Naperville Presbyterian, Naperville, Illinois, USA

Naperville Presbyterian, Naperville, Illinois, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Sheridan Daniel
Church: Naperville Presbyterian
Location: Naperville, Illinois, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 September 2009, 11:00am

The building

It is a lovely one-story building with a warm beige brick exterior. There are a lot of trees and shrubs around the building and the perimeter. There are two main entrances. The inside resembles a theater, with seating facing a low stage, the side aisle seating angled in for a better view. It's all done in light beige with very bright lighting.

The church

They are very active in the community and sponsor many children's groups, including Boy Scouts. For men, they hold breakfast meetings and offer a sports program, plus counseling for men who may find themselves "between jobs." For women there are quilting groups, a book club, prayer and fellowship meetings, and WOW (Willing Older Women), who offer counseling to younger women. There are two services each Sunday, as well as Sunday school for children and adults.

The neighborhood

Naperville lies just to the west of Chicago. Founded in 1831 by one Joseph Naper, a shipbuilder who gained a place of prominence in Illinois politics, Naperville was originally a sleepy farming community but has in modern times become a wealthy city thanks to an influx of high-tech businesses. A noted local landmark is the Moser Tower, which houses a carillon of 72 bells. The church is located in a pretty standard suburban neighborhood.

The cast

The Revd Chris Hodge, senior pastor; the Revd Nate Conrad, associate pastor.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Worship.

How full was the building?

The sanctuary was fairly full, but I suspect it may have been fuller at the earlier service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A man stationed by the main entrance bade us welcome. We noticed that most of the people wore name tags. We found two tables by the doors to the sanctuary with peel-off name tags and pens for use (we assumed) by visitors.

Was your pew comfortable?

The seats were very comfortable - cushioned chairs, similar to seats in a cinema.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

A bit intrusive. There were people outside the door talking, latecomers taking their time being seated, small groups mingling and chatting – even as the associate pastor began his welcome.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"I hope everyone is well this post Labor Day season."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Holy Bible, New International Version, which was available on holders between the chairs. All song lyrics were displayed on large screens in the front on both sides of the pulpit.

What musical instruments were played?

This church has an amazing group of musicians: grand piano, electronic keyboard, acoustic and electric guitar, drums, bongos and other percussion. The music was very good.

Did anything distract you?

The initial pre-service noise coming from outside the sanctuary was distracting. Also, sitting in front of us was a family with a very wiggly child. The parents did not feel the need to encourage him to settle down or to take him out for a drink of water or something.

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

Relaxed, down to earth and joyful. A person looking for rigid, cold stiffness in a church would NOT feel comfortable here. Their communion style was very different from what I am used to. Men (we were not sure if they were elders of deacons or just lay people) held a loaf of bread on a wood cutting board along with a goblet of grape juice. The congregation lined up to take a piece of bread and dip it into the juice. The only problem I had with this was the aisles were crowded and there didn't seem to be much order. Otherwise it was OK.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

8 – The pastor seemed very relaxed and casual, but not silly or inappropriate. Just very down to earth and friendly.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

This was the first on a series of sermons based on Ephesians, in which Paul writes about grace and peace. We have a great need for grace and peace in our lives. The world is rife with conflict. There is also conflict in our neighborhoods, our families, our churches, and even within ourselves. The battle between "I would" and "I could" is always raging within us. To find peace with God, we need grace. Paul, who formerly persecuted Christians, received grace in many ways. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, we are not by nature recipients of grace and peace. No one is sinless. (Pastors who preach longer than 35 minutes commit the sin of "time righteousness", he said – to laughter.) God knows we are sinners but loves us anyway. By death, Jesus paid for our sins once and for all. Paul uses the phrase "in Christ" over and over again. In Christ we will be secure with God for eternity.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The praise songs and hymns that we sang were beautiful. The arrangements were very well done.

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

Worship began with one of those "everyone stand and shake hands" times – I find that annoying. Also, it may seem picky but there were no bulletins. I guess I kind of like to know what's next. Finally, there were little glitches with the display – it didn't always show all the verses to the songs, but we sang them anyway.

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

Someone actually said, "You're excused," and everyone filed out the door rather abruptly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There were trays of bagels and cookies on little tables in the foyer, free for the taking. But if we wanted coffee, we had to pay for it at the coffee bar. The small fee charged was to cover the costs.

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

8 – We really liked this church and we plan to return. I would like to dig more deeply into what they're made up of.

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

Honestly, this service revived my soul a bit, as it's been feeling a little heavy of late.

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

I will remember the feeling of warmth and joy that I got from my experience at this church.

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