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

My own prejudices will be on display here. This service represents a strand of high-church Lutheranism that I call "let pastor do it." There was very little lay involvement, other than having lay readers give the first two readings. Pastor Witkowski led the intercessions, set the altar without assistance, led the post-communion prayer, used a eucharistic prayer without memorial acclamation, etc. The two women who administered the "wee cuppies" did so without any words of administration. Where I usually worship there is much more lay involvement, and this approach to liturgy seemed odd to me.

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

Nothing. The other folks in my pew were engaged in conversation without moving, and so I was stuck in my pew for a while. But no one spoke to me. When I finally did make it to the back of the church, Pastor Witkowski asked, "And who are you?" We chatted briefly. I got the impression that, probably due to its location, there are not a lot of visitors to First Lutheran on a typical Sunday morning.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The announcements before the service noted that there would be brainstorming sessions after the service, for parishioners to discuss what they would like to see happening in the parish over the next five years. The announcements after the service noted that there would be a reception, prior to the brainstorming sessions, to celebrate a couple's 64th wedding anniversary. Neither of these struck me as events appropriate for a visitor, so I got an early start on my six hour drive home.

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

6 – This is a hard call. The kind of liturgy practiced at First Lutheran is quite different from what I am used to, and would take some time to adjust to. On the other hand, it appears that, given its location, quite a few people are driving some distance to be a part of this parish community; they must be doing something right. And I would be curious as to what that 50-voice choir sounds like. If we were ever to move to Moline, we would probably try First Lutheran for a few weeks. Hard to judge after only one service, and there are quite a few other ELCA parishes in the Quad Cities area.

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

Yes, indeed.

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

Pastor Witkowski's "And who are you?"

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