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2959: Trinity Church, Bay City, Michigan, USA
Trinity, Bay City, MI (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Meet and Right So to Do.
The church: Trinity Church, Bay City, Michigan, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Eastern Michigan.
The building: A mid-1880s Gothic Revival church, not dissimilar to the architecture of most Episcopal edifices of that period. It is the fifth building used by Trinity, the congregation having previously worshipped in a school, bowling alley, wooden church and finally a stone chapel that was later incorporated into the present building. Additions include the circa 1924 parish hall extending from the west wall around and northward. Walking into the narthex, one finds triple-bay doors leading to the rather large and open nave, which lacks any arcades or galleries. Inside the nave, one immediately sees a disused liturgically eastward facing altar surrounded by a carved wooden reredos, and a smaller, simpler free-standing altar with a versus populum orientation. Along the east and west walls are several plaques dedicated to the memory of prominent congregants. The walls appear to have been whitewashed, thus hiding the Gothic Revival stonework. Each of the lancet windows features stained glass of varying styles. The east window is a particularly fine specimen.
The church: As a parish, Trinity was founded in 1854, only 17 years after Michigan became one of the last territories east of the Mississippi River admitted to the Union as a state. They sponsor a number of programs for children and youth, a food pantry, and a clothing drive to provide school clothes for needy children. Along with other area churches, they sponsor Food for Faith, which provides a hot lunch each Sunday to anyone needing same. Each month they take up a special collection called Noisy Offerings, as it consists mostly of loose change, the proceeds of which are sent to Episcopal relief agencies in economically challenged countries around the world. They seem to place a special emphasis on their music ministry. There is one service each Sunday and a weekday service on Wednesdays.
The neighborhood: Bay City is located near the base of Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron, second largest of the five Great Lakes by surface area. Once a major shipbuilding center, the city today is home to SC Johnson & Co., manufacturer of household cleaning supplies, as well as several banking and healthcare concerns. The church sits on Center Avenue, a prominent road running into downtown and lined on both sides with vestiges of Bay City's former wealth, including ornate Victorian homes, a notable Richardsonian Romanesque-style Presbyterian church, the Scottish Rite Masonic temple, and an Art Deco style county courthouse.
The cast: The Revd Ann Grady, priest in charge, wearing classic Anglican choir dress complete with black cassock, white surplice, black scarf and red academic hood. Trinity's organist, Robert Sabourin, also wearing the classic choir dress, conducted the Exultate Deo Chamber Choir, which featured voices from the choirs of this parish, a Congregational church, and a Presbyterian church. The guest organist was Nicholas E. Schmelter, dean of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
The date & time: Sunday, December 20, 2015, 4.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

How full was the building?
I counted 75 congregants, who filled up about 65 per cent of the pews.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The closest I came to a greeting either before or after the service was an elderly lady who, as I was entering, told me to "hang on" because she had to get me the booklet, which contained all of the liturgy and carols (minus the text of the lessons).

Was your pew comfortable?
As comfortable as a stiff oak pew can be, though the seat was generously padded.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Incredibly jovial and social to the point where I had to ask a gentleman in front of me to lower his voice because I was trying to listen to the organ prelude. He retorted that the "concert" (his word) hadn't started and he would continue conversing with his pewmate, who appeared to be his mother. I ended up sliding down the pew away from him.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The bidding prayer: "Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmas tide our care and delight to hear again the message of the angels ..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service booklet. The Hymnal 1982 was used for the four hymns that the congregation joined the choir in singing: the processional "Once in Royal David's City," "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear," "What Child is This" and the recessional "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, located in the chancel. It is an opus of the late lamented MP Möller Pipe Organ Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, whose instruments grace numerous American churches including the Cadet Chapel at West Point. The Möller instrument, installed in 1962, replaced a Casavant Frères organ that had become unplayable. The choir were quite good, especially the heavenly soloist. I counted 32 choristers in all.

Did anything distract you?
The chancel arch, which sprung upward from a pair of what I believe are Corinthian columns. This neo-classical architectural element struck me as unusual considering the church was otherwise Victorian Gothic.

Trinity, Bay City, MI (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Trinity's churchmanship is difficult to ascertain from a special service. For many it was first and foremost a concert, not a religious service. If I had to call it anything, I'd say it was broad Anglican. Among the choral offerings were "Adam Lay Ybounden" by Boris Ord; "Christmas Lullaby", "Christmas Night" and "I Saw Three Ships" by John Rutter; and Harold Darke's lovely but chilling setting of "In the Bleak Midwinter." All were appropriate for the season, but personally I would not have included "I Saw Three Ships."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon. Even without it, the service ran for a little over an hour and a half.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The relatively full church, which would surely would have been delightful had it been a regular Sunday service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The fact that many, if not most, of those sitting in the pews didn't seem to be there to worship.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The pews quickly emptied, with few sticking around to hear the organ postlude. Everyone went in different directions – all of the doors seemed operational. Only a couple of dozen people made their way to the parish hall, where the service booklet indicated a reception was being held.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
As I wasn't invited, I departed knowing that nobody, except for the rude gentleman I had confronted during the prelude, had probably paid me any attention or noticed I was even there.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – It would be helpful to see what a few typical Sunday services at Trinity are like before answering this question.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
As much as it could, yes.

Trinity, Bay City, MI (Windows)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The missed opportunity for Trinity to promote itself to anyone in attendance who was otherwise unfamiliar with it. One would have thought something as simple as a leaflet or tract, containing at least the schedule of regular services, would have been distributed or placed in the pews.
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