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2988: Mount Olive Lutheran, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Mount Olive Lutheran, Minneapolis (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Paterfamilias.
The church: Mount Olive Lutheran, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Minneapolis Area Synod.
The building: A neo-Gothic structure of brown brick, completed in 1931. The interior is cruciform, with a soaring vaulted expanse and stunning stained glass windows. The windows portray Jesus as well as the prophets, the Blessed Virgin, the apostles, St Paul, and the nailing of Luther's 95 theses to the door. There is a choir loft in the rear. The altar is still against the wall. Renovations were made to the worship space in 1965, and a columbarium and icons were added to the north transept in 2007. A parish house and education wing were added in 1957.
The church: Mount Olive began as a mission of Redeemer Lutheran in St Paul in 1907, and was formally organized in 1909. It began as a part of the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, which eventually was taken into the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It broke with the Missouri Synod in 1976, and became a member of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, a predecessor body of the ELCA. It has a number of social justice programs, including a tutoring program; diaper depot; "Jobs After School," offering 9-14 year old children in the neighborhood remuneration for simple jobs during the summer; and provides volunteer drivers for Meals on Wheels. They are also partners with a number of organizations in the Minneapolis-St Paul area that promote public policies that fight poverty and injustice. The music program is exceptional.
The neighborhood: The Minneapolis-St Paul metropolitan area has the second-largest economy in the Midwest, after Chicago, and a population of just under four million residents. Minneapolis lies on both banks of the Mississippi River. The area immediately surrounding the parish is made up of lower-income residences.
The cast: The Revd Joseph G. Crippen, pastor, presided and preached. David Cherwien, A.Mus.D., the parish's cantor, was organist and directed the choir. Mark Pipkorn was assisting minister, and Chandler Molbert was vocal soloist.
The date & time: Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 6, 2016, 10.45am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Three-quarters full in a space that seats just a bit under 500.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher handed me a service leaflet.

Was your pew comfortable?

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (chanted).

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) and the service booklet.

What musical instruments were played?
A fifty-five rank Schlicker pipe organ installed in 1965-66. There is an antiphonal organ in the front of the church against the south wall.

Did anything distract you?
Lots of young children, with lots of energy. In spite of the distraction, it was wonderful to see so many young families with children in the parish.

Mount Olive Lutheran, Minneapolis (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
High but not stuffy. The short litany most often sung in Lutheran liturgies before the prayer of the day was chanted in procession, with impressive organ improvisations preceding each bidding. Much of the service was chanted, and the presider was vested in chasuble. The eucharistic prayer was Thanksgiving at the Table VII from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, but with a strengthened epiclesis; it was prayed ad orientem, except that Pastor Crippen turned to face the congregation for the institution narrative. Real bread, and we could receive the wine either from a common chalice or by intinction.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – The pastor is a very effective speaker. He preached from the pulpit, and if he had any notes he rarely referred to them.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pastor Crippen preached on the gospel for the day, the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15). He started by saying, "God gets to be what God wants to be." How we perceive God depends on what we have been told, but if we misunderstand God, we will bear an unfaithful message to the world. We like to think that God will be as forgiving of our faults as the father of the prodigal son was. But do we really understand this father? Isn't this an example of what many would see as terrible parenting? Had he never heard of "tough love?" To hear many Christians speak of God's mercy, God is nothing like the father in this parable. We all too often try to impose a conditional grace on God. We can't forget that, like the father in the parable, God is throwing a party, and we are all invited.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Nothing makes Paterfamilias happier than a congregation who sing, and this one sang splendidly under Cantor Cherwien's expert leadership. I was especially impressed when the bulletin instructed us to sing a verse of the hymn of the day in canon: women, then men, a cappella. This particular verse beautifully echoed Pastor Crippen's sermon: "For the love of God is broader than the measures of our mind ... But we make this love too narrow ... we magnify its strictness with a zeal God will not own." The Sanctus and Agnus Dei were beautifully sung to plainsong, unaccompanied.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Hellish may be too strong, but I've never understood the practice, which I've seen only in Lutheran parishes, of the presider praying most of the eucharistic prayer ad orientem, but then turning around to address the institution narrative to the congregation.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The gentleman sitting next to me introduced himself and warmly welcomed me to Mount Olive. Pastor Crippen was waiting at the door, where he greeted me and then asked "Don't I know you?" I replied that I didn't think so, and that I had not been to M. Olive previously. Then another fellow (Andrew) asked me the same, and then concluded that both he and the pastor were confusing me with someone else who attends Mount Olive sporadically. Andrew then invited me to the coffee hour.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee, both regular and decaf, and juices. Andrew and I had been so caught up in our conversation – he seemed to have quite a storehouse of information about the parish – that all of the food was gone by the time we got to it. The freshly-brewed coffee was good, though. Andrew introduced me to several parishioners, and I began to notice that several of them were church organists. Andrew informed me that there were 14 former or retired church organists who attend Mount Olive.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – Normally ad orientem would be a deal-breaker for me, but there are so many positives about this community, I would just have to learn to deal with it.

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

Mount Olive Lutheran, Minneapolis (Walls)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Andrew, his generosity with his time, and his obvious love of his parish home.
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