Tuesday, August 21, 2018

We go to church, but miss the show

Sanctuary Church at Taproot Theater, Seattle, Washington
Sanctuary Christian Reformed Church, Seattle (Greenwood neighborhood), Washington
We've enjoyed worshiping with congregations who meet in movie theaters, but this week was the second time we've been able to worship in a church that meets in a Legitimate Theater. Taproot Theatre calls itself a “Professional theater in a neighborhood setting.” Mindy and I were both in theater in high school and college (different schools in different states -- and different plays), so we both have a fondness for the setting. And the background for the worship service was the set of Sweet Land, which ended the day before we visited. Sweet Land is set in rural Minnesota, so there’s a windmill in the backdrop. Which was cool.

The Sanctuary Church website suggested parking in the Fred Meyer parking lot, so we did that. (And went shopping afterwards because we haven’t been in a Fred Meyer for a long time). We walked the short block or two to the theater, where the big sign, obviously, was for the theater, but sidewalk signs let us know we’d arrived at the church.

A tall man greeted us as we entered, telling us we could sit in the balcony or downstairs, handing us the morning’s bulletin, and directing us to cofee. There was the free church coffee, of which MIndy partook, but if we’d wanted to pay, we could visit The Stage Door, which was also in the theater lobby. (Not surprisingly, we went with free coffee). Home baked snacks and Girl Scout cookies were available nearby (also free). While we were pondering goodies, a man introduced himself, “I’m Mark, one of the pastors here at Sanctuary.” We’d just started our conversation when someone came through ringing a bell to call us to worship. (It wasn’t a large steeple bell. And there wasn’t any flashing of lobby lights as is typical for theaters).

The service opened with “A Mighty Fortress” (the projected lyrics had a footnote for the definition of “Lord Sabaoth” as “Lord of Heaven’s Army”). A woman came forward to lead the call to worship (“My name is Jen and I’m one of the elders here at Sanctuary”).

Soon the children were escorted to class by their parents as the rest of us “passed the peace.” I was glad that it was a genuine greeting time, rather than people mechanically shaking hands and saying “peace be with you” to a set number of people. That rote greeting can be better than nothing, but I prefer a chance to chat with people. We met a delightful young woman, Elissa (maybe Alissa; we talked about the pronunciation but not the spelling of her name), who had been attending Sanctuary for nine years. I asked her how long the church had met in that theater. She said they’d been at Taproot for the whole time she’d been there, but she’d heard the church had originally met in a home. I asked what had drawn her to the church, and she said it was the worship and teaching.

Summer, the Pastor of Spiritual Formation and Mark’s wife, conducted an interview with Ashley and Jeff, a couple the church supports. They are leaders of the Graduate Christian Fellowship at the University of Washington, and they talked about caring for the whole person as part of that ministry. Over the summer, their group has hosted discussion groups with the chair of the Women’s Study Department about the #MeToo movement and talked to local journalists about the media in the age of Trump.

But they are beginning another ministry, a church plant. They were inviting, and they invited people to help out with a work day at the building where a Lutheran Church is allowing them to meet. I won’t write much more about the this, because we might make the plant a post in the future.
People were encouraged to write needs on response cards before a time of prayer, “We love knowing how to specifically pray for all of you.” The prayer also introduced the morning’s text, “As we learn from our Sister Esther, whether we are political activists, engineers, teachers, old and young, let us realize our influence, to have God shine through us.”

Pastor Mark was continuing a series on “Cloud of Witnesses” (the phrase comes from Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses...”). He noted the Old Testament figures they’ve been studying were not necessarily “great.” Instead, they were often broken people, but God worked greatly through them.

He said he’d read up on Purim, the annual Jewish celebration where the book of Esther is always read. Listeners are encouraged to treat it like a melodrama, cheering Esther and Mordecai and booing Haman. Mark said maybe all Scripture reading should be done like this. He noted (as we’d heard a week or two in our visit to Calvary Chapel in West Seattle) that Esther is the only book in which God is not mentioned --which makes it a lot like most of our everyday life.

At Sanctuary Church, Mark noted, “We follow the Church calendar a little bit.” They celebrate Advent and Lent and Pentecost. Now, the time between Pentecost and Advent (most of the calendar year), is called Ordinary Time. It’s a time when coming together for worship weekly is especially important. Gathering together helps us remember God -- because we’ve probably forgotten Him some in the time in between.

Hebrews 12 was read for a benediction, and we were happy to be with this cloud of witnesses who are not just putting on a show, but seeking to remember and remind others of God’s work in the world.