Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Two Churches in Maryland (Our Lady of Mercy and Rockville Assembliy 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.

Statistics

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/