Riverside Presbyterian, Cocoa Beach, Florida, USA

Riverside Presbyterian, Cocoa Beach, Florida, USA

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Mystery Worshipper: Alpha
Church: Riverside Presbyterian
Location: Cocoa Beach, Florida, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 February 2009, 11:00am

The building

A campus nicely planted with trees and shrubs, on which sit about a half dozen unassuming buildings, the oldest of which was finished in 1957 and the newest in 1994. The interior of the sanctuary building is very pleasant, calm, not ornate, with a center stage surrounded by seating. There are two lecterns on the stage, each located toward the sides, with the communion table in the middle. On the wall are a wooden cross with stained glass panels on each side.

The church

There appear to be a lot of activities happening at the church and their website certainly indicates this. Of special note are: "lab school," a program of developmental daytime play sessions for parents and children, with night theory sessions for the parents; the Space Coast Seafarers Ministry, which seeks to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the international crew members that visit Port Canaveral; and the Appalachian Gospel, a re-creation of a typical 1950s "old time religion" service in the southeastern USA cultural region known as Appalachia.

The neighborhood

Cocoa Beach, on Florida's east coast, is a favorite vacation destination for the sun and surf crowd. The Kennedy Space Center is not far away, and nearby Port Canaveral is home port for cruise lines such as Disney, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. The church is located on the main street alongside shopping malls, hotels, condos, and extended stay apartments for winter snowbirds. Also less than a mile away is the "world famous" Ron Jons Surf Shop, which claims to be one of the most oft-visited attractions in Florida.

The cast

The Revd Daniel Robinson, D.Min., pastor, led the service. The sermon was given by the Revd Claudio Reinaldet, coordinator of the Amazon Christian Holistic Development project in Manaus, Brazil. The Revd Senhor Reinaldet spoke in Portuguese, which was translated into English by Marta Carriker.

What was the name of the service?

Traditional Worship

How full was the building?

Half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I walked up the path to the sanctuary, someone wished me a good morning. At the door, an usher welcomed me as he handed me the order of worship. Once seated, the couple sitting next to me also said good morning. As the service began, the pastor asked those attending for the first time to raise their hands, and we were all given a church coffee mug and a map of the various buildings that comprise the campus.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I arrived about 10 minutes before service began, and the church's organist/choir director was playing a beautiful piece on the piano. He soon switched over to the organ. I felt comfortable in the cool, calm interior. The choir and worship leaders walked in and were seated for about five minutes before worship began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and welcome to worship."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Presbyterian Hymnal and a song book whose title I didn't notice. Pew Bibles were available but not referred to.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano and organ. This congregation certainly could sing, as a lot of voices were lifted in song.

Did anything distract you?

On the stage were several chairs, some on the left and some on the right. Three gentlemen wearing Geneva gowns sat in the chairs, but I was confused as to who got to sit on the left and who on the right. Also, during worship, some very short verses were sung from time to time. Even though these were listed in the order of worship, by the time I was able to find them in the hymn book the music was finished. We were invited to repeat the Lord's Prayer, but it was not printed, and since I didn't know which version they'd be saying (who art/which art, debts/trespasses, etc.) I just mumbled in a couple of places.

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

The service was formal and I assume it conformed to the accepted liturgy. It began with announcements, followed by the call to worship, hymn of praise, a prayer of confession with sung plea and assurance of pardon, Bible readings, sermon, communion and benediction. The prayers were said without a lot of passion but were not stiff. I was impressed by the fact that all were invited to communion, with no exclusion of anyone who may not have been baptized in the faith. We consumed the bread cubes as they were distributed, but we were instructed to wait to drink until all of the small disposable cups of juice had been passed out.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

7 – The Revd Senhor Reinaldet spoke in Portuguese, with passion, and his words were translated into English.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He spoke on "Healing Waters," taking as his text Luke 8:40-56 (Jesus raises the daughter of Jairus from the dead and cures a woman who suffered from hemorrhages). He emphasized that Jesus healed these women without even knowing their names. We need to minister to the world, to people whom we may not know.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I found the sermon to be very inspiring.

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

The sharing of the peace. Everyone stood, but only about half the people moved about wishing good morning or the peace of Christ to their fellow worshippers; the other half just stood there and did nothing. Clearly the latter half were not comfortable with passing the peace. We were also invited to sign a friendship book and pass it along the pew, and then pass it back opened so we could see the names of the other people sitting with us. Some people signed their full names, others merely their initials. I thought I noticed that as the book was passed back, the people who had initialed it didn't bother to look inside at the names there.

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

The couple sitting to my right mentioned that coffee would be served in another building and wouldn't I be sure to come. But as we exited to the right and made our way to the coffee hour, no one spoke to me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee, tea, juice, birthday cake for those celebrating birthdays, cookies, muffins, chips, pretzels, and popcorn (from a machine) were all available. I helped myself to coffee in a styrofoam cup. I doubt it was fair traded, in spite of having a missionary from Brazil speaking. I hung around for about ten minutes, but no one spoke to me or invited me to sit at their table with them. I didn't see the pastor or guest preacher in the hall, so I left.

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

3 – There are many other churches in the area where I would be likely to return sooner. I would have expected that this church, located on a main street in an area where thousands of seasonal residents make their winter homes, and which professes to extend a special outreach to passengers and crew from the cruise ships, would concentrate more on making sure that visitors fit right in. Clearly they seem to be taking Luke's message too much to heart – no need to learn these people's names. Yet when I look at their website and the order of worship, the church has a lot happening. I'm sure once you broke into the "club" you could fit right in; it's the breaking in that may take some effort.

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

Yes it did. And I will make sure that when I go back to my home church, I will recognize the visitor.

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

The message of ministering to those without a name.

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