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  1182: First United Methodist, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA

First United Methodist, Hershey, Pennsylvania

Mystery Worshipper: Ralegh.
The church: First United Methodist, Hershey, Pennsylvana, USA.
Denomination: United Methodist (originally United Brethren; the Evangelical United Brethren Church merged with the Methodist Church in 1968 to form the United Methodist Church).
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: From outside, the building looks like a large stone castle with pathways running through arches. It was difficult to find the main entrance, which is accessible only via the parking lot. The inside, on the other hand, is a simple wood and beige plaster interior crisscrossed by wooden beams. A number of large stained glass windows of biblical scenes flank the nave.
The church: This congregation was established in 1843 and the current building dates from 1928. The church has many members and ministries, including youth groups, blood drives, food banks, and volunteer opportunities for Habitat for Humanity and the local soup kitchen. The church maintains a small army of greeters, ushers, acolytes, nursery caregivers, and parking lot "hosts."
The neighborhood: The city of Hershey is located in Pennsylvania's Dauphin County, close to the heart of Amish country. Originally called Derry Church, the city was renamed Hershey after the astoundingly successful candy business founded in 1894 by native son Milton Hershey. Hershey is a city dominated by chocolate, from the heavenly smell of chocolate in the making to streets like Chocolate and Cocoa Avenues that are lined with Hershey's Kisses street lights. Attractions abound, such as Hershey Gardens, the Hersheypark theme park, and a first class vacation resort. The church is adjacent to a residential area and directly across the street from Hersheypark.
The cast: Rev. James T. Dawes, pastor, and Paige Stover, acolyte. Shawn Gingrich played the organ and soloed on handbells.
The date & time: November 27, 2005, 8.00am.

What was the name of the service?
First Sunday of Advent, traditional service.

How full was the building?
About a quarter full. The largest attendance I've seen at an early morning service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A woman held the door for me as I came into the building and said, "Good morning." The first usher puzzled me for a moment with the query, "Are you going down here or the middle?" When I finally understood and indicated I would be going down the middle aisle, she passed me off to that aisle's usher, who handed me a service pamphlet and said, "Welcome."

Was your pew comfortable?
Blue cushions in good condition on wooden pews. Sufficiently comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of chatting among the attendees, who quieted down quickly when the organ prelude began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"May the One who was, and who is, and who is to come, be with you in grace and peace."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The United Methodist Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
A pipe organ located behind the altar and hidden from view. The organist kept an eye on the proceedings via a mirror that was visible above the altar. He also played handbells during the music ministry portion of the service.

Did anything distract you?
A woman seated behind me spent most of the service describing what was going on and answering the questions of her child, who was apparently going to serve as an acolyte at the following service.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I would describe the worship style as formal, although Mr Gingrich did receive a round of applause following his handbell performance.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Pastor Dawes was very warm and expressive in his delivery.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Advent is a time of waiting and reflection, which separates Christians from their secular neighbors caught up in the hustle and bustle and glitter of the modern Christmas season. It is difficult to resist the "busyness" of the season, but we should strive to engage ourselves in the Christian "business" of waiting and watching to discern how God views us and wants us to behave.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I am ever the sucker for handbells, and Mr Gingrich's interpretation of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" was moving and beautiful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There were a few brief moments of hell when the power suddenly went out just as the prayers of the people were to begin, plunging the church into darkness and silencing the microphones. Fortunately, the power returned quickly and Pastor Dawes broke the tension by saying, "You can interpret that any way you want."

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the immediate close of service, I was greeted by a hearty handshake and a laugh by the man at the other end of the pew when I discovered I had been sitting on the visitor register the entire service. As I exited the nave, Pastor Dawes thanked me for joining them. But as I hung about the welcome center looking at pamphlets, I suddenly turned invisible and no one spoke to me or offered me the promised free gift.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I don't think there was one, not uncommon for the early morning service.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – The church struggles hard to be welcoming to newcomers, but it almost seems too calculating with all the greeters, ushers, and parking lot hosts. I had never been to a Methodist church before, but the service was familiar and worshipful. I could recommend this church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Just reading about all the good work the church and its members are involved in made me glad to be a Christian, as did the sermon.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That period of darkness and Pastor Dawes' comment.
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