Park Street Church, Boston, Massachusetts

Park Street, Boston, Massachusetts, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Harriet M. Welsch
Church: Park Street
Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 March 2007, 8:30am

The building

Built in 1809 and inspired by the works of Christopher Wren, Park Street Church is a red brick structure with a 217-foot-tall spire crowned by a gilded weathervane. The American novelist Henry James described it as "the most interesting mass of bricks and mortar in America." The interior retains its historic look and features many, many windows! It truly is a beautiful building, considered one of Boston's finest historical structures.

The church

It's a grand mix of ethnicities, ages, and cultures. A little more than one-third of the congregation is comprised of students from Harvard University, Boston University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It's a young church, with half its members in their 20s. It is said that on any given Sunday 59 nations are represented in the congregation. The church's many ministries are described in detail on the website.

The neighborhood

The church stands on the site of an historic graveyard known as the Granary – looking out the window, I could see a mix of old tombstones with images of skulls and assorted creatures. The graves of Revolutionary War heroes Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere and others are located here (sorry, all you Brits, but the American Revolution did start here), as well as the grave of one Elizabeth Foster Goose, thought by many to be Mother Goose of nursery rhyme fame. To the church's left is Boston Common, with its Frog Pond and swan boats. The site has sometimes been called Brimstone Corner after the "hellfire and brimstone" sermons preached there in years gone by, or perhaps because the church basement was used to store gunpowder during the War of 1812.

The cast

The Revd Stuart DeLorme, minister to internationals, led the service.

What was the name of the service?

International Sunday

How full was the building?

Not much more than half full. There was to be a second service at 11.00. With many members being college students, I imagine most of the congregation are still abed at 8.30 in the morning.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Two women greeted me at the door. "Is this your first time here?" they inquired. "It's International Sunday; you'll see a lot of people in their native dress."

Was your pew comfortable?

I suppose so, for a church built in 1809. But not really. I'm just impressed.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Noisy, considering it was only half full. Groups of people gathering and talking. Lots of kids – cute little Boston kids! And I heard one young guy say to another, "Is she someone you'd marry?"

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. If you would stand we will do the call to worship."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Trinity Hymnal and The Holy Bible, New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano, violin and French horn before the service, played amazingly well by three women. Organ during the service. There was no adult choir, but a children's choir sang one number – they were so cute!

Did anything distract you?

I certainly was distracted by the history of the place, and being surrounded by gravestones. Here was I, a resident of the Rocky Mountain region of America, sitting in Boston on a Sunday morning, very near the setting of my favorite childhood book, Make Way For Ducklings (which tells the story of a pair of ducks who decided to raise their family in Boston Public Garden).

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

The worship was... 70s-ish. I mean, it brought me back to my college days when I lived in a college town and attended a college church, and we sang hymns but also enjoyed a touch of contemporary worship.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

36 minutes, plus an 11 minute prayer after the sermon.

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

7 – I thought Pastor DeLorme's style was rather dry, although his message was a good one.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It was about Isaiah 60 – "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you" – and how all countries are loved by God and justice will be done; how those most deprived of justice thirst for it the most.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I'd have to say the pre-service instrumental music. I have never heard a French horn sound so... heavenly. I mean, French horn and heavenly – isn't that an oxymoron?

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

The 11 minute prayer after the sermon. I caught myself drifting off, a bit of drool dripping from the side of my mouth. I blame it on jet lag (and an 11 minute prayer).

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

At the conclusion of the service, people were invited to stand up and mention any needs they might have. Since the majority of the congregation were students, we were asked to consider needs such as, "Does anyone know of someone who could help translate scientific terms into English?" When that was over, we all packed ourselves into a room for goodies, but no one spoke to me. I think there must have been a Sunday school class getting out at the same time.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Great coffee, tea, juice and homemade goodies: muffins, bread, cupcakes. Yes! Believe it or not, this is the first Mystery Worship experience I've had where refreshments were served.

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

9 – If I lived in Boston, I'd be here.

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

Yes. It brought me back to my days of college: being involved in justice and peace issues, living out the gospel in community. Now I'm just a grouchy person who avoids people at my own church.

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

That the congregation's greatest need seemed to be for help in the area of English translation of scientific terms. Hmm. I might not be smart enough for this church.

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