Tuesday, January 17, 2017

We Go to a Church that Looks Familiar (with bonus statistics!)

Santa Rosa Seventh Day Adventist Church
If the photos look familiar, don’t worry, this isn't a repeat of last week. This is a new post. (I mean, it’s a new post if you’re looking at this this week and not a whole lot later, because that’s how time works.) Last week we went to the Sunday service of New Life Fellowship, a congregation that meets in the Santa Rosa Seventh Day Adventist Church building, and this week we went to the Saturday (Sabbath) worship services of the Adventist Church.

We quickly noticed one thing that the two services had in common (aside from the building). No coffee. Strangely enough, both churches would normally have coffee (and possibly snacks), but nobody had signed up to prepare and serve at either church.  

Scott, who was teaching the Sabbath School Bible Study said he didn’t miss the coffee. He said that coffee was something you have to acquire a taste for, and it was his observation that if you had to acquire a taste for it, it usually wasn’t a good thing. He used beer and wine as examples. Adventists don’t do alcohol, but they do coffee...but not this week.

A cheery older woman greeted us when we entered the church. She asked where we were from, and we told her we were staying in Santa Rosa but about to move to Fresno. She expressed disappointment about that. (People from Sonoma County often offer condolences when we say we’re moving to Fresno.) She told us about the two adult Sabbath School classes: a quarterly denominational study and a Bible study. We went to the Bible study, which met in the back of the sanctuary, along with more than a dozen others.

As we walked down the hallway, a number of people greeted us, some with “Good morning” and some with “Happy Sabbath.”

The class had begun studying the book of James the week before, and they were still discussing the first chapter. Many class members added their thoughts to the discussion, particularly about of verse 13, which is about temptation. One man talked about being tempted while he was in basic training, when they had more to do than hours to do it in. He said it was back in the 1980’s, and recruits were assigned slightly fewer items of clothing...including underwear...than they needed between laundry days. So there was a temptation to steal clean underwear, and underwear theft was rampant. Phil said he was sure Jesus would have resisted the temptation, but he couldn’t say the same for himself.

We talked about verse 22, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only,” and a woman admitted that there was a time when she wouldn’t read the Bible because she knew she would have to act on it. She said that when she did read Scripture, her mind would often wander. But attending Bible study at church had helped her learn from Scripture, she said. I so appreciate when people are honest about their real struggles in such discussion times.

I was watching the time as the class went on, because it was getting close to 11:00 am, when the worship service was scheduled to begin, and at about 10:55, the class closed in prayer. I helped move the circle of chairs into rows, and we found our seats for the service.

Another couple sat in our row, and a man greeted them with, “So, is this your first time here? Are you visitors?”

They laughed, because the man was just joking; the couple were regulars who had apparently been away for a few weeks. What I found funny was that we, first time visitors, were right there.

Right about then, the couple seated in front of us did turn around to greet us. Mitch and Daphne introduced themselves and asked about us. We asked how long they had been a part of the church, and they said they’d “always been Adventists,” but they used to go to church in Sebastopol. They started attending the Santa Rosa church fifteen years ago because of the youth programs available for their kids.

I asked what they appreciated about the church, and Daphne said, “The mission of this church is to reach out to the community,” and she appreciates the outreach the church does. And she said, “This church meets our needs.”  

Mitch said, “That’s pretty much it.” (The couple has been married for 33 years and seem to have gotten to a place where they’re comfortable speaking for each other.)

The service started a few minutes after the hour. Pastor Don Smith greeted the congregation by appreciating the previous weekend’s rain storms, but expressing concern for those dealing with the after effects of storms and flooding. (There was mention of a tree that fell on three cars at the nearby Adventist college.)

The first song was introduced by Associate Pastor Krystalynn Martin as being “straight from the Good Book.” In Sabbath School someone had mentioned “we don’t sing a lot of traditional hymns here,” so we weren’t surprised when the morning’s music was mainly choruses.

During the prayer time, people were invited to come forward, if they wished, or to kneel, or to stay in their seats. Krystalyn addressed “Heavenly Father, Abba, Papa,” and included prayer for the morning’s speaker, who had been the pastor of the church fifteen years earlier.

After the prayer, Pastor Smith introduced  Bryan Aalborg, who would be preaching. Pastor Smith said that the year 2000 had been a real “pivot point” for the congregation. The congregation wanted to have a “relevant trajectory.”  A new pastor had come, a man who “stirred the pot” and was crucial to changes that occurred at the time. This was the morning’s speaker, Bryan Aalborg.

Before Pastor Bryan began his message, he said that credit for changes within the congregation belonged with the godly people who sought to make changes. He said it had been a time of transition and “fortunately, in the Adventist community, we have options.” Bryan said he was an East Coaster, and this church was his first real experience living as a Californian. At the end of his two and a half year stay, he discovered Yosemite and loved it -- but he had already accepted a call to North Carolina (“God tricked me”).

He went on to share a message about God’s glory, starting with Ephesians 3: 14 - 21 and exploring the themes of glory throughout Scripture, from Exodus to Isaiah to John to the Revelation. He encouraged people to remember the teaching of Scripture that God always has greater things in store for us than we could ever imagine.

After the service, I had a chance to talk to Pastor Bryan about the nature of the transitions the church made during his pastorate. The primary change they made was in worship, from the organ and hymns to a worship team with choruses. Music does seem to be a flashpoint for controversy in many churches, but it seems the church survived that time of conflict and is continuing to prosper.

The gracious welcome of the congregation at Santa Rosa Adventist Church did make for a “Happy Sabbath.”

Service Length: 1 hour 18 minutes
Sermon Length: 50 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were greeted by multiple people and recognized as visitors. Several people asked our names, where we were from, and expressed regret we were moving (flatteringly, they seemed to want us to come back). On the other hand, about half of the people who engaged in conversation asked our name but didn't offer any information about themselves. We filled out a visitor card and put it in the offering (as directed on the card).
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 142
Probable Ushers’ Count: 160
Snacks: none
Musicians: Keyboard (man)
Acoustic guitars (3 women)
Drums (man)
Mandolin (man)
Bass (man)
Vocals (man, woman)
Songs: "Revelation Song"
"How He Loves Us"
"The Heart of Worship"
Miles to Church: 1
Church Website: http://santarosasda.com/
Guest WiFi Access: no
Suit/Tie Count: 6 (plus 2 bowties, so bonus points)

We also attended The Redeemed Life Church on Sunday. We wrote about the experience in 2015 when we were visiting former youth group members, so I won’t go into detail about this visit, just give a few statistics.
Service Length: 1 hour 4 minutes
Sermon Length: 16 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We weren't really visitors, but Dean's brother and sister-in-law were. They were welcomed warmly and we saw them talking to different people (not just our nephew and family!) before and after the worship service.
Our Rough Count: 16
Probable Ushers’ Count: 16
Snacks: coffee, candy
Musicians: acoustic guitar (man)
Todd showed us his new banjo and played it for just a moment; his guitar was at the ready but not used
Songs: "Come, Now is the Time to Worship/Cheers Theme"
"A Shield About me/Take me Home"
"Morning Has Broken"
"In Your Eyes"
"His Eye is on the Sparrow" (John Denver style)
"How Deep the Father's Love"
"We Shall Overcome"
Miles to Church: 2
Church Website: http://www.theredeemedlifechurch.com/
Guest WiFi Access: no

Suit/Tie Count: 0