Ok. Nobody asked me. But I almost cannot help myself.

When I worship at a church, I always seem to critique the service in my head.

This morning, Anne and I worshiped at St. James’ in Lincoln City (Oregon). We’ve been there before (and liked it). But this year they have an interim. So it was a somewhat different experience.

Since I’m planning to be critical, I need to start by saying it was a good and welcoming worship experience. And, of course, it could have been better.

First, I need to say that it was hard to find their web site (www.episcopalchurchlincolncity.com) – it didn’t seem to come up in a google search (a lot of other stuff did, including a map and phone number) and I had to find the link from the diocesan home page. And when I got there, it turned out (not their fault) that I could not view the site using my iPad (so I have no idea what’s there). And neither their web site nor their email address (stjameschurch@charterinternet.com) were included in their bulletin. For me, all of this is a problem.

But, the sign out front (we drove by earlier) did show that they were having one service at 9 AM (a change from past years), so we were able to figure out when to get there (yes, we could have used the phone). It might be helpful to have a sign showing that traffic around the parking lot is meant to be one way (that at least seems to be the case, and if there was a sign, I missed it). But parking was not hard. And it was easy to find the way into church. And there was someone there to greet us and give us bulletins. And they were truly welcoming and friendly.

The service was rite I — in Elizabethan English (for those without the secret handshake). I pretty much only use that at rest homes anymore myself. There is certainly a place for this service. But, while there are always exceptions, my experience is that most people who didn’t grow up in the Episcopal Church (more than 35 years ago with the 1928 Book of Common Prayer) do not process Shakespearian English all that well. That makes our worship experience more difficult for those who visit us. And, frankly, the purpose of worship is not to make ourselves comfortable. It’s to bring people into the presence of God. And, historically at least (this is not really a good thing), our worship has been our major tool for evangelism. So using language that makes it harder for people to participate (at least on a regular basis) is not really optimal in my mind.

The music was good (if definitely old fashioned). The main musician played organ (and piano). Several times he was joined by a cello and a violin. There was a soloist at one point. And a flute joined the other musicians for one piece. It was well done and the congregation participated well – particularly for a small congregation.

Having said that, the first hymn (#232 from the Hymnal) was a piece where the middle verse was for a particular saint (and the saints were listed by date – none of which was today’s). It turns out they were celebrating their patron saint, James the Greater, whose date was this past week. But i had no idea. It was not announced. It was not in the bulletin. This was not particularly welcoming. The service music was said. I did not, personally, like the fact that they doubled up (saying) using two separate pieces where one was called for (twice).

The readings were well done.

The sermon was good (and appropriate for an interim). It was well presented (from notes or a manuscript). I learned things. I liked it. But it covered way too much: St. James, the gospel, the epistle, references to various past sermons (which were appropriate, but not real helpful to a visitor), references to a contemporary psychological context, etc., etc., and etc. Though there was a wrapping up at the end (which was helpful) there was no real clear focus. It would have been better (the amount of presented materials) as an academic paper rather than a sermon. I am, admittedly, being picky about a sermon that, all in all, I did like quite well.

They welcomed three new members to the congregation today, using the Renewal of the Baptismal Covenant. The new members got a chance to say something about themselves. And it was really very nicely done. They were also stretching themselves by beginning to use Lift Every Voice and Sing, in addition to the Hymnal.

Under prayers of the people, it did say (if you looked in the bulletin) “Hear us Good Lord.” It would have been more helpful to have had it explained that this was meant to be a response after each paragraph of the standard Rite I Prayers of the People (Prayers for the Whole State of Christ’s Church). And I followed the directions (sitting, standing and kneeling as directed in the bulletin). But I would have preferred to have had options (local practice is not really my practice) rather than to be told what to do. (Maybe it’s meant to be a suggestion of local practice for visitors. But I would personally find it more helpful to be told, at appropriate times, that you could stand or kneel.) The announcements were not too long. But I prefer them at the beginning (or end) of the service – not after The Peace. (I don’t think I’m going to win that one.)

We had to wait for the ushers to come forward to direct us for taking communion. And local practice has everyone from one side of the church going forward before the second side is allowed to move towards the altar. The second side also fills in from the back in towards the front and center. I believe this is because there is no room to get by someone kneeling for communion. So it makes sense, even if it is a bit unusual.

I was impressed by the way they were working in their community and trying to make connections with the work of the church around the world. We were unable to stay for their annual St. James’ Barbecue. But it looked like it would be fun.

I always size up worship spaces for the possible use of PowerPoint. It did not look like it would fit very well in this very attractive worship space (though I’m sure it could be done). Possibly worship booklets would be a better alternative here. I’m always looking for more innovative worship possibilities – this was an older congregation (as are most Episcopal Churches) — and I didn’t have a sense that this was happening. The lack of innovation in worship and the age of the congregation are probably pretty directly correlated.

I’ve been mostly critical in what I’ve written. And this is really misleading. It was a largely good worship experience. But this is a congregation in transition, preparing to call a new priest to lead them. And I found myself thinking about what I would encourage them to look at as they move through their transition. It’s really their call. Because what they do works pretty well (at least for the people who are already coming). Every church these days seems to need a style or approach (or, maybe better, different services with different styles of approach). St. James’ may well have found their proper niche. Which doesn’t mean they can’t do some things better anyway. But an interim is a wonderful time to think outside the box and the way things have been done, and to be open to new possibilities that God may be inviting a congregation to live into.

My thanks to Rev. Laura, Deacon Kristina and the congregation for the worship this morning. We were blessed to be there with you. May you have a great experience in your interim. May you hear the voice of God leading you into your new life with your new rector.