Mystery Worshipper: Preacher's Kid
Church: Worship @ the Water
Location: Perdido Key, Florida, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 April 2012, 11:00am
The Perdido Bay UMC holds this service at the Flora-Bama, a 1960s roadhouse/beach bar. There is no architectural sanity to the form and shape of the collection of buildings that comprise the place each component was added as the demand for it developed. The structures were severely damaged in September 2004 by the landfall of Hurricane Ivan, and rebuild/restore has been the word of the day since. The bar is being rebuilt as close as possible to the original structures, subject to the newly-imposed coastal zoning statutes. Included are the usual bar, dance floor with bandstand, pool hall, and oyster bar common to all such establishments. On Sunday morning it becomes a chapel.
This sort of worship is unusual and unique to Southern seaside towns. Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church conducts a similar service at a restaurant and bar on Pensacola Beach. In addition to Worship @ the Water, the church holds two traditional services and one contemporary service each Sunday in their main building. They maintain a community center that is available for rental to "provide opportunities for a growing relationship with God." They also run a thrift shop, called the Redemption Center, the proceeds of which go to support their missions and charitable activities as well as local community groups. Among their other programs for children, youth and adults are a "Grumpy Old Men's Group" for seniors and "foyer groups" small groups of eight to ten people who meet once a month for meals and socializing.
Perdido Key, near the Florida-Alabama border, is one of the still-pristine barrier islands that remain in northwest Florida. It is part of the "Redneck Riviera", so called because many folks from the Southeast make the area their summer playground. Large swaths of the land are preserved in the Gulf Islands National Seashore, a part of the United States National Park Service. Some areas have been opened for development. On the Florida side of the line there are individual homes and low rise condos that are rented out to the "rednecks" in the summer and to the "snowbirds" in the winter. Some luxury high-rise buildings exist on the Florida side, but not so many as on the Alabama side. There are a number of permanent residents, established Protestant and Catholic churches, and other normal community activities.
The Revd Jeremy P. Mount, discipleship pastor, was the preacher. Members of the Solid Rock in the Sand Band include Shawn Bowling, keyboard; Kitty Stevens, guitar; Shane Lamar, electric guitar; Larry Coleman, bass guitar; John de Jarnette, drums; Mike Sidebottom, congas; and Brandon Sanford, percussion.
What was the name of the service?Worship @ the Water Service featuring the Solid Rock in the Sand Band
How full was the building?
The "building" is a tent that appears to seat in excess of 200 when set up for church. Almost every seat was taken, and this was an off-season Sunday. Many people were locals or extended-stay visitors who were neighbors.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
People from the Pensacola/Perdido area whom I knew and recognized were there. The peace was passed enthusiastically, and there were general meets-and-greets all around.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seating area was filled with chairs lined up in groups facing a stage from which the band played and announcements were made.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People began to filter in as much as 45 minutes ahead of the opening of the service. Everyone was meeting and greeting people as they arrived. A souvenir t-shirt was given to the person who had come from farthest away (Maine).
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Kitty Stevens: "Good morning. Y'all put your hands together!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Honky-Tonk Hymnal (prepared explicitly for use at these services by the staff at Perdido Bay United Methodist Church).
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, acoustic and electric guitars, percussion, drums, congas.
Did anything distract you?
Some people milled about during the service. When a hymn was to be announced, a woman would walk across in front of the stage holding up large paddles with numerals indicating the page number of the hymn/gospel song from the Honky-Tonk Hymnal. The weather was magnificent; the beach inviting. As the service leaflet emphasized, the dress code is simple: be comfortable and there were some gorgeous bikini clad bodies in attendance.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was somewhat south of "happy-clappy" it resembled more a country church service in a small Baptist church in the South. People sang enthusiastically, clapped with the music, and said amen at the appropriate places. The final song of the service was a Southern gospel (not to be confused with African-American gospel) song, "I'll Fly Away, O Glory, I'll Fly Away", which everyone sang with gusto.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Pastor Jeremy's delivery was conversational, challenging, theological, well-prepared. His concepts are useful. Trained in one of the finest Methodist seminaries in the Southeast, he demonstrates not only his faith, but his intellect and skill as a preacher. He was able to deliver what he wanted to say to the people where they lived. He even threw in some comments about next weekend's mullet toss!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pastor Jeremy preached on the Sermon on the Mount. He pointed out that Jesus had a tough message to deliver, perhaps the toughest of all in the Bible. On a conceptual and practical basis it tells you what to do, and what not to do.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The enthusiasm of the congregation, the obvious commitment of the participants, the interest and participation of the congregation and wonderful praise music, if that is to your liking.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
This Preacher's Kid is not eager to return to the exposure in his youth when he accompanied the preacher (his father) to those country churches and their mode of worship. And somehow I can't quite get used to someone stopping by the bar to pick up a Bloody Mary and holding it in one hand while they flip to the right page in the hymnal with the other hand.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People retired to the bar after all, this is a roadhouse and the bar opens at 11.00. The bartender was pulling beers and mixing Bloody Marys and martinis with astonishing skill and speed.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
With our Bloody Marys and martinis we had cooked-to-order omelets, which were offered by the staff beginning at 9.30am and continuing through the service until early afternoon.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – The Kid is high church. A service of this type is useful, though, as a respite from regularity and predictability. The open and enthusiastic faith of the participants was palpable.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Pastor Jeremy's sermon and "I'll Fly Away".