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2768: Creator Lutheran, Bonney Lake, Washington, USA
Creator Lutheran, Bonney Lake, WA (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Portola.
The church: Creator Lutheran, Bonney Lake, Washington, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Southwestern Washington Synod.
The building: A beautiful little wooden church set in rustic surroundings. The church building and grounds look neat and well cared for. As one enters, one encounters a spacious lobby in which people can mingle and enjoy coffee before the service. A welcome center next to the entrance has attractive brochures with information about the congregation. The sanctuary has wood paneling, which gives it a warm atmosphere. The most striking feature of the church is the sanctuary window, through which trees are visible. Its design is described as connecting the Spirit of God with God's creation, into which we have been called as disciples.
The church: The congregation is about 40 years old and reaches out to the small cities of Sumner, Bonney Lake, Lake Tapps, Edgewood, Auburn, Buckley and Lakeland Hills, which can be considered suburbs of the Seattle-Tacoma urban area. They also are going through a transition, as Pastor Heidi Calhoun was officially installed as pastor only two weeks before my visit, and the position of music director was vacant as of that time. They have a preschool, a children's Sunday school, a Sunday morning adult forum, small group Bible studies, confirmation instruction, a music ministry, and several other programs.
The neighborhood: The church and the surrounding residential neighborhood are located within a forest, in which I saw deer roaming freely. Washington calls itself "The Evergreen State" and this certainly applies to the area around Creator Lutheran. A helicopter might have a hard time finding the church. The homes nearby are a mixture of rustic cottages and luxurious houses. Bonney Lake is one of the gateways to Mount Rainier National Park.
The cast: The Revd Heidi Calhoun, pastor. The lector was Mary Lou Finch, and Connie Ross played piano.
The date & time: September 28, 2014, 8.30am.

What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
About two-thirds full: 60 to 70 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A magnificent antique car, a 1930 Hupmobile Model C, was parked in the church parking lot. As we arrived the pastor greeted us cordially. Two women, one after another, approached us and engaged us in conversation.

Was your pew comfortable?
The sanctuary has comfortable, cushioned seats.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was animated conversation in the gathering area in front of the sanctuary doors and in the church.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be the Holy Trinity, one God." This was also flashed onto the screens, and there was more, but it was gone before I could write down the complete text.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. Everything was projected onto two screens.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
A mild distraction was that there was a steady stream of latecomers. The person projecting the texts onto the screens was not always on time, which is not surprising given the lively tempo of the service. The congregation knew the service from memory and did not falter, but as a visitor I was at a disadvantage. During the sermon, the projector was not active and displayed the word "Joy" for 15 minutes. This inactivity apparently triggered an antivirus scan, as the scan results suddenly appeared on screen just at the end of the sermon. I heard the projectionist exclaim, "Oh, God!"

Creator Lutheran, Bonney Lake, WA (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The liturgy followed the Lutheran pattern and had a congenial rhythm: a mixture of quick-paced liveliness and time for contemplation at appropriate moments. The pastor sang parts of the liturgy and, with the help of a choir, the congregation responded efficiently. The liturgical melodies were contemporary, but embodied traditional content. The Lord’s Prayer (the King James translation) was spoken. Aside from the sung parts of the liturgy, I appreciated the natural way Pastor Heidi spoke the liturgical texts, not trying artificially to put too much emotion or personality into the words (something that I often encounter). The choir played an important role in leading the congregational singing, as well as singing an anthem. At liturgical moments of greeting or blessing (for example "The Lord be with you; and also with you"), many in the congregation extended their hands forward. This is unusual in a Lutheran congregation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The sermon was based on the epistle reading, Philippians 2:1-13 (be not selfish, but humble, as Christ was humble). It did justice to the content and held the attention of the listeners. Pastor Heidi used illustrations from sporting events (baseball, tennis).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"At the name of Jesus every knee should bow." The pastor talked about the types of situations that bring us to our knees when we are overwhelmed. Worship and congregational activities should be knee-bending exercises. The imitation of Christ, who emptied himself for our sakes, should determine what kind of congregation we are: kind, compassionate, self-effacing, and even willing to accept defeat and death. We work out our salvation as a community, not as individuals. Since we have the example of Christ, let him shape our attitudes in all of our encounters. What we do as a community is God working in us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Pastor Heidi sang the liturgy in a way that was heavenly: her voice transformed the service into a thing of beauty.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
We live in an era in which water bottles and drink containers are taken everywhere and used at any time, as though people were constantly afraid of dehydrating. On the one hand, maybe this gesture expresses how worship should be in our present cultural climate: casual, relaxed, a hanging out with Jesus in home-like comfort – just like Mary, Martha and Lazarus. However, for me the worship momentarily lost its transcendent dimension and became mundane. I think that we Protestants tend to underestimate the power of body language in worship. No one would dare to sip a drink in the presence of the Queen of England or the Pope. Is the presence of the risen Christ, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given, less awesome?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A friendly woman approached us and engaged us in conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee, which was also available before the service, was good and strong. Many varieties of tea, as well as cookies and donuts, were offered. There was also an espresso bar, manned by teenagers, which is used as a means of raising money for youth work.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – The congregation are friendly and welcoming to visitors. There is a conscious attempt to formulate visions that enable the congregation to grow and to reach out. There is enough activity for people of all ages. I am sure that I could find a satisfying role within this church. The worship is lively and uplifting and I like services that have liturgical efficiency, uphold tradition and offer communion every Sunday. The sanctuary window is captivating.

Creator Lutheran, Bonney Lake, WA (Car)

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. But this experience made me aware that I prefer printed liturgical texts to projections, because they allow one to reflect upon the words. The screen texts disappear abruptly as soon as they are spoken or sung. But then again, the sudden appearance of the antivirus scan report was one of those charming moments that humanize worship.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The antique car in the parking lot. What a delightful way to drive to church!
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