Tuesday, December 13, 2016

We Go to Two Churches in Idaho

The Sanctuary Cowboy Church, Middleton
Just to help you manage your expectations, I should let you know that there were no horses parked in front of The Sanctuary Cowboy Church, but most of the men inside were wearing cowboy hats (removed during prayer). Also, the church isn’t located in the country, but in a shopping mall. The interior -- from the worship area to the restrooms -- was decorated with a Western theme with trees, fences, house fronts, etc.

When we made our first state stop on this trip, in Nevada, we met folks from a Cowboy Church. Kathi and Fred were at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission to pick up food for distribution at a Cowboy Church in Arizona. We noticed Cowboy Churches as we traveled through the West and the South. We thought we should probably go to a Cowboy Church sometime on the trip (going to an Indian Baptist church in Oklahoma added the incentive of symmetry), but we decided to wait for Idaho since we had a tangential connection to this particular Cowboy Church. Keith Brown, the pastor of the church, is my nephew’s wife’s uncle. So he’s kinda kin.

The Sanctuary Cowboy Church began in 2010 and met at a house until about a year ago, when they moved to their current location. Their goal is to minister to people with a Western/Country/Cowboy sensibility. Pastor Keith was an evangelist for fifteen years at rodeos and other horsing events.  During those years, he told his wife Debbie that he never wanted to serve as a pastor, but he says the people of the congregation in Boise changed his mind and heart on that matter.

We attended the Wednesday evening worship service. I talked to Pastor Keith about what made The Sanctuary a “Cowboy” church. He said that he insisted when he came that country western music be used for worship. That was less the case the night we were there because of the Advent season. Usually, most of the songs have been written by the people in the church, and Pastor Keith usually has his Les Paul guitar. But to my ears there certainly was a country western music feel to the worship.

According to Keith, many who attend the church are farmers and ranchers. People in the church often get together for horseback rides. Sometimes they join together to shoot clay targets -- the church has sponsored gun safety events to help folks earn conceal and carry licenses. They’ve also sponsored CPR lessons and have sponsored done fundraising events for the Life Flight Network (which provides emergency medical transportation).

The evening we visited, Pastor Keith began an Advent sermon series in preparation for Christmas (“for the next few weeks we’ll open gifts Christ has given us,” he said). The theme was Jesus in the past, present, and future. Keith has a casual preaching style; after reading one prophetic passage from Isaiah he said, “I just wanted to read that because I can.”  A couple of times he would wander a bit from the topic and then say, “I just wanted to tell you that because it’s a good story.” But as their website says, he strives to present “the uncompromised Word of God.”

At one point in the sermon, Pastor Keith encouraged people to pray for President-elect Donald Trump “whether you like him or not,” because as President, he’ll have authority over the United States, “a Christian nation.”
The church inherited a Christmas tree lot from the business that had previously been in their spot in the shopping plaza. The Christmas tree sales weren’t expected to make a profit, but were seen as an opportunity to meet people in the community. Trees were given, or sold at a discount, to those in need.

All Saints Presbyterian Church, Boise
Friends of ours from Santa Rosa, Janet and Warren, had joined us at the Wednesday evening service. They had moved to Boise in the nineties, and they’d invited us to attend their church, All Saints Presbyterian, on Sunday morning. But before that, Janet’s parents had arranged for us to meet Brad Chaney, the Senior Pastor of All Saints, for coffee on Friday afternoon. We discussed the church and his ministry.

All Saints was founded in 1994 and has had ups and downs through the years. One of the down times was in the six years before Brad arrived almost fifteen years ago. In those six years, the church went through three pastors. Brad was recruited out of seminary, and All Saints was his first pastorate.

In the tumultuous years before his arrival, there had been splits and disputes about controversial issues -- such as whether children should be in public schools or home schools. Brad and the leadership decided that instead of focusing on such issues, they needed to focus as a church on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel would be taught with substance and depth.

We talked about challenges the church was facing now, and perhaps the primary challenge is space. The church had been working on plans for building new facilities, but in the last couple of weeks those plans fell through, and they were back to square one. Of course, the numerical growth that has led to the facilities challenge is something many churches would love to share. Almost any pastor would rather have too many people in an building rather than an empty building. But it is a challenge.

On Sunday, we attended the adult Christian Formation (Sunday School) class --the building has room for only one adult class -- which meets directly under the sanctuary. We could hear the musicians practicing above, and I was pleased to hear that we would be singing Christmas carols. The coffee pot and hot water is located in that classroom. The church leadership recognizes this isn’t convenient for people upstairs at worship who want a refreshing beverage, but in cold weather there is nowhere else for a table. Pretty much the entire ground floor is the sanctuary, with a very small entryway at either end.

After the class, we went upstairs for worship, where we were able to sing along with music we’d previewed below. A small orchestra along with several singers led the worship music. Along with more traditional carols, we sang “Savior of the Nations, Come,” which the worship leader introduced by saying he’d been told they’d be singing a new song that morning. Since the song was written by Ambrose (4th Century) and Martin Luther (1523), he thought one might question the word “new,” though the tune was recent and was indeed new to the congregation. The church does follow a liturgical format, which is explained in the bulletin as well as on their website.
Brad preached an Advent sermon from an unusual text, 1 Samuel 1 and 2, the story of Hannah. He used the text to point to the parallels between Hannah’s song, rejoicing in God’s gift of a son, Samuel, with Mary’s song from Luke 1, the Magnificat, rejoicing in God’s gift of a Son, Jesus.

The sermon was followed by Communion, as it is every week. Full loaves of wheat bread is passed, and people tear off their piece of bread. Announcements follow the Lord’s Supper, with the idea that families discuss news around the table. During that time, Mindy and I were introduced to the congregation with a brief description of our project. There was also an announcement of a rehearsal for the Christmas play in the sanctuary, with an encouragement for people to make room after the service was over.

I was able to ask a few people what drew them to All Saints. The young couple who lead the Junior/Senior High Sunday School class -- their first time working with youth -- said they were attracted to All Saints by the depth of the teaching. They have young children and wanted them to grow up learning the history of the church and theology. They previously went to a larger church, but they felt the children’s programs in the previous church were more entertainment driven.

I also talked with a woman named Stormy, whose kids range from small to teen, and she said it was also the depth of teaching that drew them to All Saints.

All Saints and The Sanctuary were very different places to worship, and I’m sure they draw very different people. That was kind of the idea of this trip when this started, to see how different kinds of churches can minister to different people. But though we saw different people at both places, the person of Jesus Christ was at both, and that’s what matters.

Sanctuary Cowboy Church
Service Length: 1 hour 47 minutes (we arrived late, but the service seemed to have begun right on time)
Sermon Length: 1 hour 10 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Several people introduced themselves during the greeting time in the service, and there was a guest book on a table in the front room (where we entered). The table also had a basket of cards (probably for prayer requests) with a place to write your name, address, etc. I signed the guest book, but didn’t know if the card was for visitors (and didn’t see anyplace to turn it in)
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 29
Probable Ushers’ Count: 30
Snacks: pie, cookies, crackers, coffee, hot water for tea or cocoa, water bottles
Musicians: slide guitar (man)
electric guitar (man)
Audio track backing with percussion and keyboard
Songs: “Santa Oughta Know”
“Joy to the World”
“Come, Now is the Time to Worship”
“Heart of Worship”
“I Will Worship You”
“The King is Here”
Miles to Church: 36

All Saints
Service Length: 1 hour 2 minutes (including prelude)
Sermon Length: 20 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Our friends had put an announcement about our travels in the bulletin, and we were introduced during the service. Otherwise, visitors are encouraged to fill out a card and drop it in the offering (which we did) and are welcomed in the bulletin.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none We received a friendly personalized email from the associate pastor on Wednesday morning.
Our Rough Count: 150
Probable Ushers’ Count: 175
Snacks: coffee, hot water for cocoa, tea, or cider, tiny pink and white marshmallows (all in adult Sunday School classroom)
Musicians: piano (2 women; one for prelude only)
flutes (1 woman, 1 man)
violins (2 women, 1 man)
cellos (2 women)
French horn (man)
clarinet (woman)
trombones (2 men)
trumpet (1 woman, 1 man)
electric bass (man)
acoustic guitar (man)
percussion (woman)
vocals (3 women, 2 men)
Songs: "We Didn't Know Who You Were" (prelude, piano)
a carol medley or fantasy (prelude, orchestra only)
another carol fantasy (offertory, orchestra only)
"Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"
"Savior of the Nations, Come"
"It Came Upon the Midnight Clear"
"Good Christians All, Rejoice"
"Infinite Lord"
"Joy Has Dawned"
Miles to Church: 6
Miles from Start: 45,638
Total 2016 Miles: 45,342