Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
I don't mean to be snide about this, but a sure sign of God's grace and provision is the good health of the Foursquare Church, considering its almost soap-operaish origins. The denomination was founded by Aimee Semple McPherson, arguably the most popular evangelist of the 1920's. She was also at the heart of a number of scandals, including a disputed kidnapping and multiple marriages. (Henry VIII and the start of the Anglican Church gives McPherson a run for the money, but...) Today, though, it's a healthy denomination with 8 million members in 60,000 churches in 144 countries -- including Fiji.
Hope Chapel, Santa Rosa meets in what looks a bit like a barn in a beautiful east county setting. The interior is small but comfy. Through an internet mishap (I could swear I read 9:30 am, but no, everything online actually says 9:00 am) we arrived late. I thought they had started the service five minutes early, which would have been quite a first for a church. I thought we walked in during the opening prayer, but it was a mid-service pastoral prayer. We were surprised that there were announcements and then a sermon, without music. A look at the bulletin revealed our mistake.
With fewer people a service often feels more intimate, sometimes more contemplative. With more people a service often feels more energetic and exciting. And the number of people is the only change. There are so many variables that can change Sunday to Sunday, so our finger to the calendar means our experience isn't exactly authoritative. Doesn’t mean it’s not interesting, though.
Our Rough Count: First service -- 50 people
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Why did I feel glad to feel old? Mindy and I have been to enough churches this year where being in our fifties, we were the young people. At the Refuge the average age was somewhere in the low thirties, which was a cool thing.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
But this December, I’ll be reviewing churches found in Christmas films, starting with The Church with No Name in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” a cheesy made for TV version of a pretty wonderful children’s book.
Pro Thriving Children’s Ministry
Every kid in town seems to go to the Church with No Name’s Sunday School class and participate in the annual Christmas program. Every kid except for those in the Herdman family, youngster thugs who are devoted to extorting from other children and blowing stuff up real good. The story is about when even the Herdmans decide to become involved with the Christmas program.
Con A Network of Gossips
When the Herdmans become a part of the Christmas program, every woman in the church seems to be on the telephone talking with every other woman in the church about how awful it is that these young reprobates are befouling their sacred building. (Jesus, on the other hand, was pretty positive about when sinners came to see Him.)
Pro A Minor Celebrity
Attending the church and directing the Christmas program is none other than Loretta Swit, television celebrity. Didn’t recognize anyone else in the church, but it would be cool to say, “You know Hot Lips from the show M*A*S*H? She goes to our church.”
Con Cowardly, Mealy-mouthed Clergy
The pastor wants to buckle under the pressure of the gossiping women and plans to cancel the Christmas program because the Herdman children are involved. Skittish pastors are not a pretty sight.
Pro Grape Juice Served for Communion
Now I know many of you may prefer wine for communion. But in the film, the Herdman kids get into the grape juice stash. I used to sometimes get a hold of the leftover communion grape juice and drink it until I was sick. And I can tell you both situations would have been a lot worse if wine had been served.
Con Little Support for Volunteers
Ms. Swit seems to be on her own directing the Christmas program (with the exception of her reluctant daughter).
Pro Christmas Program Goes Well
The Herdman kids manage to inject some earthy reality into the show, and it touches people.
Early in the story, one of the Herdman kids, after a church service asks, “What it the Christmas program about?” and someone responds, “It’s about Jesus.” And the Herdman kid says, “Everything in this church is about Jesus.”
Now if that was true about a church, “everything… is about Jesus”, then it definitely would get a thumbs up and I’d want to go to there.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
There were also references in the sermon to “Reformed Theology,” and after the service, I talked to no less than three people who mentioned how they appreciate the teaching about Reformed Ttheology in the church. As a seminary grad I’m always happy to discuss theology, but it’s not something most people mention by name. So it’s fun when it happens. (It’s kind of like when a Dr. Who fan happens to run into another fan off-line. “I can’t believe you want to talk about Gallifrey!”)*
I can’t think of one time in my life when I’ve visited a Baptist church and heard someone say, “I appreciate how Dispensational Theology is taught in the church.” Nor have I been at an Assembly of God church and heard anyone say, “I sure do love the Pentecostal Theology proclaimed around here.” I think interest in theology says something good about the depth of teaching in the church.
If we had come one week later, we would have been present for the 20th anniversary of the church. We do hope (if the Lord tarries), this good church will have many more decade celebrations.
Service length: 1 hour 10 minutes
Sermon length: 40 minutes
Visitor greeting: We were greeted warmly by many people. Some of those greeting us were old friends, but we were greeted by strangers as well. No particular attention was given to visitors in the service itself.
Our rough count: 75
Probable usher's count: 100
Snacks: We were told coffee and cookies were served in the refreshment area, but we were having too good a time talking to folks in the auditorium worship area, so we never made it there.
“We Come O Christ to You”
“O for a Thousand Tongues”
“There is a Fountain Filled with Blood”
“O Church Arise”
(Post Script: I got a message from a friend who attends Redeemer and he said that usually more contemporary songs are sung, but the musicians that were available that particular morning are more comfortable with hymns. That's the peril of these one visit reviews, but I still believe there is some value in snapshots.)
Saturday, November 29, 2014
But not at this time of year.
Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent, and so much of the emotion of Christmas is tied to tradition. This is as true in the church as it is in most households. In both places, it seems important that this particular song is sung and this particular ornament is hung. Frankly, for most of the last three decades, I’ve had enough influence in the churches I’ve been a part of to make sure that many of my favorite traditions are upheld.
I’ve written Christmas programs with songs I want to hear. I’ve been able to pick favorite Scripture for advent readings. And even when I haven’t been able to choose, when I’ve been in a church for years, I could take comfort in expecting things to go as they had before.
But not now.
For this next month, Mindy and I are choosing churches rather randomly. We’ve chosen (been called?) to be church pilgrims for the next couple of years. We don’t know if “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” will be sung tomorrow (a hymn that should always be sung early in the advent season). We don’t know if the churches we’ll go to will have an advent wreath with candles lit by small children very excited about fire. We don’t know if there will be a Christmas tree (that wonderful theft from paganism). We don’t know if the churches we’ll go to even celebrate Advent in four Sundays or save all their Yuletide cheer for one end of the year blow-out event.
Early in our marriage, we moved to a new area and began to worship at a wonderful church that did celebrate Advent. They sang all the right songs. They had caroling activities, and I believe the Sunday School class had a Christmas party. But the pastor came up with absolutely the worst name for an Advent sermon series I’ve ever heard. Taken from Psalm 2:12, the series was entitled, “Kiss the Son Lest.” It’s a small comfort as we encounter different Advent traditions in the weeks to come, traditions perhaps different from our history and preferences: we will not have to deal with a sermon series with a title that awkward for four weeks in a row.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Snacks: coffee, tea and hot chocolate along with a table full of goodies (fairly depleted by the time we got there, but still abundant) including peanut butter filled celery, bagel halves with cream cheese, muffins, and brownies in a side room set up like a cafe or the breakfast area of a hotel (a nice hotel).
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Two children came forward for a children's sermon. There were no visual aids or parables but rather a fairly straight forward catechism of the Gospel. (And attentive listeners would also learn the proper use of the pronoun "whom".)
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Monday, September 29, 2014
All this is in preparation for an even bigger adventure in 2016 when we plan to visit a church in every state. Bookmark or follow this site now and join our church pilgrimage.