Mystery Worshipper: Pkplmr
Church: Grace United
Location: Barrie, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 April 2008, 10:30am
The church is a 1950s style structure with a horseshoe shaped sanctuary. It is darkish as there is no natural light that comes in without passing through stained glass.
They take pride in their music program and sponsor a number of ministries, including a friendship group, food bank, label and stamp collections to support a variety of special projects, etc. They are a scent-free church, discouraging the use of cologne, perfume, after-shave, etc. in deference to members with allergies. Through their Wheels to Church program, they offer rides to and from church for those without transportation. It appears to be a very stable congregation, the last pastor having served for more than 30 years. They also share their space with a Korean church.
Barrie is located about an hour's drive north of Toronto. The downtown area sits in a valley from which steep hills climb to the outer edges of the city. Recreational activities such as skiing and boating make it a sought-after tourist destination. The church is located in a middle class suburban neighbourhood, near a high school and a retirement home. The Barrie campus of Georgian College is also nearby.
The Revd Bonnie E. Kelly, interim minister, presided. Joan Winter was the lay reader. The names of the organist and various people who read announcements were not given.
What was the name of the service?Worship Service.
How full was the building?
About two-thirds full. There were about a dozen children there and I'd guess about two-thirds of the congregation were age 55 or older.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed with a warm handshake and a copy of the bulletin. I wasn't seated five minutes when someone introduced themselves, welcomed me, asked if I was visiting, and wished me a good morning.
Was your pew comfortable?
Padded and quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I felt like I had dropped in on a family get-together. There was chatter, laughter, business being addressed, and catching up on issues. I didn't feel the least bit uncomfortable despite not being privy to most of the business or issues.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, and welcome to Grace United Church."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
In the pews were The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, and the United Church of Canada's Voices United hymn book.
What musical instruments were played?
A grand piano and an organ.
Did anything distract you?
To my surprise and great distraction, a husband and wife team from my home church walked in. I tried to become invisible so as to avoid the embarrassing "Well, what are you doing here?" and "Why aren't you at church back home?" exchange. There was also an adorable baby three rows ahead who made smiles and happy eyes at me.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was a relaxed feel to the service. Most of the people wore comfortable clothing. There were a few suits, a few t-shirts and sweaters. I counted six neckties in total. But the proceedings were by no means irreverent, more like a family gathering. I recalled singing one of the hymns at church camp 25 years ago, and singing it again made it feel like we were all gathered around a campfire. During the sermon, the minister sort of sidled up to the pulpit like your mom might stand at the kitchen table, or like a kindly old uncle might hold court down at the neighbourhood pub. But seven different people read announcements that lasted a total of 15 minutes, and several more minutes were taken up by birthday/anniversary announcements.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Pastor Kelly spoke with an air of comfort, but her format was a little loose. Some jokes, some anecdotes, several off-the-cuff meanderings, and oh yes, a sermon.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The pastor took as her text Luke 24:13-35, the disciples' encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus. The disciples felt disappointed and let down at the apparent abandonment of God. Where do we, here and now in 2008, feel let down? Where do we find comfort? Where did the disciples find it?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Pastor Kelly communicated so well with the children. She employed Dr Seuss's Horton Hears a Who! imagery, with the punchline: "A person is a person, no matter how small." At children's prayer time, she let the children do the leading. Hearing a group of children pray in that manner was a wonderful thing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Seeing someone I knew from my home church. I also spotted at least three business acquaintances and feared that my cover would be blown for sure.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Social time had been announced earlier in the service and was mentioned again at the conclusion. As it was held immediately outside the sanctuary doors, it was hard to look lost. All roads lead to refreshments, as they say. Suddenly I heard, "Well, what are you doing here?" and there were the husband and wife from back home. It turns out that they have a sort of his/her membership and are active at two churches. Needless to say I was welcomed with conversation.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee and a light luncheon were available, but the service had lasted almost an hour and a half and I had family waiting, so I couldn't stay.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – There was a strong family feel, but I do wonder how long it would be until I would be part of the family. And the sermon left me hungry.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The reaffirmation of the family we are all a part of.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The children's prayer time.