Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Calvary Armenian Congregational Church, San Francisco

We love subtitles in our house. We use them, of course, when we're watching a foreign language film, since when you're watching a dubbed film you lose the original voices, and you lose much of the passion and feeling that went into the film's making. Truth be told, we often use the subtitles for English language films as well, so we'll be ready when our hearing hardens. So one of the little ways Calvary Armenian won our hearts was by using subtitles (although I guess since they were projected above the pastor's head, perhaps they were "overtitles)."

Translations were found in other places. The bulletin had an English language synopsis of the Armenian portion of the sermon. When we sang the Lord's Prayer in Armenian, the screen had the lyrics in the Armenian alphabet and transliterated into Latin lettering and also translated into English. (I appreciated the opportunity to melodically massacre the Armenian language).

On the church web site a slogan proclaims, "All are welcome to worship with us on Sundays." While one would hope that would be the aim of every church, that's not the case, which, in some ethnic churches, is understandable to some degree. In the United States, churches have provided a sanctuary for immigrants. It might be the one place where an immigrant's home language is spoken, customs are understood, and food is served. This year we have attended ethnic churches where an effort has been made to see that we were made to feel welcome. At the Chinese Evangelical Free Church we attended, a woman who met us before the service offered to translate for us. At some churches, smiles and warm handshakes sought to overcome language barriers.

But we have attended some churches where people appreciated the opportunity to be with the family and friends they knew, and weren't looking for new friends or family.

Though Armenian culture is a major element of the church, we did meet non-Armenians after the service: two women who had married Armenians. One of the women was an American and the other was from El Salvador. Both had obviously found a home in the church. Many cultures seemed to influence the church. A family was welcomed back during the service from a trip to Beirut, both the husband and wife of that a family still have family there. The church's pastor for the last ten years, Nerses Balabanian, was born in Syria. In the prayers of the church (and from the literature and posters found in the hallways) concern for the world was plainly evident.

Mindy and I very much liked Pastor Balabanian. Mindy thought he looked a little like Bob Keeshan (I thought it would be more dignified to use the actor's name rather than Captain Kangaroo, since we respect both). I enjoyed his slight accent and at times awkward phrasing ("This is time of prayer before we go more singing" and "Don't go to your bulletin... I changed things... Spontaneity is beautiful"). I fully acknowledge that his English far outshines my Armenian.

The sermon was the last in a series on the Lord's Prayer. "Today's sermon is one word: 'Amen'. You've heard the whole sermon." Pastor Balabanian acknowledged that most texts of Matthew don't have the words, "For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen", and Luke doesn't either. But he said, "I don't want to argue whether this ending should be part of the Lord's Prayer or not. We Armenians, as one of the early churches in the world, kept it in our liturgy."

He talked about "Amen" as a universal word in the church, adapted to every language. He talked about how "Amen" was used throughout Scripture. And he talked about how in some churches "Amen" was used as a common exclamation of agreement. He said that was rarely the case in the Armenian Church. "Our church is not expressive church, and I respect that," he said, which received a loud "Amen!" from a member of the congregation. (This was said during the English language portion of the sermon. The first half was in Armenian and the second half was in English with the offering coming in between.)

The pastor pointed out that the word "Amen" will be used in Heaven (Revelation 5:14). I enjoyed greatly hearing God praised this Sunday in Armenian and English. I greatly look forward when people of every tongue will join together in the great Amen.
-- Dean

Statistics:
Service Length: 1 hour 13 minutes        
Sermon Length: 43 minutes (including offering and singing the Lord's Prayer)
Visitor Treatment: greeters at the door, a time during the service where guests and visiting family members were introduced, and friendly greetings before and after the worship service. We were invited to join the fellowship time after the service
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 63
ACTUAL Ushers' Count: 67 (we happened to see the count after church)

Snacks: coffee, hot tea, cranberry juice, two birthday cakes, proscuitto, a variety of fruit, pita, hummus, pesto, feta, mini quiches, and homemade Armenian honey cakes 

Musicians: one man on piano, a woman on organ
Songs: Faith of our Fathers
            Holy Holy Holy
            Doxology
            Amen
            Lord's Prayer
Miles to place: 65

Total California Miles: 11,090