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1926: Highland Baptist, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Highland Baptist, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Vagrant Congregant.
The church: Highland Baptist, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
Denomination: Baptist. They are affiliated with a number of Baptist organizations linked to on their website. They appear to have broken away from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1990, decrying what they describe on their website as that organization's "rightward shift."
The building: A beautiful stone A-frame building on a corner lot. Steps lead up a knoll to the main entrance. The inside is very traditional looking and features some extraordinary stained glass windows. Dark rich wood tones predominate, including the pews, communion table, sanctuary furnishings, and ceiling ribbing. A pipe organ is beautifully encased behind the communion table. On the day of my visit, the inside of the building was decorated for Lent.
The church: Highland Baptist is known for being involved in social justice. A large number of Highland members are actively involved in community organizations, where they serve as chaplains, social workers, ministers, etc. They engage in an ongoing campaign to banish the crime of murder from the Louisville area; there is a display of crosses on the church lawn as a memorial to those who lost their lives as a result of violent crime. Highland Baptist participates in an active partnership with another nearby Baptist church that includes sharing projects, outreach endeavors, attendance, and Bible study leadership.
The neighborhood: Louisville, on the Ohio River in north-central Kentucky, is the state's largest city. It is the site of the Kentucky Derby, the first race of the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing. The church is located in a trendy, young area filled with old homes. Nearby is Cave Hill Cemetery, the resting place of one Harland David Sanders, better known as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.
The cast: The Revd Joe Phelps, pastor, was the preacher. He was assisted by the Revd Nina Maples, associate pastor, and other ministerial staff.
The date & time: Palm Sunday, March 28, 2010, 9.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Early Worship.

How full was the building?
Well attended – about 65 per cent full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The church had greeters to hand out worship aids when one walked through the door. People were very friendly at the peace.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not exactly. The beauty of the pews added to the dignity of the setting, but they were not all that comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People talked quietly amongst themselves and with friends. People streamed in and out of the service (especially people with children).

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to Highland Baptist Church!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were pew Bibles, but most people seemed to listen to the scripture being proclaimed. Hymns were in the worship aid except for the last one. It was a red hymn book.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano and hand bells.

Did anything distract you?
I think the bathrooms are behind the sanctuary front. People wandered along the side of the church toward the front and then out the door only to return shortly.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It appears that this is a toned-down service in comparison to the main 11.00am worship. It was more formal and liturgical than your average Baptist church. They did a nice job of incorporating the liturgical year.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The pastor had an almost inquisitive tone that kept everyone interested. His personal stories were engaging and he kept interest by varying funny comments with the emotional.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Palm Sunday and how Jesus' entry contrasted to that of Pontius Pilate. He emphasized the power of love. "Stuff" doesn't really matter.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The hand bell choir was really nice. It was made up of young girls who gave their rendition of "Were you there when they crucified my Lord."

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The pews are awfully uncomfortable. Maybe cushions would help! Also, where the exits are located you really do feel like sheep – one massive group of people exiting.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was a pretty quick exodus out.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were some cookies and coffee (I think mainly for the Sunday school classes). Everyone milled about in a common area before going their respective ways.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – It was a lovely church building but could stand some modernization (read: nice plush cushions) for the sake of comfort. Also, I'd be more comfortable in a church that expected its congregation to stay put and not keep wandering all over the place during the service.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sermon contrasting Jesus' entry to Jerusalem with Pontius Pilate's.
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