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2797: St John's of Prairie Hill, Brenham, Texas, USA
St John's, Prairie Hill, TX (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Chocoholic.
The church: St John's of Prairie Hill, Brenham, Texas, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod.
The building: Their first church was built in 1877, but it was destroyed by fire in 1912. The present building was erected that same year. It is a white clapboard church and is considered an outstanding example of rural Protestant church architecture. The interior is absolutely fascinating – entirely lined in pressed tin! The tin and the stained glass windows are quintessentially American and well adapted for modern issues like air conditioning and electricity. The grounds include a large cemetery, as is usual for these country churches.
The church: A farm congregation of very old standing. They have a men's and women's ministry plus a youth group. There are two worship services each Sunday, one with and the other without holy communion.
The neighborhood: Brenham is a city about halfway between Houston and Austin, in what is known as the bluebonnet region due to the abundance of the wildflower of that name. In 1836 the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed here, by which Texas separated itself from Mexico as an independent country. (Texas joined the United States in 1845.) Today Brenham is home to Blue Bell Creameries, which makes one of the best loved brands of ice cream in the United States, known for continuing to market ice cream by the half-gallon long after other brands adopted the smaller 48-fluid-ounce package as their standard size. Prairie Hill is a small farming community just to the north of Brenham. Originally settled by German immigrants, it has had a strong Lutheran presence right from the start.
The cast: The Revd Jim Abbott, interim pastor; the Revd Virgil Pecht, visitation pastor.
The date & time: Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014, 7.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Christmas Eve Adult Service (there was a children's service earlier in the day).

How full was the building?
Half full, perhaps 50 people in the seats. I was told that the earlier children's service had 100 people, however.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We came in by a side door and so eluded the greeters, who were out front with the service leaflets.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, wooden pews with comfy upholstery, not a loose cushion. No kneelers, however.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet but chatty – everybody knows everybody. Not a church where strangers turn up except accompanied by a member.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The Christmas proclamation: "In the beginning, many thousands of years ago, God created everything."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Lutheran Hymnal and pew Bibles – I forgot to note the version. However, all the words were projected onto a screen at the front.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
They forgot to tell us to sit down, so we obediently stood through all the scripture readings – even the elderly people with their canes!

St John's, Prairie Hill, TX (Walls)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Earnest but low-brow, as is proper for a service in which all the once-a-year lot turn up. We heard all the usual Christmas texts: Isaiah 9:2-7 ("For a child has been born for us"), Psalm 96 ("O sing to the Lord a new song"), Titus 2:11-14 ("For the grace of God has appeared"), Luke 2:1-14 (the Nativity according to Luke).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The preacher was clear and concise – important for an evening sermon presumably after a meal!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He delivered a sentimental theme: the importance of family and Jesus for Christmas.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The congregation were very welcoming. A kindly member invited us home for dinner, and we had taco soup and home made guacamole. Surely one of the provisions of heaven.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Alas! The pastor found it difficult to manage his wireless mike. His singing was of the sort that should be amplified.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Christmas gift bags were distributed to the children. We helped to hand them out and were pleasantly greeted all around.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None – but see the heavenly bits above. The late service on Christmas Eve does not call for social stuff.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – It is too far from anywhere for any but locals to attend. This is rural, folks.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I am still wildly impressed with the tin walls.
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