Mystery Worshipper: Liturgist
Church: St Peter's
Location: Hazleton, Pennsylvania, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 July 2008, 10:30am
The church dates from 1859 and is a beautiful example of that distinctly American rendering of the Gothic style in wood known as Carpenter Gothic. The interior features a longish narrow nave, short transepts, Victorian stained glass windows, and a traditional chancel with choir stalls and the altar at the east wall. The reredos is a polychrome carving of Christ the King. One other feature is a hammer beam ceiling over the nave and chancel.
They have all the usual groups – youth group, Daughters of the King, Bible study, Sunday school, etc. In addition they maintain an active intercessory prayer ministry, and provide regular services in several area nursing/retirement homes. They also join with a local Lutheran church for a combined eucharist each Saturday evening.
Hazleton, in the foothills of Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, was first settled in the early 19th century as a logging town. But sometime in 1818, as legend has it, a deer pawing a patch of ground uncovered an outcropping of coal, and the city's fortunes took off. Its heyday came in the first half of the 20th century, when Hazleton's coal mining industry attracted many eastern Europeans to work the mines, and that heritage can be seen in the number of Orthodox and other ethnically oriented churches in the community.
The Revd Jeffrey Funk, rector, was celebrant and preacher. The bulletin also identified several lay assistants: Marlene Smith, organist; Regina Stewart, lay reader; Joan Moyer, lector; Dorothy Swank, chalice bearer; Matthew Ingalsby, crucifer; James Paletsky and Karen Steward, acolytes; Dale Stewart and Ron Ingelsby, ushers; Becky Paletski, altar guild; and Eileen Cook, coffee hour hostess.
What was the name of the service?The Holy Eucharist.
How full was the building?
The rector announced that there were 85 people there and indicated that this was quite a bit more than usual for summer time. I estimate that the church would hold about 200 and the building looked about 40 percent full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was a verbal welcome when we came in. Then at the exchange of peace there were friendly greetings from those in nearby pews (no grand melee here, but everyone seemed to greet those nearby). Father Funk came around to greet everyone personally, asking us a couple of quick questions about whence we came and urging us to stay and talk afterward.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes; a plain wooden pew but well-proportioned for sitting, with plenty of leg room and comfortable kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Despite our best intentions, we arrived just after the opening hymn had started, so we can't say; but the bulletin designated this and the communion time as periods of silent meditation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The hymn was "O day of radiant gladness." If anything was said first we missed it.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Prayer (1979) and the Hymnal 1982 were used. A printed copy of the proper for the day was included in the bulletin.
What musical instruments were played?
Only the organ was played.
Did anything distract you?
Father Funk used a cane and wore an eye patch that gave him a rather piratical appearance. Then one of the many children in the church cried a bit.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was clearly liturgical, done decently and in order, but just relaxed enough to avoid stiffness.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Father Funk spoke clearly with a pleasant voice that carried well. He eschewed the pulpit and spoke from the crossing, which was fine except that he moved around quite a bit and tended periodically to disappear behind people blocking the view. He began his sermon with one word: "Listen!"
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on the gospel, Matthew 13:1-9,18-23, the parable of the sower who scattered seed on the path, among rocks, among thorns, and on good ground. He talked about growing plants from seeds, drawing on his own experience with house and garden plants. He concluded by urging us to be both cultivators and sowers of the word of God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
No one moment stands out; rather the whole service was well done, with leaders who knew and cared what they were doing and did it well, and a congregation that actively took its part. This is rare enough to be a real joy.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The worst thing was the unfortunate practice of reading the psalm responsively by half-verses. I always find that breaking it into little snippets like this tends to shatter the sense of the psalm.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance of that. This is one of the friendliest churches I've ever visited, and as soon as the service ended a number of people urged us to come for coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was freshly brewed and quite good, though the emphasis seemed to be on iced tea and lemonade (both a little too sweet for my diabetic needs).
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If we lived in the area Mrs Liturgist and I wouldn't look any further – but a four hour commute (each way) is just a bit much!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The rector's piratical look – though when we talked with him afterward there was nothing piratical about his manner. Nor will we forget the genuinely welcoming people there. (Yes, I can count and that is two – but I really expect to remember both for a long time.)