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3008: First Baptist, Arlington, Texas, USA
First Baptist, Arlington, TX (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Ebenezer.
The church: First Baptist, Arlington, Texas, USA.
Denomination: Southern Baptist Convention.
The building: First Baptist owns several buildings downtown. The main building that includes the sanctuary is very large, plain and flat-topped but elegant, and faced in beige brick. I could not find information on when it was built, but I suspect it was completed in different stages over the last 60 years. Other buildings on the campus include a smaller, older wing with a steeple, an office building across the street, and a parking garage. Inside, the sanctuary is a modern mid-century-looking auditorium accented with white marble.
The church: The church community dates back to the railroad founding of Arlington in the 1870s, as the Texas historical marker outside notes. They are a large church and have too many ministries to list here, but perhaps their most unique one is a live video stream of their Sunday services online every week. I heard they used to broadcast on TV as well, and maybe still do, though I cannot confirm that. The camera setup during the service looked very professional.
The neighborhood: Arlington is located between Dallas and Fort Worth and is home to the Texas Rangers baseball team and Dallas Cowboys football team. Founded in 1876 along a major railroad route, Arlington was an important center for cotton growing. The mid 20th century saw a large scale industrial boom. Today downtown Arlington is dominated by the University of Texas Arlington campus a block away from the church.
The cast: The greeting was given by the Revd Dr Dennis R. Wiles, senior pastor, who also gave the sermon. The offertory prayer was led by Stephen Stookey.
The date & time: Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Morning Service.

How full was the building?
I estimated 700 people, about 95 per cent full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Nobody welcomed me personally. Most people were rushing out of the 9.30 service when we got there at 10.45.

Was your pew comfortable?
The padded pew was very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Once we got past the stampede of people exiting, the pre-service atmosphere in the sanctuary was congenial, with people chatting softly in their seats. The screens showed a countdown to the start of the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The service began with the choir singing “Were you there when they crucified my Lord.” Following that, the first spoken words were “He is risen!”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The scripture readings were from The Holy Bible, New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?
There was an orchestra of about 30 people, an organ, and a choir of about 50 people.

Did anything distract you?
The choir were all wearing different colors of clothes that harmonized well with each other: light yellow, light green, purple, deep pink, and so on. I couldn’t figure out if they had been given a color palette from which to choose clothes, or if this was just common springtime fashion sense in the South. I felt a bit drab in my light brown dress!

First Baptist, Arlington, TX (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The songs were all traditional hymns: “Christ the Lord is risen today,” “In Christ alone my hope is found,” etc. They were brilliantly led by the choir and orchestra or organ, which enhanced them without sounding over-produced. There was also a talented solo vocalist who performed a dramatic piece with the choir and orchestra.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
42 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Dr Dennis Wiles gave effective illustrations and applied emphasis at the right times to energize his speaking. He wove a sense of personal connection in a room of 700 people. His approach to scripture was appropriate for an inclusive Easter service: he identified symbolism and foreshadowing in the text to use as a starting point for his message, more than focusing on the text as the main subject to unpack exegetically.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pilate tried to wash his hands of Jesus because he didn’t want to have to deal with him. But Jesus is too big for that. We can’t just ignore him; we have to deal with him. And we can’t tame him down to a mere good luck charm or a backup for our own authority: “All authority has been given to him.” And why do we need to “go and tell?” God is reclaiming and restoring everything in creation that is broken. The ground at the foot of the cross may be level, as the saying goes, but it is also level at the entrance to the empty tomb. Everyone can be restored.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was powerful, especially the brass section of the orchestra. It moved me to tears at the glory of God.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Before the service, as we were moving through the building trying to find the sanctuary, I asked two men for directions. Both times they appeared not to see or hear me. I am taller than average for a woman, and was raising my voice and trying to get their attention because they were the nearest people facing me, so it was an unusual and momentarily defeating experience. After several wrong turns we did find our way.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most everyone left directly after the service without lingering, so we did too.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no after-service refreshments in evidence or mentioned in the service or bulletin.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I loved the sermon and music, and I’m sure I would find friends in the various ministries. However, apparently Sunday morning isn’t the time for it. I prefer a church that has home groups and celebrates communion more often.

First Baptist, Arlington, TX (Congregation)

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes – especially during the part in the sermon that talked about God restoring all of creation.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The earnestness of the “go and tell” call to evangelize.
 
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