Monday, July 11, 2016

Redmond Presbyterian Church, Redmond, Washington

Our daughter Paige first visited Redmond Presbyterian Church shortly after she moved to Washington about a year ago. The service she attended was rather traditional with hymns and responsive readings. Because of this, she continued to visit churches over the next several months. One church she visited had only six people in attendance. At another the pastor “friended” her on Facebook after just one visit. At another, she wasn’t sure if the attendees thought Jesus was just a really nice guy. (Paige also kindly wrote a post with some observations from her search.)

Throughout these months of searching, her husband Grant continued to suggest that she should return to that “nice church with the old people.” (I should mention here that there aren’t just old people in the church. There are a number of young families and people of various age demographics. But there are also a number of older people. Paige began to think of that as a good thing after visiting churches that seemed to appeal exclusively to Millennials.)

So Paige went back to RPC in December of 2015. This time, the service wasn’t as traditional or liturgical as the one she’d attended in the summer, and she found out that for most of the year, the church has two services every morning: one traditional and one contemporary. During the summer, there is just one service that alternates styles based on who’s available to lead worship. (The Sunday we attended was traditional. Pianist and organist Mike Smith led worship. Smith is the longest serving staff member at RPC, and throughout the service he played various trills and flourishes -- while practicing before the service, Mindy noticed he’d played a riff from “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here.”)

I asked Paige what brought her back to the church and made her decide to stay. She said part of the attraction was that RPC reminded her of churches she attended growing up. (I noticed that the forest setting of the church reminded me of a camp we attended as a family, Mt. Hermon. Paige agreed.) Paige said, “It might be shallow, but they sang songs I knew, so I could sing along.”

Paige appreciated that it was a relatively small church, and people were friendly. Though small, the church is involved in many community outreach programs. The church ministers to the local men’s shelter and retirement community, and they are involved in local food programs.

She said she also appreciated the depth in the teaching. Some churches she visited either spoke in topical generalities with no Scriptural depth or looked deeply at Scripture in an expository fashion without any practical application. She appreciates the way the teaching at Redmond Presbyterian Church reaches both new believers and longtime disciples.

And she also appreciates that she’s had opportunities to serve at RPC. At another church Paige visited, she was told that before teaching Sunday School, she would need to attend for a year before she would be considered for the position. She understood the need to be careful about who ministers to children, but she didn’t want to wait that long. At RPC there was a need for Sunday School teachers, and she volunteered. The church ran a background check, but she was soon able to work. She was happy to be able to serve.

Before the service, I was able to talk to some congregants at RPC about what they appreciated about the church. Catherine, who has a son in Paige’s Sunday School class, said that her family has been in the area for five years, and they’ve attended this church for four. They never felt really at home in other churches, although the churches had good teaching. But on their first visit to this church, they encountered one of their son’s school teachers, and that initial welcome was what kept them around.

The church does have events that encourage that sense of community. Next Sunday, there will be a church picnic, with a cakewalk, horseshoes, and a watermelon eating contest. (There will also be a “bean bag toss” which is the correct name for the game. In the midwest the game is often called “cornhole” which sounds like something that could be found on Urban Dictionary, so that should not be.) I believe that a nonperishable food item is the “admission price” for the picnic.

A more unusual activity in next week’s picnic is a dog show. People are encouraged to bring their canine for the judging. The church already had a dog in church the morning we were there. Polo is a seeing eye dog, the companion of Jeffrey. Though Jeffrey is a deacon in the church, he said, “I’m used to playing second fiddle to Polo. Everyone wants to meet him.”

Children stay for the first part of the worship service. The pastor, the Rev. Dr. Larry Grounds, called the children forward for children’s sermon “Windows to the Kingdom.” He brought out a ventriloquist’s doll from a bucket. Apparently the doll, Benny, has been to church before because Dr. Grounds said he knew the kids knew Benny well. Dr. Grounds practiced a kind of ventriloquism that I believe I could handle. He leaned over to listen to Benny who whispered into his ear, then Dr. Grounds told us what Benny had said -- so moving lips was not a problem at all. The theme of the children’s sermon was the same as the adult sermon, “Accepting Your Acceptance,” God’s grace. The children were then dismissed to Sunday School. (Paige took the morning off since we were there.)

This was the Sunday after shootings of black men by police and the shootings of police officers in Dallas. In the pastoral prayer, Dr. Grounds prayed for those “who feel like second class citizens, rightly so” and also for “those who serve, police, firefighters and soldiers serving in the Middle East.” During the sermon, he said he had been talking to another minister during the week, and they agreed they would have to address the occurrences of the previous week.

He said there was just one thing he wanted to say about the subject. “We live in KIng County, which is a very liberal county. Here the highest value promulgated is ‘tolerance.’ Now understand, I think tolerance is importance. But for Christians that is not the highest value. The highest value is ‘love.’”

During the sermon another illustration made Mindy and me turn to each other and smile. He talked about Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, who grew up going to taverns with her parents. As a child, she watched people in taverns forming relationships -- which formed a basis for her future therapy theories. Dr. Grounds said people go to bars for community like they go to church go community. (And he hasn’t even read our bar blog where we’ve been making that very point all year.)

Last summer, 2015, Dr. Grounds announced after eleven years of service, he would be retiring in January of 2017. The church leadership decided that instead of going through a time of with an interim, which is the norm in the Presbyterian Church, they’ve begun the process of self study in preparation for the change. They did a demographic study of the church and found, not surprisingly, the area is affluent and predominantly Anglo. Like most of the Pacific Northwest, “the likely faith involvement level and preference for historic Christian religious affiliations is very low compared to national averages.” The study also showed that the preference of the community is for traditional worship.

Their study came to the conclusion that “We are a small but powerful community of believers who value substance over style and who center ourselves on relationships...God calls Redmond Presbyterian Church to be accepting and non-threatening, focused on being a highly relational church family, devoted to Christ and one another.”

Dr. Grounds said he believes one of the strengths of the church is being a caring community. He said balancing the church as a sanctuary and a outpost has always been a challenge.

Our daughter Paige has been impressed with what she has seen of the transition process. I trust with a new pastor, the church will continue “seeking to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ,” just like it says on their bulletin.

Sermon length: 25 minutes
Service length: 1 hour 9 minutes
Visitor treatment: A woman greeted us and introduced herself shortly after we came into the sanctuary. During the time labeled “Sharing the peace of Christ with one another,” many people came up to greet us, and people seemed to go out of their way to greet people who weren’t sitting near them (most greetings were “Peace of Christ be with you,” with a few “good mornings”). Visitors were encouraged to fill out the visitor card on clipboards in each row. All were invited to go to the snack time after the worship service, though the location wasn’t well marked. Mindy went to the upstairs hallway where the treats were set out, and nobody spoke to her at all.
Follow up by Tuesday morning: none
Our rough count: 83
Probable Ushers’ count: 87
Snacks: coffee, hot water for instant decaf or tea, apple juice, almond cake, chocolate chip cookies, and other cookies
Musicians: pianist (man)
Songs: “Praise Medley” (piano prelude)
“Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”
“Jesus Loves me” (piano anthem)
“Verset” (piano offertory)
“Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow”
“Lift High the Cross”
“The Horn Pipe” (piano postlude)
Distance to church: 5 miles
Miles from start: 30,321
Total 2016 miles: 30,025
Church website:

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