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1891: St Paul's, Santa Monica, California, USA
St Paul's, Santa Monica, California, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Divinity Boy.
The church: St Paul's, Santa Monica, California, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The building: A fairly small, cruciform neo-Gothic church made of painted brick, dating from the late 1920s. The interior has a lot of original woodwork, including intricate wooden beams that hold up a barrel ceiling. Light brown walls, dark brown pews and red carpeting give the church a warm and cozy, yet spiritual feel. St Paul's has appeared in many films featuring church scenes, such as the 1950 version of Father of the Bride, starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. The church was very badly damaged during an earthquake in 1994, but was soon refurbished and reinforced thanks to the generous support of the congregation.
The church: They seem to be a small but friendly group, quite multi-generational and ethically diverse for a Lutheran congregation. St Paul's sponsors several community groups, including Swedish American Families Together, the Swedish Women's Educational Association, and several 12-step recovery programs. The church serves as a precinct polling location for the surrounding Lincoln Park neighborhood, and houses the Palisades Preschool in its educational wing. They also sponsor a recital series called Music at St Paul's. A field trip was being planned for later in January to a local stained-glass studio.
The neighborhood: Santa Monica sits just west of Los Angeles, on the Pacific Ocean. The city's mild climate plus its several miles of beachfront have helped to form the image of the laid-back "California beach lifestyle" in the minds of many. St Paul's Church is located in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Santa Monica, just a few blocks from the beach.
The cast: The Revd James E. Boline, pastor, assisted by the Revd Daryl Forman (whose name belies her sex). Presiding at the organ was Barbara Hoffman, associate in ministry.
The date & time: January 2, 2010, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Worship.

How full was the building?
About half full. Most people sat toward the back.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There was a friendly elderly woman at the main door greeting people and handing out bulletins.

Was your pew comfortable?
No. But then no pew is ever comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The organist played a prelude for about five minutes prior to the worship service starting.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
We began by singing "The First Noel".

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, an opus of the Abbott & Sieker Co. of Los Angeles, installed in 1976.

St Paul's, Santa Monica, California, USA

Did anything distract you?
There was a vague smell of incense.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road. Some aspects were a little high church, but nothing too over the top. The hymns were fairly standard Christmas fare: "The First Noel," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," "Go Tell It On the Mountain."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The pastor's sermon was informal and nuanced, more a writer's sermon than a preacher's sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke on the gospel reading for the day, John 1:1-14, and talked about the importance of beginnings. He asked the congregation to sing the "Do-Re-Mi" song from The Sound of Music. He then equated New Year's Day with a fresh beginning, a new start.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing the hymns. This congregation could sing. The choir was strong and led well. The organist was spot on.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sound system was awful. The speaker right above my head buzzed throughout the service. Sometimes the pastor and assisting minister forgot to turn on or turn off their microphones. It really isn't a large enough space to warrant microphones anyway.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people from the congregation welcomed me as we walked out the main door. The pastor shook my hand and asked my name and said, "Thank you for visiting."

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Held on the front lawn under very pleasant weather. Coffee and juice were served in plastic and styrofoam cups, along with some donuts on paper napkins. Several people chatted with me.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – It seems to be a very low-pressure church in a part of the country that isn't very Lutheran, isn't very Christian, and isn't very religious. I live not far from this congregation and would seriously consider joining. I'll continue to visit from time to time over the next several months.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, which is saying a lot!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The female minister with a first name usually associated with men. She even mentioned her husband! I liked that.
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