Tuesday, March 29, 2016

We set a record in Atlanta!

Holy Week in Atlanta
Our business card reads "Dean and Mindy Go to Church; A New Church Every Week." But our dirty little secret is that, many times, we don't go to "A" new church. Often, we go to more than one church. We don't necessarily write about it -- but this week, we're not keeping quiet about the three churches we visited.

Maundy Thursday at Clairmont Presbyterian
That's the night the lights went out in Georgia. No, really, they did.

Maundy Thursday is the evening that commemorates Jesus' last meal with His disciples before his death, the inauguration of the sacrament of communion. Clairmont Presbyterian is the home church of the Lillis family, good friends of ours from Healdsburg days.

It's a tradition of some churches to dim the lights during this service, but as we finished celebrating communion, the lights went out altogether. It was a blustery night, and power was briefly out throughout the neighborhood. With a number of hymns to sing and Scriptures to read, the service continued without reference to the problem. Readers spoke loudly without a microphone; people scooted close together and used their phones as flashlights for the hymnal. The lights returned just before the service's conclusion.

People were encouraged to leave the service in quiet mediation, so there was no discussion of the unusual circumstances. But the Reverend Owen Stepp referred to the incident in his Easter sermon. "At the Good Friday service, someone asked me about the service the night before. I started to say, 'The power went out' but I stopped myself. The electricity went out, but God's power never left."

I had an opportunity to talk to several people about how they saw God work in the church. The Reverend Kimmy Stokesbary told me about a unique ministry of the church called Azalea Village Ministry which provides low to no-cost transitional housing to families in need. Last year, a woman (pregnant with twins) was ordered to go on bed rest, which lost her her job. AVM provided her with housing until she gave birth and was able to return to work. Kimmie said the church continues to seek ways to care people in the neighborhood.

Good Friday at Renovation
Really, if you can't sing the Blues on Good Friday, when can you? At Renovation in downtown Atlanta, we sang Mahalia Jackson's Troubles of This World with great soul and sadness. We also sang Were You There? remembering Christ's sacrifice as we prepared for communion. It's not really a happy song. But again, that's how it should be on Good Friday. (Though we sang the final verse, "Were you there when He rose up from the grave?" which really shouldn't be sung until Easter.)

We came to Renovation because of an invitation from folks we met at the Joystick Gamebar. Lindsey, Dylan, and Brittney told us about this downtown church and the Friday night service. We were certainly among the oldest people in the congregation, which was composed primarily of millennials and whatever they call people in their thirties with kids.

One of the things that I found most intriguing about the church was its goal of becoming "transcultural." They desire to bring restoration between blacks and whites in a city with a history of hostility. Pastor LĂ©once B. Crump Jr. is the African American founding (and lead) pastor of the Centre City Branch of Renovation. Pastor Justin Schaeffer is the white pastor of the Eastside Branch of Renovation.  The worship team was also included people of a variety of races. This may not sound like a big deal., but the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote about Sunday morning being the most segregated hour still holds true for most congregations in Atlanta. It's exciting to see Renovation seeking to build a "Jesus-Centered, Socially Conscious, Transcultural Church."

The service on Good Friday had no sermon (about five people read scripture passages and briefly talked about them), but toward the end of the service a couple of people came forward with "words of knowledge." Pastor Crump introduced those who came forward, saying that the elders had approved of the messages, encouragements to know God more deeply, as being consistent with scripture.

Saturday Easter Egg Hunts
These were church events we didn't attend. Most churches in town seemed to have egg hunts on the Saturday morning before Easter. Though we're new to the South, we're pretty sure people would frown upon our stealing candy (and eggs) from babies (and small children).

Renovation had activities besides egg hunting, including a basketball skills competition, an obstacle course, and a Krispy Kreme eating competition. (It's good I wasn't there because I might have been tempted to steal a Krispy Kreme donut from a baby.)

Pastor Steppe jokingly referred to the Apocalyptic Hunger Games held at Clairmont Presbyterian on Saturday (officially, its title was Eggstravaganza). 

Easter at Shallowford Presbyterian
"First Worship"
Mindy and I attended the sunrise service and the 10:30 am service at Clairmont Presbyterian, but between those services, we went to a church we'd driven by several times, Shallowford Presbyterian.

The service we attended was one of three that morning. It was held in a chapel rather than the main sanctuary, and instead of the choir and youth choir that were part of other services held at that church on that morning, there was a sole trumpeter accompanied by piano. The Rev. Christopher Henry, a young guy but very good preacher, gave a powerful sermon based on Mark's telling of the Easter story. But what I found most moving was the hymn that concluded the service, Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna! It was written in 1986, but we'd never heard it before. The tune for the hymn is Beethoven's Ode to Joy, which in itself is well on the way to getting me teary eyed. But the hymn included these great lines,

"Christ is risen! Earth and Heaven
 Nevermore shall be the same.
Break the bread of new creation
Where the world is still in pain.
Tell its grim demonic chorus:
Christ is risen! Get you gone!
God the First and Last is with us,
Sing Hosanna, everyone!"

How often do you hear a song, sing a song for the first time and are deeply moved? Doesn't happen to me very often. But it happened with this song. When we went to the next service at Clairmont Presbyterian, we sang it again. Not all Easter treats are found inside eggs.

Some people might only go to church once a year, and that time is Easter. I'm glad we found three different places where, in that one visit, God could indeed be found.

Clairmont Presbyterian Church
Thursday evening
Our Rough Count: 60
Probable Ushers' Count: 70
Snacks: none
Musicians: choir and orchestra with piano accompaniment
Songs: What Wondrous Love is This
Here, O our Lord, we See You Face to Face
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Were you There?

Friday noon
Service Length: 59 minutes       
Sermon Length: no sermon
Visitor Treatment: no particular acknowledgement of visitors, although we were greeted by several people, and our friend Keiko introduced us to several others
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none friendly email on Wednesday
Our Rough Count: 40
Probable Ushers' Count: 45
Snacks: none
Musicians: piano (woman), vocals (2 women), acoustic guitar (man)
Songs: Ah, Holy Jesus
Jesus, Remember me
Were you There?
How Deep the Father's Love for us

Easter sunrise service
Service Length: 42 minutes
Sermon Length: 13 minutes
Visitor Treatment: greeting time during service; several people recognized us from earlier in the week and said hello, everyone (including regular attenders) was encouraged to fill out the attendance sheet. The bulletin had a "get connected" section which listed various activities and names and email addresses for the directors of children and youth programs. New people were also encouraged to go to the church's website, instagram, facebook and twitter.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 37 (most outside on the church porch, but there were also chairs inside the church foyer. Rain was a distinct possibility)
Probable Ushers' Count: 50
Snacks: donut holes, coffee, water, and juice
Musicians: vocals (man, woman), electric bass (man), keyboard (woman), percussion (man), electric guitar (man), acoustic guitar (woman)
Songs: Jesus Christ is Risen Today
How Great is our God
Sing to the King
Holy is the Lord
I will Follow

Easter morning service
Service Length: 57 minutes
Sermon Length: 16 minutes
Visitor Treatment: There was a greeting time during the worship service, and several people talked to us before and after church.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Snacks: more donut holes, coffee, decaf, water, hot water, orange and apple juice
Musicians: flute (woman), oboe (woman), cymbals (man), timpani (woman), brass (3 men, 1 woman), organ/piano (man), choir (5 men, 11 women), director (woman)
Songs: Jesus Christ is Risen Today
Alleluia, Alleluia! Give Thanks
Christ is Risen, Shout Hosanna!
Sweet Hour of Prayer
Rise up Singing (choir)
Thine is the Glory
Hallelujah Chorus (postlude)
Miles to church: 4 miles
Miles from start: 10,048
Total 2016 Miles: 9,993
Church website: clairmontpres.org

Renovation Church
Friday evening
Service Length: 1 hour 25 minutes
Visitor Treatment: greeters at the door; people walking in were friendly and greeted us as well
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none email newsletter on Friday evening
Our Rough Count: 220
Probable Ushers' Count: 245
Snacks: coffee, decaf and ice water
Musicians: vocals (2 men, 4 women), keyboards (2 women), percussion (1 man), acoustic guitar 1 man), electric bass (1 man)
Songs: I Boast no More
Death in his Grave
It is Well with my Soul
Were you There?
Give me Jesus
Troubles of This World
Miles to church: 12 miles
Church website: renovationchurch.com

Shallowford Presbyterian Church
Easter morning early service
Service Length: 52 minutes
Sermon Length: 18 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Greeters at the entrance directed us to the chapel for the service (rather than the sanctuary); greeting time during worship service; pastors shook hands and greeted everyone after the service
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none email from senior pastor on Thursday (and he responded quickly to our email back to him)
Our Rough Count: 88
Probable Ushers' Count: 100
Snacks: Easter breakfast buffet (mentioned in the calendar in the bulletin, but not during the service -- we found it when we went to take pictures of the sanctuary) with donut holes, mini croissants, bagels, egg casserole, French toast, fruit, juice, water, coffee, decaf and hot water)
Musicians: piano (woman), trumpet (man)
Songs: Christ the Lord is Risen Today
Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna!
Miles to church: half a mile
Church website: shallowford.org

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