Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rhode Island Churches

We realize that you're seeing a lot of white churches with white steeples quaintly set among trees. Here are a few variations on that theme.

Cross' Mills Baptist Church

Saint James Chapel (a Catholic Church) was prepared
 for their tent revival meeting and for their lobster bake as well

Miniature golf, miniature people, miniature church

Faith Bible Church

Christ Church Episcopal

Central  Baptist Church

painting of Charleston First Baptist Church
at Quonochontaug
The original of the painting above

And a little church for packages
(also at First Baptist Charlestown)
An outdoor chapel at
Dunns Corners Community Church
For the quintessential white church on the green
Trinity Episcopal Church

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Perryville Bible Church, Rhode Island

“Can I ask you, Jay, how you manage to smile and sing at the same time?” Carol asked the pastor’s wife at Perryville Bible Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island. Sadly, the question remained unanswered for the time being, because Pastor Jim Menzies suggested the question could be answered at another time.

Carol asked her question during the pass the mike prayer time, which not all churches can have.  A megachurch that has thousands of people in a attendance can’t open prayer time for everyone to share a prayer or praise -- unless everyone is willing to give up sleep and the upcoming work week. Some clergy might be concerned about passing a mike if they don’t really know the people in the congregation. Perhaps some will have a prayer concern about alien space invaders or have a praise for successfully evading income taxes. It’s something a megachurch executive pastor or administrative pastor would prefer to avoid.

I understand why many churches can’t have such time in weekly worship services, but I appreciate it when they do. I’ve always appreciated being in a small congregation when everyone is offered an opportunity to bring their concerns and moments of celebration before the Lord. When I was growing up, my church offered such times, and the church in which I last served did as well. Sure, sometimes you heard more about the ailments of great aunts than you really were able to muster interest in, but sometimes you were able to share in the most rich and difficult times of the lives of brothers and sisters in Christ. (And for the health of individuals and the congregation, people need to have the opportunity to share this way, whether through Sunday School or small groups.)

Anyway, during the open mike prayer time this week, a woman expressed thanks for the church itself. She’s a summer visitor who has come to Perryville Bible Church each summer for fifty years, since the days when the church met in a building that’s now a house, back when it was called Perryville Baptist Church (the name was changed because of the concern some visitors might be shy of the Baptist label).

Perryville is a church that takes prayer seriously, and that’s a reason we chose to go there. We were in the neighborhood because we were staying in the Burlingame State Park. A little internet research showed that Perryville Bible Church had a Wednesday night prayer meeting.

We went Wednesday night and found over a dozen people gathered (mostly older than we are). We were welcomed heartily, and led by Pastor Jim, people asked us many questions about our trip.

I appreciate it when people show a genuine interest in our travels, and it’s not solely because of narcissism (though that surely plays a part). I think it’s a healthy thing in a church to be curious about what God is doing in other parts of the Church.

Many churches that have Wednesday night prayer meetings don’t actually take much time to pray. Often, teaching takes the bulk of time, and prayer is tacked on at the end. At Perryville, the usual practice is to read a passage of Scripture (I Cor. 13 that night), and then people were encouraged to pray in response to that passage. People were asked to share requests, and the majority of the time was used to pray. The prayer time was wrapped up promptly at the end of the hour.

Jerry Seinfeld used to do a very funny bit about his father watching CNN. He talked about how his father watched hour upon hour of news about international affairs, and the comedian wondered what good it would do. Would the State Department someday phone his father begging, “Mr. Seinfeld, a planeload of diplomats just went down and now only you have the knowledge to negotiate this treaty with Zambia!” The night we were at Perryville’s prayer meeting, a woman brought up the recent chaos caused by an attempted coup in Turkey and the government crackdown that followed. She expressed concern about missionaries and the work of the church in the country. She asked people to remember the region in prayer.

It is a true and amazing thing that as absurd as Seinfeld’s joke makes it seem, when we pray, we play a part in global affairs. As the Psalmist wrote, “By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and the farthest seas.” (Ps. 65:5)

We had another opportunity to pray on Friday morning, when a small group of women gather at the church each week to pray. One of the women, Lucy, asked for prayer for a “transition house” being established in Haiti for orphans who, by law, have to leave orphanages after they turn 18. The “transition house” is for young adults who aren’t yet ready for life entirely on their own. Lucy is involved in Haitian orphanages through a nonprofit she started, Helping Haiti's Orphans. She visits the country regularly and obviously has a passion for the Haitian people.

At both prayer meetings people expressed concern for our country and the upcoming elections -- without expressing support for any particular candidate or party. There were flyers and posters in the church for Franklin Graham’s Decision America and the upcoming prayer rally August 31st on the Capitol steps in Providence.

We attended the adult Sunday School class, which is beginning a series on the book Everyday Theology (Cultural Exegesis): How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. The discussion of the morning was about what current trends in funerals and mourning might have to say about the spirituality of the culture. (There was some discussion of Kane Kwei’s Carpentry Workshop, where coffins shaped like fish, shoe, cars, airplanes and a great many other designs are available.) There was an interesting discussion about whether the methods of burial in the Bible are just descriptive or prescriptive.  (We’ve been to a fair deal of Sunday School classes this year, but I can firmly state that this was the first class I attended were we saw a picture of a coffin shaped like a chicken.)

The sermon of the morning was on a more conventional topic. Pastor Jim was beginning a series through the book of Mark (“Mark is the shortest Gospel, which is no indication of how long the series will last,” he told the congregation). The focus of the sermon was the nature of Christ, and I appreciated his use of the Easy to Read Version of the Bible for the opening verse, “The Good News about Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, begins.” (Mark 1:1)

After the service. I asked a few regulars what they appreciated about Perryville Bible Church. Several mentioned the church’s faithfulness to Scripture. Sharon, a woman looking after several young children, said, “I’ve always been here and there’s no reason to leave. I know everybody. The Bible is taught and as long as that happens I’ll be here.”

The Bible is taught. People pray. Sometimes that’s enough.

Sermon length: 26 minutes
Service length: 1 hour 5 minutes
Visitor treatment: There was a greeting time during the worship service. Visitors were welcomed, though not singled out. Mindy found a visitor/change of address card in the back of the chair in front of her (and she saw them in other rows as well), so she filled it out, although there was no mention of them in the service. Visitors seem to generally come year after year when they’re in the area on vacation.
Our rough count: 48
Probable Ushers’ count: 55
Snacks: coffee and hot water for tea
Musicians: keyboard (man)
piano (man)
vocals (3 women)
Songs: “As we Gather”
“All Because of God’s Amazing Grace”
“Amazing Grace”
“Amazing Grace” (keyboard and piano offertory)
“At Calvary”
“Amazing Love”
“The Gospel Song”
Distance to church: 10 miles
Miles from start: 33,248
Total 2016 miles: 32,952
Church website:

Monday, July 25, 2016

6 Distracting Facts about Rhode Island

1. You already knew that Rhode Island is the smallest US state at 1,214 square miles, but did you know it was the second most populous (after New Jersey) with 1,006 people per square mile? Are you doing math right now to estimate the state population?

2. Rhode Island's official name is "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations," which is the longest name of any US state. The "plantations" in the title was retained by voter decision in 2010 (the word is believed to have been used as a synonym for "colony" rather than as a term for a place where people were subjugated by other people).

3. The colony, founded on land given to Roger Williams by two local tribes after Williams was ejected from Massachusetts colony, was a safe haven for those who were persecuted for religious beliefs (such as Baptists, Quakers, and Jews) different from those of the Puritan leadership of most New England colonies. Rhode Island established a separation of church and state from the beginning.

4. In 1652, the colony passed a law to prevent slavery, but it was mostly ignored. During the Revolutionary War, the First Rhode Island Regiment was the first African American military unit to fight for the United States (on August 29, 1778). In spite of this, in the years following the Revolution, 60 - 90% of African slave trade was controlled by Rhode Island merchants.

5. During the Industrial Revolution of the early 1800s, many people moved to cities to find work in factories and mills. By 1829, 60% of the state's free white males were ineligible to vote because they weren't landowners. Eventually, a poll tax of $1.00 was established, allowing landless white men to vote if they could pay the tax.

6. Gilbert Stuart (who painted the classic portrait of George Washington) was born in Rhode Island, and his family had the first snuff mill in the New World. The property, now a museum, currently has a working grist mill and a working snuff mill powered by a creek.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Vacation Bible School - Hope Evangelical Free Church, Wilton, CT

One of the strangest phrases in the English language is "Vacation Bible School." What kid wants to go to school during vacation? When people think of school, they often think of public schools which certainly aren't teaching the Bible. And the acronym VBS sounds a bit like a disease.

Despite the name, I love Vacation Bible Schools. A Vacation Bible School in the Larkfield Shopping Center introduced my family to the church we attended for years. I began volunteering for Vacation Bible School in high school and have volunteered many more years than not since then.

For some parents, VBS is an economical form of day care. For some kids, the snacks and skits and water fights have brought refreshment from summer boredom. And for not an inconsequential number of people, it has introduced them to Jesus, to the Living God.

Therefore, we were delighted to have an opportunity to visit a VBS in Connecticut, even if just for opening day. Hope EFC's VBS this year follows Joseph's life, and we were happy to go back to Egypt.

The decorations were simple but fun and creative. The students leading the singing were enthusiastic. The storytelling from "citizens of Egypt" was thought provoking and fun. The snacks (separate snacks for adults and kids) were tasty. And the craft project of spray dyed T-shirts was just the right amount of messy.

I'm a little jealous of those who could spend a whole week in Egypt. Maybe next year.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A dozen Connecticut churches inside and out

We saw so many churches on weekdays while we were in Connecticut. We even got to see the inside of a few. Here are six we noticed from the road:
Rowayton United Methodist Church
United Church, Rowayton (exterior)
United Church, Rowayton (interior)
First Baptist Church of Fairfield (exterior)
First Baptist Church of Fairfield (interior)
Union Baptist Church, Mystic
Our Lady of Lourdes, Gales Ferry
Trinity Episcopal Church, Wethersfield
This church was mentioned on a promotional video about Connecticut. There seem to be three churches that meet on the property, and it's got a great view of downtown Hartford. The church and parish house (behind the sign on the right) were built by Elizabeth Jarvis Colt in memory of her husband (Samuel Colt, founder of Colt's Patent Firearms).
The Church of the Good Shepherd, Hartford, among other ministries
Another view with the Hartford skyline on the left
And here are four churches that amused us for one reason or another.

St Mathias Anglican Church, Mystic
A church in a shopping mall
Turn of River Ecumenical Presbyterian Church, Stamford
First Presbyterian Church, Fairfield
St Mark's Episcopal Church, Mystic
(looking mysterious)
And finally, a church Mindy's dad told her to visit. It's called Fish Church (also Holy Mackerel).
First Presbyterian Church, Stamford
exterior of stained glass in the sanctuary of
First Presbyterian Church, Stamford
door into the sanctuary of
First Presbyterian Church, Stamford
see why it's called Fish Church?
Entrance to the sanctuary
organ pipes and cross at the front of the sanctuary
view from the back of the sanctuary