Wednesday, February 22, 2017

We Go to Church without Even Thinking of Falling Asleep

Saints Community Church of God in Christ, Fresno
We were there for the early morning shift -- that’s what one of the worship leaders called the 8:00 am worship at Saints Community Church.  The woman offering the morning prayer gave thanks to the Lord for getting us up in the morning, because we couldn’t do it on our own -- though I had not, technically, gotten up that morning.

I’d just started working my night audit shifts at the Best Western, and I’d gotten home shortly after 6:30 am, so I was staying up rather than getting up for the service. It still seemed like the Lord’s work rather than my own. Fortunately, it was a short walk to church from our apartment. That’s sort of our theme this month: churches we can walk to. Saint’s is just a block and a half from our apartment.

We were greeted warmly by many people as we arrived. The usher made sure that we got bulletins and a packet of visitor information. (The usher also stood midway down the center aisle, facing the back of the church, for the first half of the worship service, ready to help with any needs.)

After a call for intercessory prayer, people were encouraged to divide into groups of three to five people (though our group had six) to pray. Some prayer requests were announced from the front -- members and friends of the church who were sick, hospitalized, or grieving. Within each small group, additional prayer requests were raised. In our group, we all wanted prayer for our families.
Early in the service, visitors were invited to stand, and we were greeted by everybody around us. The usher gave us the visitor packet and asked us to fill out a card, saying he’d be back for it so that we could be personally greeted by the pastor. The usher came back just before the offering, while Dr. B.E. McAlister, the church's pastor, was announcing that they were raising money for a new sanctuary -- one that would “allow us to worship more efficiently,” he said. The pastor added, “We’re not expecting all the funds to come from hot wing dinners and chitlin cook offs.” Two men stood in front of the church with gold buckets, and at the direction of more ushers, people lined up to walk forward to give their offerings.

In honor of Black History Month, a church leader read a poem his sister had written about her heritage. The poem referred to the Underground Railroad, George Washington Carver, and Brown vs. Board of Education.

As the pastor was introduced, it was noted that his picture had been in the newspaper that week. He was welcomed with applause, and verbal encouragement of the pastor continued throughout the sermon:
“Talk, Bishop!”
“Yes sir!”
“Tell it!”

The congregation continued to encourage Dr. B. E. McAlister along as he preached on a phrase from I Corinthians 7:29, “The time is short.”  The Bishop was true to his word when he said, “I’m going to talk for a few minutes about time being short.” (Which is good. There are many preachers who might take a passage about the time being short and then talk for a really long time.)

“I have attended more home goings then I ever had in a very short time,” Dr. McAllister said.  “I’ve gone to seven homegoings in the last two months, and three more are pending…This morning I want to ask ‘What if?’ What would you do if you knew you had only one year left?”

He encouraged the congregation to think about what’s really important. He said we must be determined to accept Christ. He suggested we would be amazed how many people would attend the 6:00 am prayer meeting if they knew they only had one year to live. (Saints Church has early morning prayer meetings Monday through Thursday.)

He said that if we only had a year left to live, we would right the wrongs we had done. “But we shouldn’t wait until we are sick to do this, can I have a witness? None of us knows whether we have a day left, let alone a year. Let’s make changes now!

“The Bible tries to warn us, to give us a heads up! But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord! If Jesus would come now, would you be ready? We pray that our spiritual houses would be in order.”

People were invited to come down to the altar for prayer as the sermon concluded, and one man came down to pray with several who waited there.

Afterward several people invited us to coffee and snacks in the fellowship hall. One women insisted, “It’s great coffee.” Mindy appreciated the coffee (I do not), but I enjoyed the breakfast burrito. In the same area where snacks were served, groceries were available for those who needed them (a woman noticed Mindy looking at the food and invited her to fill out the paperwork required to take the food home, which we appreciated.)

We talked to Michael, a young man home from U. C. Berkeley for President’s Day weekend. He spoke with great fondness of Saint’s, but he told us he’d found a church at school and was active in CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ).

Michael was planning to be back in Fresno again the next weekend, because the church would be celebrating Super Sunday College Outreach. This is an annual event at the church, when college representatives come to the church to provide young people with information and encouragement to seek higher education. Michael’s leaders from Cru would also be coming to speak. We wished a bit that we’d be around for that Sunday service, but we liked the one we came for.

Service Length: 1 hour 24 minutes
Sermon Length: 14 minutesVisitor Treatment: We were greeted frequently as we entered, during the greeting time, and after the worship service. We received a visitor packet and turned in a visitor card.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none We got a letter from Pastor Bruce McAlister about a week after our visit.
Our Rough Count: 49
Probable Ushers’ Count: 60
Snacks: breakfast burritos, coffee, hot water for tea or hot chocolate, bagels, bananas, muffins and other pastries, juice
Musicians: organ (man)
drums (man)
tamborine (woman)
electric bass (woman)
keyboards (man)
vocals (2 women, 1 man)
Songs: "I Come to the Garden Alone"
"Walk with me, Lord"
"Glory to His Name"
"Let it Rise"
"Praise Him"
"He Brought me Out of Darkness"
"Oh, I Want to See Him"
"Come to Jesus Just Now"
Miles to Church: a block and a half or so
Church Website:
WiFi Availability: none
Tie/Suit Count: more than half the men wore suits and ties; a few also wore hats