Mystery Worshipper: Missa Cantata
Church: Grace Episcopal
Location: Holland, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 December 2007, 10:00am
Traditional style, stone clad worship center with good spaces including chapel, rehearsal rooms, upper and lower halls, and nice bright stained glass windows on the interior. Very well insulated against the winter chills.
The parish ministers to open and affirming communities in the Holland area, a region that tends to have a Reformed church on every second corner due to its Dutch heritage.
Holland, in southwestern Michigan on the shores of Lake Michigan, was settled in 1847 by Dutch Calvinist separatists and has had a strong religious base ever since. This is the place where the "What would Jesus do" bracelet was invented. Several beaches along the lake are popular with swimmers, fishers and boaters alike. The city's downtown area features many shops, galleries and restaurants, as well as a snowmelt system that keeps the streets and sidewalks free from snow and ice in the winter.
The Revd Jennifer Adams, rector.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist.
How full was the building?
The church was comfortably full with approximately 140 people in the congregation. I estimated the seating capacity as being around 175.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There seemed to be no official greeters on duty. Small groups of congregants stood around visiting; they welcomed our party with stares as we entered the worship space. Service leaflets and announcement bulletins were stacked in two different places, and we followed the regulars who seemed to know what to pick up from where. In the end it was more of a "fend for yourself" arrival.
Was your pew comfortable?
A nicely shaped timber pew. The spacing between pews was a little narrow.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The organ was playing softly. I didn't recognize the tune, but it had a nice Christmasy heft to it. Just before the service began, the director of music (lacking proper cassock and surplice) walked to the front of the church and led the congregation in learning an unfamiliar gradual hymn, "Word of God come down to earth." I had not heard this particular hymn before. I thought the text was nice enough but the tune was appalling!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed order of service was provided along with the day's readings on a separate sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
A small pipe organ, competently played, and a piano during communion.
Did anything distract you?
Everything seemed rather bland, and that was a distraction. I kept thinking how nice it would be to have a bit of incense, to have the servers a bit more coordinated, if there were a bit more expression in the reader's voice, etc. The theme was decidedly "offend no one."
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Dignified worship, neither ostentatious nor bare-boned – strictly by-the-book according to the rubrics. I did find it odd that while the celebrant was rather Anglo-Catholic in her bowings and crossings and kissings, most of the congregation seemed not to notice.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Unfortunately the blandness of the rest of the service carried over to the sermon. No enthusiasm was in evidence.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
A good recap of the Christmas message and a fresh chance to look at the opening of John's gospel.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Nothing in the service quite made it to heaven, in my opinion.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The communion wafers were the size of gingerbread men – and had a familiar gingery taste.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I spotted some people I knew in the congregation and had a pleasant time catching up with them.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None seemed to be on offer – not even a drop of espresso or a sliver of Christmas cake!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I would have to visit again to get a better feel for the congregation and how the services flow on a regular basis.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, probably more so than attending a Reformed service would have.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Seeing some friends who don't mind my showing up at their church once a year.