>Mystery Shopper/Worshipper

>Today I went to visit a church for the first time, even though it’s fairly close as the crow flies. Part of the reason I haven’t been there is that it’s been going through a rough few years. The membership dropped sharply, as did finances. I don’t know what was behind it all, but I’d heard that the congregation was not in a good place. Over the past few months, I’d started hearing some good things- including the fact that they were ready to call a new pastor after having a designated pastor for a couple of years. It turns out that they were having their congregational meeting to call their designated pastor to that position today.

That’s not why I stopped by there today, really. I just was thinking that it was one of the few within 10 miles that I hadn’t worshiped with, so why not? Well, I can share a handful of reasons why I wouldn’t go back next week…

1. Bad Information: I looked up the church website for worship times and found the Traditional Service met at 10:45. I got there at about 10:40 and couldn’t figure out why there were no ushers or greeters in place. Turns out they had changed the worship time to 11.

2. No Welcome: Not only were there no greeters or ushers, the 15-20 minutes I spent waiting for the service to start were like being in solitary confinement. I had no human contact whatsoever. Mind you, I sat in the middle pew on one side, not off in some corner. But not a single person came to greet me, not even the pastor who walked up and down the aisle multiple times.

3. No “Please Come Again”: I lingered a bit to see if anyone might realize I was a visitor and come by after the service… nope. No one while I waited to greet the pastor. Even the pastor didn’t seem to notice that I wasn’t one of his flock… nothing.

4. No Gravitas: I’m not a high church sort of gal. Heck, I’ve been known to lead worship barefooted with my guitar. But there is a certain level of “professionalism,” for lack of a better word, that I expect of myself and others who are charged with leading others in worship. This pastor “aw shucked” his way through the service, wandered in and out, and even shed his robe part way through the service.

5. Not as Advertised: This was supposed to be a “Traditional” service, but it didn’t follow any of the standard reformed Ordos and lacked any real liturgy. I guess because we sang hymns and the Doxology, had a choir anthem and said the Lord’s Prayer it was meant to be traditional. But there was no flow or clear connection from one part of the service to the next. I was actually a bit embarrassed to think that people would associate this service with a traditional PC(USA) service if they didn’t know any better.

Possibly the most disappointing part of this not really traditional approach to Tradition was that the pastor actually truncated the liturgy for an infant being baptized this morning so much that it was almost unrecognizable as a sacrament.

6. Preaching the left much to be desired: I would be willing to bet money that the homiletics professor that taught this gentleman to preach however many years ago did NOT indicate it was a good idea to just stand up and ramble about the passage you are meant to preach on. Nor would any instructor have encouraged him to include a “dumb blond” joke in a sermon. And yet, there we were, wandering around in John’s gospel, making some astute observations about the I Am statements and some not so astute ones. And just as I was beginning to think there was a point to the sermon he launched into a long joke about a woman who was stupider than sheep. I honestly couldn’t tell you what else he talked about, since it required every bit of my concentration to stay in my pew. In case you wondered… no, saying that you know smart blond women doesn’t make it OK to perpetuate a stereotype from the pulpit. Even when you are attempting to be “folksy.”

7. Children’s Event: apparently the woman who usually covers this territory was out. But instead of the usual “Pastor talks over childrens’ heads” theological exploration, what these kids got was a commercial for the Breakfast with Santa that the church is hosting. Somewhere in there, he attempted to get the kids to answer Jesus to a question about the Advent season. But it was such a train wreck I was almost relieved to listen to the “children’s church” person yelling at the kids as they wandered down the hallway. Almost.

8. Prayer Language: I’ll overlook the patriarchal language, but I was not impressed that the pastoral prayer includes thanking God for allowing us to live in “the best country in the whole world” and for “sending New Years soon so that we can make resolutions not to overeat again like we did Thursday…”

So… why am I writing this out? Partly because I just need to process this a bit and writing about it helps. Partly because I want a record of this. I can learn about worship from the “what not to do” side as much as “this is something that seems to be really helpful.” And partly because I want to find a way to tell this pastor what my experience in this worship space was like this morning.

They are about to install this gentleman for an indefinite period in the life of this church. If they want to be a vibrant congregation and “share the love of Christ with the community” as they state, they cannot allow people to come in and leave on a Sunday morning without reaching out. What if I had come in looking specifically for a community to be part of? What if I had were hurting and this was the last fleece I was putting out to see if God was listening and really loved me? I’m not sure I could say that I saw any love being shared today… at least not outside those who were already known.


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