Mystery Worshipper: LeftyForJesus
Church: Roberts Congregational
Location: Roberts, Wisconsin, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 November 2009, 10:00am
A very new church building (still has that new building smell). I had driven by several times while it was under construction. The layout is open and there is signage all over the place for the bathrooms, nursery, etc. Still, within the worship space itself, I couldn't get over the feeling that it consisted of pews set down in the middle of a pole barn.
It seemed obvious that the congregation interacts a lot. Whenever anyone came in through the door, a hive-like buzz arose. This may have been due in part to the acoustics of the open space. They sponsor Sunday school, Bible study, and a crafts group called Holy Scrappers, among other activities.
Roberts is a tiny village, population about 1000, in western Wisconsin near the border with Minnesota, about 25 miles east of the Minneapolis/St Paul metropolitan area. Despite its proximity to the metropolis, Roberts has a small-town look and feel to it. The church is located at the confluence of two state highways on what was quite recently a cornfield. It was pretty cool to see bald eagles overhead as we were walking across the parking lot.
The Revd Mary Schmotzer, pastor.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Worship
How full was the building?
The worship space seemed a little over half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Well, sort of. A greeter at the door wished us a good morning but didn't direct us to where the bulletins were located. We followed others to a table by the door and helped ourselves from a stack. A few people came up and introduced themselves prior to worship, and others did so during the passing of the peace.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard issue pew. Nothing fancy. The variety of standing/sitting meant we didn't get "pew butt" by the end of the service.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly – lots of folks seemed to be catching up with each other. Not gossipy, though. Piano music started a few minutes before worship.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. It is a beautiful day to gather and worship God."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Most songs were printed in the bulletin, but one, "Jesus loves me," was in the New Century Hymnal (1995). No Bibles were in evidence.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano only, although there was a drum off to the side.
Did anything distract you?
While I'm a fan of fellowship, it's very distracting to have to listen to a continual dialog from the family behind me for the whole service. We're not talking about a couple with young kids. These were adults. They'd shush each other occasionally, but it was difficult to focus. Also, the furnace kicked on in the middle of the sermon and seemed super loud, especially given that the church is brand new. Oh, and the sound system was really "muddy" at first, making it really hard to concentrate on what was being said. The pastor put on one of those "invisible" head microphones later and the sound was better from that point on.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It seemed a little disjointed. There were some aspects of the service that seemed really traditional, almost Lutheran – the creed, order of service, and prayer of confession seemed pretty conservative. Then there'd be a more contemporary tune (OK, so it was "Open your eyes" but it was pretty hip for this service). Overall, though, I'd say it was a fairly conservative congregation (especially for UCC) that is trying to loosen up but isn't exactly sure how to do it. Kudos for trying, though.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Pastor Schmotzer seemed really earnest, but I thought she could have made her point in fewer words. It seemed that all of her spoken words were written down, none given extemporaneously. I'm actually OK with that, as it shows she cared enough about what she would say to have written it down. One lost opportunity was that although the bulletin listed the day as "All Saints Day" there was no mention about what this means within their faith tradition.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
There are two types of people at a church service: those who don't feel worthy of communion, and those who don't get what the big deal is about communion. The upshot: communion isn't about us – it's a gift from God. None of us deserves this gift, yet we receive it freely.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The windows in this church provide an awesome view of the scenery outside. My spouse remarked that he could still see the eagles flying from where he was sitting. Also, I was pleasantly surprised at the singing of the congregation, especially for the first song, "Love divine, all loves excelling." It wasn't that they were well harmonized or anything like that, but they sang with good, clear voices. Even though there wasn't a choir present, this congregation can still carry a tune.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
While making a joyful noise is a good thing, there is a time and a place for chit-chatting, and a worship service is not that time or place. It doesn't matter if you're sitting in the back pew or directly behind this Mystery Worshipper. There's a very friendly local restaurant chain called Perkins – "go to Perkins," as we say around here, if you want to converse.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
For several minutes we were pretty much ignored. Eventually someone came up and told us that while they typically serve coffee after worship, it wasn't available this week. (Didn't say why.) She did invite us to come back next week and told us there'd be coffee then.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None (see above).
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – If it were the only show in town, I guess I'd go. I'm actually thinking about recommending the church to a family member who lives in the area and might appreciate having a little of the structure that undergirds the worship style of this congregation. I wasn't nuts about the service – their "sampler" approach for worship components, decor, music, etc. left me with the impression that they don't have a clear sense of who they are, so they're trying to be a little bit of everything for everyone. Rather than feeling inclusive, it felt a little awkward and disjointed. But the worship service is only an hour in the weekly life of the congregation. They seemed friendly and warm. I could see how they would quickly welcome an individual or family into the fold.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It didn't make me ashamed to be a Christian (and I was at a worship service in another part of the country this summer that did just that).
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I'm glad to have had the chance to check the building out now that it's done (at least I think it's done – the sanctuary looked like it's still a work in progress). I'll also remember that the congregation seemed genuinely to care about one another.