Tuesday, September 27, 2016

We Go to 3 Churches in Wisconsin

Three Congregations in Rusk County, Wisconsin

We were fortunate to have children seated nearby in all three worship services we attended last week. Not our children, of course. Other people’s children are so much more fun. I understand why Jesus wanted the children to come unto Him.

St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Flambeau, WI
We went to the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church for the Friday morning mass at 8:00 am. In the front row an adorable preschooler sat with his grandmother. During prayer time, I watched him working on his proper hand clasping and folding technique. Throughout the service, he turned around to look at the people behind him, particularly the man a couple of rows behind him. When the passing of the peace came, the boy ran to that man. After the service, the boy wanted to show everyone his puppy backpack.

First Church of Christ, Ladysmith, WI
We went to the 8:00 am Sunday service at the First Church of Christ in Ladysmith, where we had the privilege of sitting next to a two-year old who squirmed a bit, but did very well throughout the whole service. His parents gave him a couple of fine books, one very exciting book about firefighters and the other about Thomas the Tank Engine. He also enjoyed a small healthy snack.

At Abundant Life Assembly of God, also of Ladysmith, we went to the 10:30 am worship service, some children went to children’s church, but one girl, 9 or 10 years old, stayed in the service. The two women behind her (and in front of us) were talking during the sermon. The girl turned around and with a very serious face, hushed them. Respecting one’s elders is important, but I appreciated that hushing.

We’ve been in big churches where there aren’t any children in the services. Nurseries and childcare and Sunday School are all good things, but in small churches you’re more likely to see little kids in the worship service. I think it can be a good thing for kids to grow up being part of the worship service with adults.

Some people have asked us, now that we’ve visited many churches, “What’s better, a big church or a small church?”

We generally answer, “Yes.”

There are good things about both. There are people who long for the intimacy to be found in a small church and others who appreciate the range of programs and services that can be offered by a large church. We’ve grown in our appreciation of variety in the Christian church.

Abundant Life Assembly of God, Ladysmith, Wisconsin
One of the inspirations for this trip was a book on variety in the American church, a history book with the not so catchy title: The Churching of America, 1776 - 2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy, by Rodney Stark and Roger Finke. The book contrasts the European Church and the American Church: most European churches were at one time state churches which looked much the same throughout a nation, whereas American churches were built on an entrepreneurial model -- many different kinds of churches appealing to different tastes and needs.

Stark and Finke argue that the relative strength of American churches can be attributed to that variety. A Gallup survey of the United States in 2013 showed that 39% of Americans regularly attend church as opposed to 12% of the population in the United Kingdom or 5% in Sweden.

One of the denominational differences the book points out is the approach to clergy. There are, of course, churches like Brethren fellowships that have no clergy at all. There are other denominations like the Episcopalians or Presbyterians that required extensive education for their clergy as well as a relatively high level of compensation. Historically, Methodists and Baptists required less education for their clergy and promised little in the way of compensation. This worked out in interesting ways. Since they required less, there were more Methodist and Baptist clergy (chiefly men) who could go out into the newly settled areas and frontiers of the United States, so many more Methodist and Baptist churches were planted. The Presbyterians and Episcopalians of the time might have argued their congregations were fewer but richer (in a variety of senses).

Each of the three worship services we attended in Wisconsin this week were led by very different clergy. At St. Francis, worship was led by a deacon, Craig Voldberg (he mentioned a marriage retreat he would be attending with his wife) rather than a priest. There are several Catholic Churches in the area and there a couple of priests who rotate visits to the churches. Every other week St. Francis has a priest lead mass for their Saturday service. (St. Francis doesn’t have a service on Sunday morning). Voldberg said that St. Francis has a much greater attendance during the summer, and that those summer residents faithfully give even when they aren’t present, keeping the parish afloat.

At the Church of Christ, the sermon was delivered by an elder, Russ Kinney (We arrived at the church at the same time as he did, and someone called out, “Oh, Russ is here, we’ll have a sermon.”

Someone else added, “You have to be done by noon, the Packers are playing.” We learned that the church had been without a pastor since August. The previous pastor’s family health challenges forced them to leave, but a search committee was currently working through candidates.

At Abundant Life, Bryan Johnson, the lead pastor, preached and led the worship service. His wife, Pamala Johnson, is family life pastor.

The three churches also varied widely in the length of their worship services. The Catholic service was less than thirty minutes long, with a homily lasting less than ten minutes. The message, drawn from the Gospel reading in Luke 9, addressed who Jesus is, and how the answer to that question changes everything in our lives.

The Church of Christ service lasted a little over an hour, with a twenty minute sermon. Apparently, the congregation was working through the Gospel of John. Russ Kinney, the elder preaching, spoke on John 5 with a focus on the man by the pool who was healed by Jesus and the need we all have for healing and conversion.

And the Assembly of God service was closer to an hour and a half, with a forty minute sermon. Pastor Johnson was working through the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11, this week focusing on the lives of Barak and Samson from the book of Judges.

So each sermon we heard was approximately twice as long as the sermon we heard before. Someone living in the area concerned about such temporal things (particularly about Packers starting times) could choose accordingly.

It was also interesting to hear about the different ministries the churches were involved in, in the community. The Catholic Churches in the area were sponsoring a Hoedown, complete with barbeque and line dancers, open to the community to raise money for Our Lady of Sorrows School in Ladysmith.

The First Church of Christ was collecting items to auction for the upcoming Harvest of Talents. The proceeds of the sale would go towards the needy in the community of Ladysmith. (I put in one of my autographed Bill the Warthog books into the collection.)

At the Assembly of God church, Pastor Johnson mentioned money that had been raised for the Project Lifesaver in Rusk County. The money was used for signal bracelets for those who might become lost so they could be found.

A variety of churches caring for a variety of people. Even without the work of Stark and Finke, we could see that this is a very good thing.

St Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church
Service Length: 22 minutes
Sermon Length: 6 minutes
Visitor Treatment: everybody greeted everybody during the passing of the peace, and there was a book for guests to sign.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 8
Probable Ushers' Count: no ushers; there were 8 people
Snacks: none
Musicians: none
Songs: "We Gather Together"
Miles to Church: 3 miles
Church Website: http://www.ruskcountycatholiccommunity.org/

First Church of Christ
Service Length: 1 hour 5 minutes
Sermon Length: 20 minutes
Visitor Treatment: The couple entering when we did welcomed us and introduced us to several other people, who made sure we got coffee, signed the guest book, and met other people. The mother of the little boy sitting next to us introduced herself after the worship service was over (it turns out she knows the daughter of our hosts from New Jersey), introduced us to another person or two, and made sure we knew about the various adult Sunday School classes that meet between the first and second worship services of the morning.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 71
Probable Ushers' Count: 80
Snacks: coffee, maybe hot water for tea
Musicians: keyboard (woman)
acoustic guitar (woman)
bass guitar (man)
vocals (man and woman)
Songs: "I'll Fly Away"
"You are Good"
"Great are You, Lord"
"Awesome God"
"Trust and Obey"
Miles to Church: 20 miles
Church Website: ladysmithfcc.com

Abundant Life Assembly of God
Service Length: 1 hour 16 minutes
Sermon Length: 41 minutes
Visitor Treatment: several people greeted us and introduced themselves before the worship service started, including the lead pastor.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none very nice personal email from Pastor Johnson
Our Rough Count: 34
Probable Ushers' Count: 40
Snacks: none that we saw, although there was coffee in the adult Sunday School class that met before the worship service
Musicians: keyboard (man)
vocals (woman)
Songs: "Your Love Never Fails" (prelude)
"Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus" (and they did)
"Glorious One"
"Strong God"
"No Longer Slaves" (also played during communion at First Christian Church)
"All the Poor and Powerless"
Miles to Church: 2 miles
Miles from Start: 37,880
Total 2016 Miles: 37,594
Church Website: http://www.abundantlifeassemblyofgod.org/