Tuesday, May 12, 2015

First Presbyterian Church of Ukiah

The screens (two in front and one in the back) read "Welcome to FPCU!"  Presbyterians do love their acronyms. Another acronym that came up frequently during the morning was PNC, because the morning was the culmination of the work of the PNC because a P was brought forth for N by the C. (I don't think anyone all morning said that PNC stands for "Pastoral Nominating Committee." My friend, John, was pleased when the person giving the announcement for VBS finally said the initials stood for "Vacation Bible School," because he didn't know and was curious.) 

That morning the church's candidate for pastor was preaching, and after the service there would be a vote by the congregation on receiving him as the new senior pastor.
John (fellow classmate from Mark West Elementary, Comstock Jr. High and Piner High) accompanied Mindy and me to church, since Ukiah is his current hometown. John describes himself as a lapsed Catholic, and though he usually doesn't go to church, he agreed to join us this week on our church visiting adventure. He thought the people were quite friendly, with greeters at the door (something he didn't recall from Catholic churches of his youth) as well as ushers handing out programs. But Mindy and I noticed that no one asked if this was our first visit, or really asked us anything-- not even our names (though "Welcome"s and "Good Morning"s are always good things).

A toddler sucking on a pacifier in the row in front of us provided amusement for Mindy and me as he stared at us. He had an extra cool factor provided by his sunglasses. There were several children scattered throughout the congregation, but we saw nothing that indicated Sunday School was provided for the service. The church's website says there is a nursery and Sunday School for children up through fifth grade, so perhaps the schedule was different for this particular service. Before the service, the screens announced youth group on Sunday nights for 5th - 12 graders, which seemed to me like quite an age span.

The music was a mix of chorus and hymns, opening with "Now Thank We All Our God." I'm assuming that hymn was chosen for the line, "Who from our mother's arms has blessed us on our way" in honor of Mother's Day. Mothers were asked to raise their hands and were duly applauded. Then all with mothers were asked to raise their hands and John and I looked at each other until that was amended to include those whose mothers had passed, so we could raise our hands with everyone else.

After the worship service, John described the music of the service as vanilla. He said he thought music was something that should draw people in, but he wasn't drawn. He did admit his ideal would be the Grateful Dead playing worship. And, of course, every church must work with the resources that were available to them. And all three of us enjoyed the sight of the interim pastor and the candidating pastor jamming on drums and bass, respectively.

The title of the sermon was "Going Where God Calls You" with the text of Acts 1: 1 - 11. It seemed to be more of an autobiographical sketch of the candidate's ministry than an exposition of the text. Mindy noticed that when the pastor began a story about his service in Iraq as a Navy Chaplain, John seemed interested, since he'd served in the Army, with some time overseas.
The pastor's story began with an overnight trip to Kuwait. He explained that he traveled with a bodyguard as chaplains were not armed. They were both tired and hungry and were happy to find a PX where they could get a meal.

He said he had wanted peace and quiet to enjoy his meal, but he and his bodyguard were joined by some enlisted Army men, who noticed that his uniform was different. They asked, "Why are your emblems sewn on rather than applied with Velcro like ours?"

Then one of the men asked about the cross on his collar. He explained he was a chaplain. But the man didn't know why a cross was used; so he explained to the soldier that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. The man asked what sins were. He went on to explain the God's plan of salvation. That because our sins were punishable by death and hell, Jesus died to take our sins, and the punishment for them, on Himself. We only need to ask God for forgiveness to have a new life with him.

The man asked if the chaplain could pray with him to receive Christ as his Lord and Savior. The man's friends later told the chaplain that they'd been praying for the soldier's salvation as had the man's fiancée back home.

I looked at John when the story was concluded, and he definitely had closed down. I talked with him about it after the service.

"On day one of training, you learn about chaplains and there's no way that guy wouldn't know what a cross on the uniform meant." We also talked about how unlikely it seemed that a guy whose friends and fiancée were Christians would be completely ignorant about the gospel, without a clue about the meaning of sin or salvation or the Cross.

John said someone who was not that solid on matters of faith, was looking for someone who would tell the truth. He said wasn't bothered by the teasing about the idiocy of army guys. He was used to inter-service rivalry, but he wanted to hear true examples. He said he understood people often embellish their personal stories, but it made him incapable of trusting the rest of what was said.

John asked whether I thought anyone in the congregation would see through the phoniness of the story and vote against the candidate. I told him I assumed he would sail through, because it's rare for a candidate at this point in the Presbyterian process to be voted down. But I hope in the future, he's careful to speak only the whole truth in and out of the pulpit. I hope the same for myself.

Statistics:
Service Length: 1 hour
Sermon Length: 16 minutes
Visitor Treatment: warm greetings at the door, several minutes at the beginning of the service to greet those around us (much hand shaking, little conversation between strangers), folded slip of paper on rack with hymnals, Bible and offering envelope for visitors to fill out, but no suggestion in program or announcements encouraging visitors to do so). Our Rough Count: 120
Probable Ushers' Count: 150
Snacks: Coffee and other refreshments available after service, but we didn't go because we skipped the meeting and didn't feel the need to meet the pastoral candidate and his wife
Songs: Now Thank we all our God
            10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)
            Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone
            Here I am, Lord
Worship team consisted of three women singing (one sometimes playing a shaker, one using a remote for the slides with the song words on the screens), an organist for two songs and the offertory, a pianist for all songs, and on one song, bass guitar and drums.
Miles to place: 52 miles
Total California Miles: 7,900 miles

-- Dean