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2934: Bethany Covenant, Berlin, Connecticut, USA
Bethany Covenant, Berlin, CT (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Isla White.
The church: Bethany Covenant, Berlin, Connecticut, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Covenant Church of America, East Coast Conference.
The building: The beautiful clean-lined brick building dates from 1997 and was expanded in 2004. It includes a sports hall and teaching rooms. The worship auditorium has two stained glass panels at the front and a roundel at the back that spills colored light onto the stage when the sun is in the right direction. The toilet facilities are amazing, with wonderful flower arrangements, motion activated taps, and a basket containing all kinds of toiletries, including hair spray and saline for sensitive eyes. In the cubicles were posted detachable phone numbers of numerous help lines.
The church: Originally founded by Swedish immigrants in 1884, the church is now a rich blend of cultures and traditions. The women's ministries are particularly involved in supporting those with dementia, their friends, family and caregivers. There are two worship services each Sunday: contemporary and traditional, separated by "Life Together", a variety of classes, seminars, Bible studies and small groups for all ages. (During summer, however, there is only one service.)
The neighborhood: Berlin is a small town situated at the geographic center of the State of Connecticut. Founded in 1785, the town claims to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in America; a local firearms manufacturer, one Simeon North, is credited with the invention of the milling machine and interchangeable parts. Today Berlin's economy is based primarily on a small number of industries and commercial enterprises.
The cast: Pastor Christopher Ek. The organist was Isaac Johnson, a student from Yale School of Sacred Music.
The date & time: September 27, 2015, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Service of Worship.

How full was the building?
About one-third full, but this was the second service of the morning (traditional worship). Apparently the earlier contemporary worship service is much fuller.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman standing outside the front door was in conversation with someone he appeared to know well, but as soon as we approached he broke off the conversation and welcomed us. From that point onward we were welcomed by numerous people.

Was your pew comfortable?
Modern, curved pews with comfortable cushions. It was surprising to see this, as most churches are modernizing to single seats to make the space more flexible.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential; beautiful organ music.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to Bethany Covenant Church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New International Version; The Covenant Hymnal; plus bulletin containing the order of service and responses.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ for congregational singing (played with great feeling) and grand piano for choral pieces.

Bethany Covenant, Berlin, CT (Interior)

Did anything distract you?
For some inexplicable reason, the words of the songs as projected on the screen did not break at the end of a line in the music, but continued with a few words of the next line.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional, with two pieces sung, one by the sanctuary choir dressed in traditional robes, and another, "Aint'-A That Good News" (not as cheesy as it appears) by the Bethany Chorale dressed in natty business attire.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
31 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – He told a story about a man called Tim who found himself in a very difficult situation, but then he received a letter. It took me quite a time to realize he was referring to Paul's letter to Timothy – this was very striking.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Christian life is like running a marathon. Our goal is not heaven, but to know and be shaped by Christ. This requires training. We are to train ourselves to be godly so that we will become the kind of people who can cope with the unpredictable challenges that may come our way. Fellowship trains us in the art of forgiveness and of extending grace to people who drive us crazy.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Feeling the lady behind squeezing my hand during the singing of the benediction – the lump this brought to my throat made it quite difficult to continue singing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The slide presentation was beset by several glitches. The words from the template were appearing over the Bible reading, making it impossible for the preacher to read. Fortunately he was able to instruct the operator to "press the yellow button," which cured the problem.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no opportunity to look lost. A lady from the pew in front joined us for a chat as soon as the service ended. Numerous people spoke to us during coffee. In fact, we found it difficult to leave. Every time we edged away for one person, another would come up and start talking to us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Hot tea or coffee in disposable cups, and so many snacks and cakes that you could have had your lunch there.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I was only visiting, but I would love to worship here if I lived in the community.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The beautifully equipped ladies’ washroom (see description of building).
 
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