Tuesday, November 15, 2016

We Go to 2 Churches in Colorado

amazing bathroom at Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, Colorado
Scum of the Earth Church, Denver
When I came in to the Scum of the Earth Church, I had to dodge a little kid dashing around a corner. I heard the sound of a pinball machine and followed it to find a couple of brothers battling over the right to flippers. And in the worship area I saw what I believe may be the first sanctuary slide we’ve seen on the trip. There’s also a wheelchair ramp a kid was using for office chair rides; up and down he’d go. These things were finished once the service began, but during worship a little girl danced using moves she seemed to have learned in ballet class. Meanwhile, much younger kids spun around and fell down. What I’m saying is, it didn’t take long to get the impression that Scum of the Earth Church is a kid friendly place.

Scum of the Earth Church, Denver, Colorado, statement of faith
You might be wondering where the name “Scum of the Earth” comes from, and you may be surprised to learn that it comes from the Bible. In I Corinthians 4, Paul describes himself and other servants of God as, “Fools for Christ… We are cursed...We are persecuted… We have become the Scum of the Earth.” It doesn’t sound like a church name, but that’s on purpose. They are trying to reach people who don’t normally go to church.

scum of the earth church, denver, colorado
Which is one reason they have a smoking porch out front. A staff member smokes on the porch, hanging out with folks, only going inside while the sermon is preached. His purpose is to help people feel welcome and comfortable enough to come inside. The church website mentions that it’s a place where punks, skaters, ravers, homeless people (followed by “...”) are welcome. I think it would be a safe bet that suits and ties have never been a fashion trend at the church (nor will it be any time soon).

Fran Blomberg, one of the co-head pastors and the evening’s preacher, gave us (and some other visitors) a tour of the facilities after the worship service was over. The building had been owned by a rather eccentric artist and was in foreclosure when the church bought it in 2008, but it took a year and a half to get everything up to code.

Installing more restrooms was one change, and the restrooms are pretty amazing. The original restroom in the place has gorgeous tile work, and the new women’s room was created for pennies. (Yes, pennies were used to decorate the walls.)

The building has a bit of a scruffy feel, with hubcaps on the walls and bikes on display on one side of the worship space. That messiness is intentional. Homeless people, for example, might not feel welcome in a place that’s spic and span. One idea is that even men feel more comfortable in such a place.

After some singing, a woman named Savannah welcomed everyone, saying,  “I’ll be guiding you through the service this evening. If you’re visiting, we hope you’re treated with hospitality and love. If you’re a regular, we love you too. Let’s pray and get ourselves centered.”

The sermon, from Acts 5, was called “The Battle of Obedience,” exploring whether we should obey people or God.

Fran pointed out that for most of us the word “obey” is “not sexy in the 21st century,” and she suggested people might prefer the word “follow.” To illustrate the message of following God rather than people, she asked a friend of hers, Sai Krishna Gometam, to share his testimony. He’s a man from the Brahmin caste who decided to follow Jesus and discovered the hardship and infinite value of obeying God rather than people.

That theme of obedience carried into the prayer time. A man prayed, “We pray for our nation. We have elected new leaders who may pass new legislation that might make us need to decide whether to obey the laws or obey God.” Then there was an open time of prayer when people would lift requests and the congregation would respond with “Lord, hear our prayer.”

There was a time of open communion, with singing and an opportunity for people to go to the “prayer cave” where they could share requests and have someone pray with them. People could also writer up their prayer requests and leave them at a table in the back of the room. People could also leave their offering at this table. They could also buy a book about the church or some Scum hot sauce.

To conclude the service, people were asked to join hands and recite the Lord’s Prayer and sing the Doxology. I held Mindy’s hand and the man next to me offered his wrist, covered by his jacket, for me to hold.

The service was followed by a dinner offered free to all. We enjoyed the spaghetti and salad and the conversation around the table. Katie told us that she heard about the church because members of the band Five Iron Frenzy spoke highly of it. She kept coming because she found “authentic community” there.

Monument Community Presbyterian Church, Monument, Colorado
Monument Community Presbyterian Church, Monument
That morning we’d also heard people talk about the community they’d found at Monument Community Presbyterian Church. We came to this church because the pastor is a good friend of ours, Dave Jordan-Irwin. He, along with his wife Becca, pastored the church we attended in Healdsburg, California. The people of Healdsburg Community Church love the Jordan-Irwins, and it didn’t take long talking to people at Monument Community Presbyterian to learn that the people of Monument love the Jordan-Irwins as well.

But Dave was not in church this Sunday. He’d had hernia surgery (sorry, Dave, and all who think that’s TMI). But entering the church, even without Dave and Becca in tow, Mindy and I were greeted warmly by people. Before and after the service, people of the congregation gather in the Great Room outside the sanctuary. There are beverages and a wide range of snacks available, with the gluten free options clearly marked and on a separate table. (There’s also a sign on the front door identifying the building as a peanut-free zone because of allergy concerns.)

Eric Bergland, the youth pastor, opened the service. He had the difficult duty of announcing the death of a member of the congregation, and there was a brief prayer for the family of the deceased. Since Becca had asked Eric to introduce us and tell a little about our journey, he did so (though he did say we were going to “one church and one bar in every state,” and I needed to point out that we sometimes go to more than one. Mindy wanted to clarify that usually means more than one church, but laughter did ensue.)

The congregation joined in a “Litany of Unity” that was written by a member of the congregation. The leader specifically mentioned that the litany was written five days before the election. I appreciated these words of the prayer, “We ask for your forgiveness if we have been less than Christ-like in our words or in our attitudes during these past months and that you will bring to us the humility to forgive those with whom we have had differences.” Such words fit well with the prelude, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

reading "In Flanders Field" at Monument Community Presbyterian Church, Colorado
Since this was the Sunday after Veteran’s Day, time was taken in the service to honor the veterans. A young man read the poem, “In Flanders Field.” It was noted that the composer of the poem, John McCrae, was a Presbyterian. The children came forward for the children’s message and the speaker took the opportunity to introduce the children to the veterans in the church. Veterans of the Coast Guard were invited to stand and no one did. Veterans of the Army, Navy, and Marines were asked to stand and several people did. “Now watch this,” said the man who was giving the children’s message. “Veterans of the Air Force, please stand,” and it seemed half of the congregation stood. Did I mention that the church is just a few miles from the Air Force Academy?

bringing in Operation Christmas Child boxes, Monument Community Presbyterian Church, Colorado
This was also collection day for Operation Christmas Child gifts, and the packages had been placed around the communion table at the front of the sanctuary. When the worship service ended, people were asked to help carry boxes to the car that would deliver the packages to a drop-off point (eventually, the gifts go to children all over the world).

After the service I talked to several people about what they appreciated about the church. Jim said, “The people (of the church) are the friendliest, open and caring people.” Frank said, “I started out Presbyterian,  and I’ll stay Presbyterian. It’s a good fit.” He has been there a number of years and there had been “ups and downs,” but he thought the church was in a good place now. A young woman named Sarah said she had grown up in the church. People were friendly, and the congregation had helped her financially with college.

In many ways, especially politically, this has been a difficult, divisive week. And if I were to guess, at least from a demographic basis, I’d say the congregation of Scum of the Earth are probably politically “Blue,” and the congregation of Monument Presbyterian are probably “Red.” But they are all looking to obey the Lord Jesus Christ. As we’ve heard many times on this trip, “Whoever is president, Jesus is still king,” and it was encouraging to us to see Him reign both at Scum of the Earth Church and Monument Community Presbyterian Church.

Monument Community Presbyterian Church
Service Length: 1 hour 3 minutes
Sermon Length: 15 minutes
Visitor Treatment: A number of people introduced themselves to us before the worship service. During the greeting time, people seemed to be making a point of talking to all the people around them. An offering envelope included a place for visitors to write their names and contact information, and a friendship pad was passed.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 122
Probable Ushers’ Count: 145
Snacks: lemonade, water, coffee, decaf and hot water for tea or cocoa; vegetable tray, crackers, cheese, muffins, cookies, coffeecake, fruit, and more
Musicians: acoustic guitar (man)
Piano and organ (woman)
Vocals (5 women, 1 man)
Choir (2 men, 9 women)
Songs: “Jesus Reigns” (worship team prelude)
“Let There be Peace on Earth” (choir prelude)
“Lord Reign in me”
“Here I am, Lord”
“How Great Thou Art”
Miles to Church: 2
Church Website: http://www.mcpcusa.org/

Scum of the Earth Church
Service Length: 1 hour 41 minutes
Sermon Length: 45 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Welcome from the front during worship, encouragement to fill out a visitor’s card and turn it in on the back table.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: email Monday morning from a staff member
Our Rough Count: 72
Probable Ushers’ Count: 80
Snacks: fruit punch, spaghetti/linguini, gluten free pasta, marinara sauce (with or without meat),  salad, bread, garlic bread, corn bread, sesame sweet, possibly other things, but we got to the table rather late
Musicians: 2 acoustic guitars (men)
Electric guitar (woman)
Electric bass (woman)
Dancing children
Songs: “Thank you for Saving me”
“Abba I Belong to You”
“Here in Your Presence”
“Oh God”
“Jesus Paid it All”
“All the Poor and Powerless”
Miles to Church: 95
Miles from Start: 43,058
Total 2016 Miles: 42,762