I had the Sunday off this week. Once a month the lay readers lead the service and today was the day. On the Sundays I'm not responsible for the service at Ascension I often help out with the Sunday School or do pulpit supply for one of ECM's sponsoring congregations (the chaplaincy is sponsored by the Anglican, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian, and United churches). Today though I got to enjoy sitting in the pew.
This morning I got thinking about the Mystery Worshiper on Ship-of-Fools.com. I always enjoy reading it but today I started to wonder what folks would say if they were reporting on our little parish.
Our church began as a mission to the Japanese community following the war. Many Japanese Canadians had been interned in this area and ended up staying when the war was over. Our congregation has always been small and was never especially wealthy. Most of the folks made their livings farming or working in the trades. Most of the church and its furnishings were built by people in the parish and when the old hall burnt down they rebuilt it too.
Looking around this morning I wondered how the report would read on us. What would the mystery worshiper say reminded her of heaven and what reminded her of 'the other place.' As I was shivering I decided that one could legitimately criticize the lack of heat. But what would strike her as heavenly? So much of our worship is informal, announcement time is often a mixture of parish notices, personal words of struggles and blessings, and community events for those who live in Coaldale. People have been known to offer an addition or correction to the sermon and the passing of the peace isn't finished until Norma says it is finished. We don't sing the service and there is no choir. Our organ is old and I'm told we need to get it fixed.
There are churches in our diocese that do gorgeous liturgies with spectacular music but we aren't one of them. But I can honestly say that I have never been anywhere that understood more about what it is to 'worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,' as we sang this morning. When I look around at the people of the parish and think about the beauty of their lives, of their warmth and generosity to each other and to people in the community, I am very grateful that I am called to serve them. The mystery worshiper wouldn't know how much they care for each other, how generously they give to help those in need, or how kind they are to the children in the parish. Those are the things that you learn when you live with people. I know that the mystery worshiper would be made welcome and maybe she would say that, that the warmth of the fellowship reminded her of heaven.