Mystery Worshipper: Gwai
Church: Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 July 2010, 7:00pm
Reconciler shares their building with a much larger Lutheran church. The main sanctuary is extremely large and looks like it could seat hundreds. There was a pretty garden outside complete with baby rabbits. However, we worshiped in a lovely side chapel off the main sanctuary. It was set up with icons, a table and long kneeler for communion, candles, etc. The ceiling is covered in paintings of things that are probably angels, and the wall with stained glass windows portraying the history of the church (back to the 1800s). Perhaps the only out-of-place thing was the massage table in the back area that the church used as a lobby and place to gather after service.
Their sign says they are associated with the American Baptist, Evangelical Covenant, and Episcopal denominations. The chapel was very, very small. That definitely affects the atmosphere. It was, however, very welcoming and friendly. This was a children's service and children ran around everywhere and even talked somewhat noisily during the service. This surprised me because the church is very high-church generally. Far above what I am used to as you will gather!
From what I could tell, it seems to be a fairly classic Chicago neighborhood. Edgewater is a quiet residential area. The church is surrounded by apartments and houses, with a playground across the street.
The service was led by the pastor, Larry Kamphausen, and the celebrant was a woman called Katya, whose surname was not in the bulletin and I couldn't really ask without betraying my Mystery Worshiper status.
What was the name of the service?Seventh Sunday Service in Ordinary Time after Pentecost. It was also a service that was specifically designed with children in mind.
How full was the building?
Fourteen people worshiped, including two robed people, four children, and eight other adults. I would say that about half the seats were full, but it would have been quite cramped if they'd all been full as we processed over to the area that apparently should be called a chancel.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The pastor's wife said hello as I entered. We made a bit of small talk that was briefly interrupted as she genuflected to each icon we passed. She was probably the first person I've seen genuflect, let alone genuflect with pink dreads.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a wicker chair but yes. Simple, plain, but perfectly comfortable. We sat in an arc except when we all walked over to the chancel for communion, when we stood.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pretty empty. Between the guy who carried in the ornamented cross, the pastor, the celebrant, and the people who came in late, there weren't very many people in the church before the service started. Remember there were only 14 worshipers total counting the pastor etc. There was some quiet conversation, and it seemed most people knew each other.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"As we join together in worship, let us sing our closing hymn, I mean opening hymn!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We shared one Bible, which I didn't get a chance to inspect, for reasons later noted. We used the Episcopal Church's Hymnal 1982 and a somewhat complex 10-page bulletin. (I think it wouldn't have confused anyone who was even vaguely used to high-church liturgy, but all the words like trisagion and versicle rather baffled me.) It is also worth noting here that the bulletin had a gorgeous picture on the front that illustrated the story of the Good Samaritan in classical medieval style. I could have looked at it for quite a while without getting bored.
What musical instruments were played?
Only the voice was employed.
Did anything distract you?
I was somewhat distracted by the children, but this is really to be expected since it was a children's service. There was a confession-like time (called Altar Call) between the prayer of confession and communion and when the pastor approached the table. One girl (a toddler) followed and knelt, then lay, on the kneeler. I counted at least three of us who utterly failed to stifle our giggles. I kept looking at the pastor to see if he was amused, but he blessed her very nicely instead. I was also pleasantly distracted by the children during communion when a boy carried in the bread. He was so very joyful and proud of himself he very clearly got it he was carrying Jesus! It was a lovely illustration of a child taking communion seriously.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
As you will have guessed by now, the worship style was more formal than this worshiper is used to. I realized that when I noticed that one woman (who turned out to be listed in the bulletin as the celebrant) was wearing a long black robe and the pastor had about three layers of dress (white with big sleeves that made him look like an angel when he raised his hands, over black, plus stole.) However, they were kind when I unfortunately made it very clear that I was clueless. I was baffled by the communion cup. My line of thought was: erm, everyone else already ate their bread so I have nothing to dip, what do I do with this? Drink? Maybe, but since we're doing this family style everyone is watching and I don't know what to do, just pass the cup on! And I did not genuflect to the icons despite how utterly beautiful they were because it would have felt fake and the others didn't seem offended. To give another example, before service I was asked to be a reader and happily agreed to read. Although I was puzzled at the lack of Bibles, they promised to pass me one when the relevant time came. After I finished reading, everything was very quiet. I wondered what they were expecting (perhaps they like quiet after their epistle reading?) but then my husband whispered to me that there were words I was supposed to say and they were in the bulletin. This should not have been a surprise to me, but everyone was very patient and the pastor grinned.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
About 13 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The pastor preached well and kept me entertained. It was a children's service, so he started off preaching to a rather low level, but gave that up as he went on. I also really appreciated his appealing to the visual senses as he pointed to the picture on the front of the bulletin. It helped me stay interested. All in all, the sermon did have the right visceral connotation, and it was good to be reminded that drug dealers are my neighbors too (see below).
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He started and ended with the question of how to know what God wants of us. Then he did a retelling of the gospel story of the Good Samaritan, except he compared it to modern examples. I was entertained that the Good Samaritan was a drug dealer. He pointed out that similar to how the Jews of that time would have thought about Samaritans, we don't consider drug dealers to be law-abiding and think we are probably better than they are. He then said that, as in the picture he used, the Good Samaritan in the story is Jesus, who meets us and heals us where we are, even when the world doesn't. And so we are to "go thou and do likewise." Sometimes in life we will fulfill all the rules ourselves, yet Jesus still leads us on even when we're not there yet.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The physical surroundings of the service were absolutely amazing. Near the altar was a huge (about as tall as me) icon of Christ, looking a bit older than he usually does in images (top right-hand side of the church webpage). Almost everywhere I looked were gorgeous painted things, be they icons or ceilings or what have you. Even the cross had a person painted onto it.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I wouldn't say hellish, but the whole experience was extremely alien. I just felt like I didn't know what I was doing at all. It was weird to me that we all shared one Bible, weird (though delightful) that the church was so small, weird that I didn't know half the terminology, and weird to have a mini-confessional time before communion. It was also weird that the church was so chatty. I was surprised and pleased that there was a short discussion period after the sermon, but I was more surprised by some discussion after one of the hymns. The pastor's wife commented on what a funny, silly hymn it was ("I Sing a Song of the Saints of God"), though she made it clear that she enjoyed it. Others responded to her and there was a bit of chat before the service moved on.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
With only 14 people, it's hard to look lost. I stood in the back of the church with the other 13 people (minus the people chasing children). Everyone introduced themselves to me and they were friendly. The purple-haired woman next to me discussed living in community and the woman on the other side of me (with two children) discussed potty-training. I felt welcomed and entertained. I would have happily stayed longer but one of the parents came in saying it looked like "big rain!" so we left to dodge the storm.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no after-service food, just fellowship.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I would really love the community that seems to exist here, and I'm sure I'd get used to the style, but the high-church liturgy will never be my favorite, I suspect.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I was surrounded by gorgeous artwork, and what seemed to be a caring congregation. I am truly glad that people have services like this if they inspire such beautiful icons!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I will remember the girl lying on her stomach on the kneeler, the icons, how confused I felt when I was passed the cup, and the warmth of the church.