Trinity, Chicago (Exterior)

Holy Trinity, Chicago, Illinois, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Holy Trinity
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 June 2012, 10:00am

The building

Holy Trinity's downtown venue is the American College of Surgeons Auditorium, located in the Murphy Memorial Building. Designed by the Chicago firm of Marshall & Fox, known for their lavish hotels, apartment buildings, banks, and other grand works, the Murphy Building represents the Beaux-Arts style at its most opulent. Built between 1923 and 1926, it was modeled on the Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Consolation in Paris and was intended as a memorial to Dr John B. Murphy, one of the founders of the American College of Surgeons. Bronze doors feature panels depicting notable figures in the history of medicine, e.g. Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, etc. Inside, the domed auditorium is dominated by a tall backlit multicolored stained-glass window and is replete with medical and scientific decorative motifs, whereas churches would employ biblical themes. The building and the auditorium underwent an extensive renovation, completed in 2006, that restored or replicated every last detail of the original design. Today the auditorium is available for rental as one of Chicago's premiere event venues.

The church

They see themselves as ministering in five spheres: the world, the city, the neighborhood, the university, and the poor. They are very much a free church based on the concept of church planting. They currently meet in four locations throughout the city, and in addition to their Sunday services they hold group meetings and one-on-one counseling. They also partner with several like-minded ministries in Africa, Europe and Asia.

The neighborhood

This is Chicago's River North district, known for its art galleries, bars, dance clubs, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The Murphy Building is just off that stretch of Michigan Avenue known as the Magnificent Mile for its prestigious residential and commercial trappings. All around are hi-rise condominium towers and luxury hotels. Next door is the Nickerson Mansion (now the Dreihaus Museum), another grand example of architectural opulence. They share a block with St James Episcopal Cathedral. The Roman Catholic cathedral as well as a prominent Presbyterian church are also nearby.

The cast

Worship was led by Chris Long. The preacher was Joseph Kim, associate pastor with a focus on the downtown congregation and director of missional ministry preaching. Jonathan Gilley was in charge of the music. Congregational prayers were led by Barb Uniejewski.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Service

How full was the building?

The main floor was about half full, with maybe 120 chairs set up and 60 or so people attending. The wrap-around balcony was not used. There were many young couples with children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I wandered in. Someone passing by (who I later learned was Pastor Kim) said "Hi." I said "Hi" and asked if there was a service sheet. He led me to an usher, who was greeting someone else.

Was your pew comfortable?

Very nice upholstered chairs, generously spaced.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was very animated, with people chatting and greeting each other. The praise band musicians were either practicing or playing pre-service music, not sure which. I was engaged quite enthusiastically by a young woman sitting near me who sipped latte from a cup. She was downright perky and drew out my whole biography.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The first words were "Hi. I'm (I thought he said) Paul," after which followed some announcements. The service shortly opened with "Good morning. It's not a 'why' we are gathered here, but a 'who': Jesus Christ."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

No books. There were a few Bibles scattered around the seats, but everything spoken out loud by the congregation was projected onto a screen. There was a small service sheet containing many announcements of upcoming events. Their free WiFi enabled me to download a full King James Bible onto my Kindle in the minutes before the service.

What musical instruments were played?

Violin, guitar, bass, and drum trap set, with Mr Gilley and some back-up singers on mikes.

Did anything distract you?

Though there were some young children present, they were pretty mellow. A cell phone did go off loudly during a prayer. My main annoyance was that people speaking into microphones need to be aware of the reverberation of the space and not speak too fast or conversationally. Sometimes words ran together in prayers and in the sermon. Barb Uniejewski was the best public speaker.

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

Very loose and casual. My nearest neighbor sipped on her latte at intervals. On a warm summer day, flip-flops were quite acceptable footwear. The space was beautifully air-conditioned.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

35 minutes.

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

6 – I give Pastor Kim only a six because although he was well prepared and organized, I thought the theme of the sermon was a bit dull. I'm not sure how the message should pertain to me.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

We started out reading together the fourth chapter of Judges, which is the story of Deborah and Barak and the defeat of the Canaanites, a well equipped army. It includes a vivid account of Heber's wife killing Sisera by driving a tent stake into his head while he slept. Pastor Kim emphasized the notion of how justice and grace work in balance. I guess his point was that we will be judged for our sins, but this point was quite subtle.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The mellow, friendly atmosphere was welcome on a hot June day, and the sense of easy fellowship, especially in such a fabulous room, was sort of heavenly, I guess.

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

Old Testament stories of violence and mayhem are interesting, but their lesson for us in our 21st century lives is a difficult connection that I'm not sure was made. The other thing I hate is projecting the words of a song (hymn) onto a screen, assuming we don't read music, but assuming we must know the tune. It is a dumbing-down of worship. I am a fan of printed hymnals.

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

Not much. No one approached me. People were catching up with friends in animated groups.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Eventually I went over to the coffee setup in the lobby. I tried out the coffee urn, but only a few drops of coffee leaked onto the powdered creamer in my cup. I carried it outside and disposed of it at the bin in front of a pizzeria in the next block.

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

3 – This was an overall good experience, but I am familiar with at least three other churches within two blocks, and can't see a good reason for another one. I went partly to see the interior of the College of Surgeons Auditorium. I was in no way disappointed, but now feel I have seen it – on all levels.

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

Sure. Glad and thoughtful.

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

Three things: The enthusiastic chat-up by the young woman with the latte; the death-by-tentpeg scripture; and downloading a Bible onto my e-reader (thanks to their WiFi) minutes before the service. A little hi-tech fun!

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