Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Two very different churches in Delaware: The Journey and Newark Church of Christ

The Journey Church
We don't usually talk a lot about the men's rest room in churches we visit, let alone start there. But above the urinals at The Journey there are little TV screens. And each of those TV screens is playing ESPN. I don't mention this solely because I want to post a picture of ESPN on a TV above a urinal. Not solely. I also want to emphasize the point that the Journey takes seriously the challenge of reaching men ages 20 - 40, and they think creatively about how to do this.

For instance, the themes in their sermon series are certainly guy friendly. We were there for the final sermon in the "Limited Edition" series, which is about our limitations as people. But the visual theme is cars and racing. The cafe was decorated with racing flags, and Rascal Flatts' "Life is a Highway" was playing overhead. In the auditorium, before Pastor Mark gave his message, there was a short Fast and Furious-lite video. In the sermon, Mark gave a short illustration of a time when a friend let him drive a race car. A previous sermon series used Zombie Apocalypse as a theme. And the series starting in June is "The Good Father."*

Church growth statistics say that if you draw men to your congregation, you will also draw women. The opposite is statistically less likely. The leadership in The Journey studies church growth statistics, business models, and systems. They believe in writing things down. Pastor Mark says, "I don't believe it unless it is written down." (The idea is that if a process or plan is written down, then it can be carried out by anyone, which is better than relying on one person to carry out a process or plan.)

There is an effort to pare things down to the basics at The Journey. For example, there are three basics for spiritual growth at the church: Gather, Connect, and Serve. The gathering part takes place at the five worship meetings during the weekend, Saturdays at 4:30 & 6:00 pm and Sundays at 9:00, 10:30, and Noon. The Connect step happens at the JGroups (J is for Journey) -- small groups that meet primarily at people's homes during the week. There are dozens of small groups that meet for fall, spring and summer sessions. Serve means being involved in ministry, and there are many opportunities to serve in the church. On Sunday evening, we went with folks from a couple of JGroups to The Paris Foundation in Elkton, Maryland, where they serve a meal for the homeless on a regular basis.

Children's and youth ministry in the church is based on the same model. The children "gather" together, and then divide into smaller groups. The youth worship with the adults in the weekend gatherings, but have youth group meetings on Tuesday night. Like adults, they can serve in sanctuary set-up, in the cafe, in children's ministry, etc.

Of course, even with the best of planning, stuff happens. We planned to attend both Saturday evening services, and all went well in the first service; during the second service, not so much. The message from Matthew 17: 14 - 21 about the disciples' failure to cast out a demon and the need for faith was preached well by Mark the first time around. (I did find it interesting that the only time Scripture was read was during the sermon, working through verse by verse of the passage.)

Anyway, during the second worship gathering, the sermon had just gotten started when the fire alarm went off. (The lights flashed, and a robotic voice said, "There is a fire emergency in the building. Please leave through the nearest exit.") What I thought was interesting, and kind of great, was that people weren't sure if it was a real fire alarm or part of the service. As we walked out, people were saying, "I thought that was part of the sermon." I think it's a good thing if people expect to be surprised in a church (I know that sounds like a contradiction but it is not.).

A great thing was the church handled the situation very well. The children were ushered out of the building by their teachers, and they were kept in a group outside the door for their wing. I didn't hear any kids crying. Parents (and/or guardians) still needed to turn in a ticket to get their kid. After a few minutes, Pastor Mark made an announcement outside, saying that there was no fire, but that the power would take twenty minutes to, well, power up, so the service was canceled. He encouraged people to come to one of the three Sunday services to hear the rest of the sermon. Someone asked Mark to preach the rest of the message on the loading dock. He answered that if he did, there he would have no voice left for preaching the next day. I hope everyone made it back Sunday morning, because it was a good message. But Mindy and I had somewhere else to be.

 Newark Church of Christ
We were excited to go to church at the Newark Church of Christ on Sunday morning, because they were doing an outside service and barbeque for Memorial Day Weekend. We'd gone to the church's Wednesday night prayer meeting because it was near where we were staying, and the time of the prayer meeting was convenient for our plans. The people were quite friendly on Wednesday evening, so we were excited to see them again Sunday morning.

Because of being outside (an annual event for the church), we didn't expect a repeat of the fire alarm incident. The service definitely had fewer technological needs. While The Journey uses special lighting effects, I don't think Newark Church of Christ uses such things even when they are inside. They don't use musical instruments, and do all of their singing a cappella.

Their outreach to the University of Delaware was a ministry we found most interesting. On Tuesday nights during the school year, they have dinners for students. Students from a variety of backgrounds meet together, and it has been a great outreach for the church. During picnic lunch I talked to a young woman who came to the church because of the campus ministry. And in the food line, another young woman needed to know whether all-beef franks were being served. She was a Muslim student who was drawn to the church through the campus ministry. The church supports a campus minister, and during the service a young woman who had graduated the day before was introduced to the congregation because she too was going into full time campus ministry.

Delaware is a little state. But it's obviously big enough for God to work in varied and interesting ways.


Newark Church of Christ
Wednesday 6:30 pm 
Service Length: 1 hour 14 minutes
Lesson Length: 48 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were welcomed and greeted by at least ten people (the group was small, and we were obviously new), including a staff member and two elders. We parked in one of the first-time guests parking spaces. Several people invited us to come back on Sunday morning. We filled out a guest card we found.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 36 divided among two adult classes, with a children's class as well
Snacks: decaf
Musicians: none
Songs: Just a Closer Walk with Thee
Footprints of Jesus
Stepping in the Light
In the Garden
Where He Leads, I'll Follow
Amazing Grace
Miles to church: 1
Miles from start: 14,062
Total 2016 Miles: 13,765
Church website: http://newarkcoc.org/

Sunday Morning
Service Length: 1 hour 19 minutes
Sermon Length: 34 minutes
Visitor Treatment: After we parked in the visitors' spot, we were greeted by a man who told us the worship service was outside. Several people remembered us from Wednesday night and greeted us. Visitors were welcomed during the service and invited to go through the line for lunch right after the veterans. There was a greeting time during the service as well.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 109
Probable Ushers' Count: 125
Snacks: hot dogs, hamburgers and a really good assortment of salads (and chips, dessert, and sodas and bottled water) for lunch after the worship service
Musicians: none
Songs: Blessed be the Lord God Almighty
Shout to the Lord
Step by Step
Shine, Jesus, Shine
Trust and Obey
Seek ye First
Miles to church: 3

The Journey
Saturday 4:30 pm gathering
Service Length: 1 hour 36 minutes
Sermon Length: 35 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Visitors are encouraged to fill out a connections card and bring it to the volunteers at Visitor Center in the Cafe after the service ends. Visitors are given a branded mug, information about becoming part of the church, and a treat (we'd gotten mugs when we met with one of the pastors, so we didn't get another, and I didn't see exactly what treat was being given out. Maybe biscotti?)
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 93 (probably the lowest attendance of the five worship experiences each weekend)
Probable Ushers' Count: 150, including children in the kids' area
Snacks: coffee, decaf, hot water for tea, lemonade, iced tea, individually wrapped mint lifesavers
Musicians: bass (man)
vocals only (two women)
electric guitar (two men)
acoustic guitar (man)
keyboard (woman)
drums (man)
Songs: Shine a Light
Grace like a Wave
Give me Faith
Miles to church: 1 mile
Miles from start: 14,077
Total 2016 Miles: 13,780

*In a promo video for the Good Father series, Mark did a bad Brando/Vito impression (and I say bad because you could understand almost every word he said, unlike Brando) urging folks to come to back to church, and to invite others to come. ("Bring a friend, leave the cannoli.") 

Monday, May 30, 2016

6 Unforgettable Facts about Delaware, with bonus information about chickens!

1. Delaware has at least four nicknames: The Diamond State (because, according to legend, Thomas Jefferson called it a "jewel among the states"); The First State (beause the state declared its independence from Great Britain even before the Declaration was signed and was the first state to ratify the Constitution); The Small Wonder (because it's very small); and Blue Hen State.*

2. It's 49th in area and has the fewest counties of any state. It's only 96 miles long and ranges from 9 to 35 miles in width. 

3. The state was named for the Delaware River, which was named for Thomas West, the 3rd Baron De la Warr (1577 - 1618). He was ruling governor of Virginia when Europeans first explored that river.

4. Due to the 12-mile arc said to be drawn from the cupola of the New Castle courthouse, Delaware has the only "circular" state boundary in the United States. Another part of the border, called "the wedge," was contested with Pennsylvania until 1921, when Delaware's claim was confirmed.

5. The first Europeans to settle in the area were Dutch, in 1631. Within a year those settlers were killed by the previous residents. In 1638, New Sweden was established near what's now Wilmington. However, Dutch settlers under Peter Stuyvesant established a fort nearby, at New Castle, and annexed New Sweden. Nine years later, a fleet of British ships conquered the Dutch, and almost 20 years after that, the Duke of York passed his proprietorship of the area to William Penn (so Penn could have water access to Pennsylvania to the north). The three counties which are now Delaware were called "the Lower Counties on the Delaware."

6. In 2012, 34% of the population considered themselves "moderately religious," 33% considered themselves "very religious," and 33%  considered themselves "non-religious."

*The Delaware Blue Hen is the name of a breed of chicken not recognized by the American Poultry Association and can be either male or female, and it's silvery grey with darker shading on the feather tips. (The APA recognized breed of Delaware chicken is white with dark wing tips.) The University of Delaware's mascot is YoUDee, which is a fighting Delaware Blue Hen.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hey Little Sisters

Little Sisters of the Poor
Jeanne Jugan Residence, Newark, Delaware

On more than one occasion on our state by state cross country trip, we've seen friends in more than one state. Friends we visited in Florida stopped to see us in Tennessee while on their way to Wisconsin (and we may see them there). The friends we stayed with in Tennessee we saw again in West Virginia when we visited a ministry they were working with there. And then there's the Little Sister of the Poor, who we saw at a church in Maryland and found in our neighborhood in Delaware.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, who have been in the news of late,* is an Order dedicated to the care of the elderly poor. It was founded by Jeanne Jugan in the 19th century. Jugan, born in 1792, grew up in France amidst the extreme poverty which followed the French Revolution. She had jobs as a kitchen maid and a nurse,  through which she developed a spirit of service. At the age of 47,  she welcomed an elderly blind woman into her house. Soon, a second woman came, and a third, and Jugan began her ministry. She began to raise money for her ministry and to take in other workers. Her order was formally established in 1839. At the time of Jugan's death in 1879, 2,400 Little Sisters of the Poor were serving the elderly poor. Today the Order serves in over 30 countries around the world.

I visited the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Newark, Delaware. It is a beautiful facility that cares for the elderly at different life stages. There are basic apartments for those who can care for themselves. There is a secondary section for those who need more care, and a third area for those who need round the clock care.

There is a general store on the property, along with a library and a coffee room. Most of the facilities, along with many of the recreational opportunities, are maintained by volunteers, and some of those volunteers are Jeanne Jugan residents themselves. Of course, activities include rosary services, prayer services, Bible studies, and daily Mass. The ten nuns and three priests on property lead the religious activities. But attendance of religious services is not mandatory. Being a Catholic is not a requirement for entrance into the residence.

I was impressed by the beauty and cleanliness of this place, and I'm grateful that the Little Sisters are carrying on their good work -- and that we could get a glimpse of their service.

*Trigger warning: I'm going to talk politics for a few sentences. This year above all others, I certainly can sympathize with a desire to avoid the discussion of politics, but a political issue is part of the Little Sisters' story. Bureaucrats in the federal government interpreted the Affordable Care Act to read that the Sisters, along with other religious organizations, must pay for birth control for their employees -- even though this violates their religious convictions. Though the government saw fit to give exemptions to companies such as McDonalds for financial reasons, they took the Sisters to court. The Supreme Court just made the unanimous, and I think sage, decision that said, in effect, "Hey Bureaucrats, figure out a way to make this work."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

We walk into a church in Annapolis (and drive past several more)

Usually on Wednesdays, we post several photos of the outsides of churches from the state we most recently visited. Today is different.

The very first church we noticed was in the heart of Annapolis, just a few blocks from the state capitol. St. Anne's was the church home of three signers of the Declaration of Independence and of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics to the National Anthem. And the door was open, and it's beautiful.

So even though we've put pictures from a few other churches at the end of this post, we thought you'd most like to see the the church on the circle in Annapolis, St Anne's Episcopal.

And the other churches, as seen from the outside.
Church of Life in Jesus, Highland, Maryland
Church of Life in Jesus, Highland

Epworth Methodist Church, Gaithersburg, MD
Epworth Methodist Church, Gaithersburg

Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church, MD
Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church

Good Hope Presbyterian Church, Fulton, Maryland
Good Hope Presbyterian, Fulton

Trinity Episcopal Church, Elkridge, Maryland
Trinity Episcopal Church, Elkridge

Resurrection Baptist Church, Silver Spring Maryland
Resurrection Baptist Church, Silver Spring

Saint Patrick Catholic Church, Rockville, Maryland
St Patrick Catholic Church, Rockville

Saint Paul's Lutheran, near Annapolis
St Paul's Lutheran, near Annapolis

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Two Churches in Maryland (Our Lady of Mercy and Rockville Assembly of God) and a Love Story

The People's Republic of China was probably not happy about the love story we're featuring in today's post. The Christian missions organization involved wasn't thrilled with it either. Claudia, a friend of Mindy's from middle school days, went to China three decades ago to teach English with a Christian organization. There was a rule that the teachers couldn't date the adult students, but... Claudia and Shimon not only dated, but (after her term in China was over) got married. As major as that change was in Shimon's life, there was a greater change. He went from being an atheist to becoming a Christian.

Claudia and Shimon Liang now live in Rockville, Maryland, and we were honored to spend part of last week with them (in church and out).  I asked Shimon what led him to make the decision to follow Christ. He said he was intrigued by the way the members of Claudia's team interacted with kindness and friendship, and he wanted to know what brought them together. All they seemed to have in common was faith. He was attracted by the Christian ideals of compassion and virtue.  He was greatly influenced by Claudia's team leader, Mike, who led him to see what he called the "nobility" of the Christian faith.

Claudia returned home to Indiana so that she and Shimon could both evaluate their feelings. Later, she returned to China with her brother, an ordained minister, and Claudia and Shimon were married. Claudia had to return to the States without him. They were unsure of how long they would be apart, but after a few months Shimon was able to immigrate to the United States. They moved into an apartment in Claudia's parents' home and attended Southport Presbyterian Church (then pastored by Mindy's father, who officiated at the celebration of Shimon and Claudia's marriage in Indianapolis).

Through the years the Liangs moved to a number of places with job and career changes, and they went to number of different churches. They remembered a Baptist church they attended in Chicago that they were embarrassed to admit they left partly because it had no air conditioning during a hot summer. For a time they attended a Free Methodist Church.

For a number of years, when they lived in Midland, Michigan, they attended an Assemblies of God Church, Christian Celebration Center. A crucial moment in Shimon's spiritual walk happened during that period, when he attended a Promise Keepers conference in Detroit, which showed him he needed to provide spiritual leadership to his family. Another critical turning point in Shimon's spiritual life came through reading the work of the Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft. About fifteen years ago, Shimon decided to join the Roman Catholic Church and led his family with him.

I asked Claudia and Shimon about their variety of church experiences and what they valued in their past churches.

About their first church together: Southport Presbyterian, they both expressed great admiration for the senior pastor of the church at that time, Henry Date. (Yes, my father-in-law. There is no nepotism involved; it's straight reporting.) They both appreciated the way he led the congregation with confidence, but not a big ego, "inspiring the congregation to trust his leadership." He counseled them as a couple with patience, kindness and Biblical insight.

As for their time at Christian Celebration Center, they valued the dynamic, emotional nature of the charismatic worship. They appreciated testimonies of God's work, loud praise, and tears. For Shimon, he was exposed to a fresh slice of American culture he had never before experienced.

As for the Catholic Church, Shimon has come to love the literature of the Church and the depth of the liturgy which draws him into the mystery of the Christian faith, to encounter Jesus one on one. He appreciates the concept of family in the Catholic Church, with Mary and the saints as part of a big family.

We like variety in our worship experiences as well, so we went with Claudia and Shimon to two worship services, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church on Saturday night and Rockville Assembly of God on Sunday morning.

Our Lady of Mercy
Recently I was reading John 3:16 in the New International Version of the Bible and I complained to Mindy about the phrase "one and only Son" in place of the King James "only begotten Son". Usually I'm not a big King James advocate, but King Jim got it right here -- and the homily at Our Lady of Mercy explored at least one reason the Authorized Version was right.

The priest, Father Byrne, said it was "Trinity Sunday" (though we attended on Saturday evening), which is, he said, "a nightmare for priests." The Trinity can be difficult (impossible?) to explain adequately, and he didn't want to use hokey illustrations like a three leaf clover. Instead he went straight into the doctrine, breaking out the word "consubstantial". Many preachers would be cautious about using a word with that many syllables. It means "of the same substance or essence," which conveys some of the same information as "begotten." It conveys the idea that Jesus is fully God. The priest also gave the history of the Nicene Creed. Solid doctrine, clearly presented.

The second offering of the night went to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have been in the news lately. We expect to write more about the Little Sisters in our reports about Delaware, but we enjoyed hearing about their ministry from this very little Little Sister.

Rockville Assembly of God
The senior pastor at the Rockville Assembly of God Church also preached something that's been on my mind (and the text happened to be a passage that Mindy read this week, 1 Sam 30:1-8). When people ask us why we are visiting a church in every state, one of the reasons we give is it seems that some people think the church in America is dying off, and we don't think that is the case.

The pastor, Stan Nelson, addressed that very concept, saying, "I don't think God is done with this church yet. And I don't think God is done with the church in America yet." He argued from Hebrews 10:25 that we need to not neglect assembling together as believers. "You don't need to sleep in on Sunday morning; you can come to church and nap in the afternoon."

Something else I appreciated about the sermon in this particular year was a reminder about who our enemy is and isn't. "Democrats are not your enemy. Republicans are not your enemy. Blacks are not your enemy. Whites are not your enemy. Muslims are not your enemy. Your co-workers are not your enemy. Your classmates are not your enemy....The devil is your enemy and you can't let him steal from you." Yeah, talking about the devil is a standard charismatic thing. But he also said, "I'm not saying there's a demon hiding behind every rock," but Satan is real. And he is the enemy -- other people aren't: a reminder we all need.

There was a second offering at Assembly of God in Rockville as well, and that money was going to a special project the church had been a part of in the public schools, an anti-bullying, anti-racism assembly which is generally accompanied by an evening program where the Gospel is presented.

Shimon told us how much he appreciated the wide array of church options available here in the United States. I'm glad that these two churches in Maryland are among the options.


Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church
Service Length: 49 minutes
Sermon Length: 7 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Upon entering the building (a couple minutes after Mass had started), an unhappy man gave us bulletins. As far as we could tell, there wasn't any way for visitors to be welcomed. Mindy was trying to return a phone call, so she had to go back outside and noticed that the imposing wooden door wasn't being used by parishioners (though it was unlocked), but that two doors on either side of it were used by everybody. We don't know why. At a certain point in the service, "peace" is passed. People around seemed happy to shake hands and greet one another. There was no acknowledgement of the possible presence of guests during the service. The program was helpful in following the order of service, but as has happened before in Catholic (and Episcopal) services, the liturgy is more complicated than the program would lead one to expect. Regular attenders, of course, know what's coming and can respond from memory.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 220
Probable Ushers' Count: 250
Snacks: none (there are refreshments between services on Sundays, though)
Musicians: organ, piano, cantor (man)
Songs: sadly, I misplaced my bulletin. 
Miles to church: 7 
Miles from start: 13,642
Total 2016 Miles: 13,345

Rockville Assembly of God Church
Service Length: 1 hour 45 min
Sermon Length: 30 minutes
Visitor Treatment: The two women handing out programs at the door were friendly and recognized that we were guests. Once inside, a woman named Agnes made sure we got the welcome folder prepared for visitors. In addition, the senior pastor greeted us (and other visitors) before the service, and during the greeting time, people greeted everybody around them. The associate pastor also welcomed visitors during announcements. 
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none personal email from the pastor on Tuesday afternoon
Our Rough Count: 66
Probable Ushers' Count: 75
Snacks: none
Musicians: keyboard (woman)
acoustic guitar (man)
vocals (2 women)
electric guitar (man)
bass (man)
drums (man)
vocal soloist (man) accompanied by piano (man)
Songs: "Soul on Fire"
"You Make me Brave"
"Hope's Anthem"
"Place of Freedom"
"Amazing Grace" (solo)
Miles to church: 3
Miles from start: 13,652
Total 2016 Miles: 13,345
Church websitehttp://rockvilleag.com/