Monday, December 28, 2009

Baden United Methodist Church

Today we attended worship at Baden United Methodist Church, 420 Dippold Avenue, Baden, PA 15005, 724.869.2720,, Rev. D. Edward Bailey, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We needed a church that was close by that our daughter and family could attend that would allow them to meet up with friends. Shortly after arriving, two of my grandchildren got a little loud and Jan and my daughter took them to a nursery area.

At most churches we have felt very welcomed with children. Even though we sat toward the back I noticed a number of frowns around us. The front of the Sanctuary had more children being children, so I guess we sat in the wrong section. Oddly, when I reunited with my family I noticed that the nursery wasn’t staffed.

My youngest granddaughter fell asleep in my arms (while teething) and I honestly was so enraptured that the service faded as I thanked God for this little blessing.

God used the time to renew us all. Jan and our daughter needed time together and I needed to look at a sleeping baby to see God. I pray He guides this church to be a welcoming presence and blesses them as He blessed us.

Jan’s thoughts:

With children aged 4, 2, and almost 5 months, it’s a struggle for our daughter and son-in-law to attend church, although at home they manage to do so regularly. We attended this church because it was nearby and we recalled their friendliness from our prior visit. Shortly after we sat down the pastor invited the children to come forward, so I took the 4- and 2-year-olds up and sat with them on the Chancel. Of the three of us, I was the only one who noticed that the pastor never looked at them, which made me feel sad at their seeming to be excluded.

Soon afterward we felt they were too loud, so we left the Sanctuary. An usher escorted us to the nursery and showed us where the toys were kept, and my daughter and I were able to sit and talk without worrying about the kids’ volume while they played.

I was grateful for the opportunity to spend some quality mother/daughter time with our daughter, and through His presence I believe it was another of God’s gifts to us. He is such a generous God!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chippewa Alliance Church

Today we worshiped at Chippewa Alliance Church, 3629 37th Street Ext., Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.846.2070,, Tom Ranney, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This church has a large parking lot and governor’s drive. There is a much-appreciated roofed area to discharge passengers, although after the service two cars pulled in and parked there. Considering how icy the parking area was, I was probably not alone in wishing I could have utilized that area when we left.

We were early and toured a bit. I liked seeing names on some of the classrooms – a good feature for a new person. The signage throughout was good.

The sanctuary is multi-purpose with a gymnasium floor, a basketball hoop at one end, a stage on the other end, and set up side-to-side for worship. There was a large wooden cross above the stage and engineered beam arched ceiling. I have always thought a multi-purpose room to be very good stewardship of church space. It can be hard to justify a space that is used only one hour a week.

When the youth pastor was speaking it was louder and there was a definite echo. This is the toughest problem with this type of room. The head pastor was not as loud and was more understandable. I enjoyed the children’s song that included sign language.

I thought it would help some to include a female to help lead the singing. The choir was very good. I would like to have heard more solos, but they were good together.

Thought the sermon was theologically correct and great question of who do we say Jesus is? We gratefully receive salvation but are not so quick to acknowledge Him as Lord. The sermon built very slowly for me, wished maybe it started with Christ proclaiming the fulfillment of the Scriptures. I sense this pastor has great compassion and is probably excellent in hospital and grief ministry. It helps to include a personal story to get the message across. I think this congregation could use some excitement.

From the Missionary Alliance churches we have visited one common thread seems to be a lack of heart in worship. Maybe it was just my higher expectation of an advent service.

Jan’s thoughts:

The driveway was scraped but could have used some salt also. We took advantage of a nice little overhang at the entry which provides protection from the weather as passengers are dropped off.

Once we had been inside for 5 minutes or so a few people spoke to us, but they seemed quite unsure whether we were visitors. This nearly always happens when the church has more than one service, but it’s unusual when there is only one service.

The layout is unique with plenty of space, good signage, and many displays in the hallway-type narthex.

Great skill is employed in creating a nicely-decorated and functional worship space in the gymnasium. The chairs were padded and quite comfortable and the sound system was perfectly adequate with no necessity to shout. The choir sounded great, and all the words to all the music and liturgy were displayed on the screen. The only issue I had was a personal one due to an ear condition, and that was the hum of the lights. Most people wouldn’t even notice it.

As I said, the worship area was very nicely decorated, with a makeshift chancel bearing seasonal greens and Christmas trees, beautiful wreaths on the wall, and a Christmas tree on the one side. All the decorations definitely made it easy to get into the spirit of the season.

The people were friendly but very tentative. It’s always awkward when greeting time rolls around and everyone speaks to their friends and visitors are left standing there willing to meet people but unable to get anyone’s attention.

The sermon was part of a series called “His Wonderful Names!” and this week’s was “The Meaning of Messiah.” I appreciated the outline included in the bulletin and shown on the screen. The best thing about the message was that he pulled no punches; he stated unequivocally that any preaching that states there is another way besides Jesus Christ to get to Heaven is wrong, and that the currently popular “prosperity gospel” is a cult and idolatry. He could not have been more plain-spoken, and anyone who left wondering where he stood on the issue was simply not paying attention.

One highlight was the opportunity after the service to greet a Marine (in dress blues, no less!). He was home from boot camp and would be reporting to Camp Lejeune after the New Year. As happy as we were to meet him and proud for him as a new Marine, that still brings all the memories flooding back, but I love witnessing a young man of probably about 19 shaking hands with my husband at 62 and saying, “Semper fi, bro!”

I pray God will bless him and all those serving our country, along with their families.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Today we worshiped quietly at home, as the ice prevented safe travel. We listened to sermons online from the past two weeks on the Centreville Presbyterian Church (Centreville, VA) website. The pastors are Rev. Rob Bromhead, Senior Pastor, and Rev. Michelle Fincher, Interim Associate Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We had a lot of ice this morning and a steady rain adding to it, so we decided to stay in. Some of the podcasting churches were having music programs today, so we listened to sermons from Centreville Presbyterian in Virginia.

Someone recently raised some questions based on our blog, specifically about how we rate the aesthetics of churches we visit. From the little we write I was surprised at the conclusion, but hearing the question gave me cause to think about what we say and what we don’t.

I doubt God cares about the details of worship nearly as much as He cares about the heart. My concerns over where in the worship service the offering is taken should be of no concern. I can’t help but notice it, but do not feel I am judging. When I lament the lack of a cross in a Christian worship serivce, I am mourning the personal loss.

In listening to a sermon independent of the service, some things are clearer. All the rest of the service is part of worshiping God, but I think those elements can take on an importance of their own that takes away from our personal worship of God.

Often when I hear a message I am wondering, “Why do pastors have to keep going over some things?” We must get it by now.” I have come to realize that some of us don’t get it, and that all of us need reminded. Our memory changes, our situations in life change. Maybe it is a completely new message today because of these changes much the way the Bible speaks differently to my current needs every time I read it.

One sermon today was on how we don’t fall in love with marriage, we fall in love with a person. Immediately God brought to my memory how I fell in love with Christ, not religion. When we fall into love of religion, the trappings of our worship separate us from our love of Christ. We come to God with the world’s “Show me!” not with God’s, “Trust Me!”

Jan’s thoughts:

After hearing about a slew of accidents in the area due to icy roads, we decided to do what we did following Bob’s surgery and worship quietly at home. After what we heard online, though, we wanted to share it.

One of the Virginia churches we visit on occasion is Centreville Presbyterian, where we’ve gotten to know some wonderful people and very much appreciate the pastor, Rob. This church has a new Interim Associate Pastor who is also first-rate, although the opposite of Rob in nearly every other way. She speaks in even, measured tones and often with little emotion, unlike Rob whose vocal inflections change constantly and who seems to ad lib surprisingly often. I suspect they complement each other well and ironically the sermons we heard were interwoven in content.

As an aside, I subscribe to the podcasts of these sermons and one of the things I appreciate most is that the podcasts include the Scripture immediately prior to the message and the prayer immediately following.

First we listened to Michelle’s sermon from November 29 entitled “God Speaking in a Personal Way.” In this message she pointed out that faith does not come from having our questions answered, but more often as the result of a crisis. She spoke of how we all must overcome our personal obstacles to believing God, and about the difference between understanding and acceptance. Ultimately, God has invited us into relationship with Him, and that requires more than intellectual assent. It requires our hearts.

Next we heard Pastor Rob’s sermon from last week, “Coming to Terms.” Rob has a unique way of communicating his point to the congregation, and this week was no exception. He began by talking about being irked when people say they are committed to marriage. As strange as that may sound coming from a pastor, it was understandable when he defined his terms: he didn’t want his wife to be committed to marriage, he wanted her to be committed to him. The difference between a categorical commitment (to marriage) and a personal commitment (to Rob). And so it is with God – it must be personal.

He showed a video testimony (unfortunately we could only listen, but I was glad we could do that). A young man named Chris had been an atheist and told of his journey to faith. He had challenged God to prove His existence, and when God did not, Chris moved into his life as an atheist “with a clear conscience.” However, following a series of events, at 27 years of age he realized that he had been taking advice from the 17-year-old version of himself and decided in his heart he wanted to know the truth. So he prayed for God to show him – in His way and in His time – whether or not He existed.

Rob ended with, “God so loved the world that He refused to be a category and did something personal.” Amen, and praise God!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Providence Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Providence Presbyterian Church, 9019 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax, VA 22031, 703.978.3934,, Rev. Dr. Michael P. Burns, Pastor, and Rev. Mary E. Rodgers, Associate Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We attended Providence for our granddaughter’s baptism. We were early but parking appears more than adequate. This weekend we experienced one of the rare early snowfalls in Virginia, and while the parking area was plowed and salted and most walkways were cleared, one large section of walk was snow-covered. There was little signage outside, but good direction inside. We got to tour a little but this is a large facility and I’m sure we missed a lot.

I don’t recall being welcomed in particular beyond the passing of the peace, but almost all we saw gave a welcoming smile. I think most churches with more than one service just think they haven’t met you.

We saw some outstanding banners on burlap and “stained glass” panels on Plexiglas in the youth area. Very well done bulletin boards and displays. There is a table decorated with poinsettias in the narthex with cards to be signed and sent to those serving in the military. The table is directly under a domed skylight that was partially snow-covered…very cool – no pun intended. There were quite a few military listed in the bulletin.

I was pleased to see so many references to mission and an apparently active youth contingent.

We worshiped at the contemporary service and I was pleased with how many children I saw besides our grandchildren - always a sign of a healthy church. The offering was taken in response to the Word, and I don’t know if there was a large cross in front as the screen was down.

We learned after the service as the chairs were being moved and tables set up that we were in a multipurpose room and the Sanctuary was elsewhere. We did find the Sanctuary later: it was very tastefully decorated. Hope to return sometime to hear the impressive-looking organ.

The Elders were well trained in Communion service and offered the elements verbally. The bulletin covered both services and had many inserts which I found a bit confusing. I was blessed to hold my latest granddaughter during the service, so my notes taken during the sermon were unreadable. I had previously handed another granddaughter off to Jan for the service, so we were both so blessed.

There was a large display of literature dealing with abuse, domestic violence, neglect, etc., including the congregation’s response to these issues. I hope to check out this information on our next visit.

Another highlight was a notice in the bulletin of the shawl ministry, different than most: “You are welcome to borrow one if the service area feels cool to you on Sunday morning.”

There were a lot of positive aspects about this church and I am very glad we have family worshiping here.

Jan’s thoughts:

First the disclaimer: We – along with the rest of our family – visited Providence for the baptism of our granddaughter, Ashton. Consequently, there were some, shall we say, distractions during the service, albeit very loving ones!

This church building is quite large and very well laid out. A great deal of obvious thought was given during the planning, and I must believe some members possess extraordinary gifts in decorating, because it presents quite a beautiful appearance. One thing after another appealed to my sense of organization:
Upon entering the welcome area I noticed a large table with poinsettias arranged in a vertical fashion. On the table were greeting cards (Christmas, probably) with pens for members to sign;
A perfect little coat room;
All sorts of bulletin boards for all the activities of the church (youth, upcoming events, service opportunities, Logos, adult education, financial commitment, prayer ministries, missions) which coincide with the categories in the bulletin. Also various literature racks quite attractively laid out containing information about just about anything in the church and community;
Excellent signage allowed us to find our way around, with my lack of directional sense my only hindrance;
A gorgeous conventional Sanctuary for the traditional service and a well-appointed fellowship hall hosts the contemporary service.

OK, enough about the building. What about the church? It’s always different when we attend church with our children. There was a time when the church we attended accepted our children as an extension of us; now when we visit our children’s churches, I have a sense that we are accepted as an extension of them.

The people were friendly in spite of somewhat limited opportunities since Bob and I were holding little ones throughout. Immediately after worship one of the women introduced herself and gave me nametags for both of us.

The worship music was fantastic: the praise band is so gifted and not just musically. After worship I watched as our 4-year-old grandson Luke, who just loves guitars and music (especially country music), slowly walked toward the stage awestruck by the sight of the instruments. One of the guitar players, Chris, thoughtfully brought his guitar down to Luke’s level and let him strum it. Afterward Luke hugged the guitar and I sincerely thanked Chris for his kindness.

The sermon, “A Piece of Peace,” centered on the hope of finding some peace in this season. I had a 2-year-old on my lap throughout the service so I know some of what I heard did not stick (OK, much of it slid out of my memory…), but there was one line that stuck with me: “Joy has a much longer shelf life than happiness.” There’s a lot of truth in that. We tend to make happiness our goal, but happiness is transitory and often situation-based. Joy takes a lot more effort to find, but it also lasts a lot longer. And the best part is that it’s based on Someone Who, once you find Him, will never let you go.

I look forward to visiting this church again, although it is a bit of a commute.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Our Savior's Lutheran Church

Today we worshiped at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 2147 Ridge Road Ext., Ambridge, PA 15003, 724.266.1169,, Rev. Jill E. McGregor

Bob’s thoughts:

I think this is probably the closest church to our house; most churches we visit are a half hour or more away, so this was a nice change. I thought they could benefit from signage, but it is a small church and easy to find your way around.

They have a most welcoming social area. The kitchen is at one end of the hall with no barrier, like someone’s welcoming home.

There is a great shade of blue in the stained glass, the same as some other Lutheran Churches I’ve been in. Above the chancel is a round stained glass window powerfully portraying Christ in prayer at Gethsemane, great paraments depicting Advent, and a good central cross. The wood veneer/paneling, ceiling, and beams add a lot of character.

I liked the simple arrows (↑↓) in the bulletin to indicate stand/sit. We were greeted warmly, and a member suggested we sit with him so he could offer guidance through the service. We were able to partake of Communion, and that was my first taste of wine in many years.

To me the Lutheran Church seems to get lost in ritual. I always have trouble finding my place in the Psalter/hymnal. I don’t doubt the heart for Christ, but the mechanics to get there seem overly complicated to me.

The sermon dealt with the necessary human side of Christ, our alienation in sin, and how many excuses we can have. We are bound to Christ with the need to be bound also to each other.

I feel the pastor has a seldom-seen passion for Christ that I’d like to see given free rein.

Jan’s thoughts:

Following an intriguing conversation with Pastor Jill at the community Thanksgiving Eve worship service, we felt called to worship today at one of the churches she serves. (This parish comprises this church and nearby Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.) We’ve been past this little church numerous times and have always been curious to see the inside.

Most of the parking is on a one-way side street, which we didn’t realize upon arriving. The building itself is small but unique, especially the downstairs fellowship hall area where the kitchen is at one end of the open hall with no walls separating the hall and kitchen. I’ve never seen this arrangement in a church before. It felt inviting and family-like.

The congregation is friendly: most who did not greet us before the service did so during worship or afterward. One gentleman was nearby when we arrived and overhead us tell Jill that we had attended worship at only one Lutheran church before, so he volunteered that we could sit with him and he’d help us if we got lost or confused. (We did pretty well and he was gracious when we needed his guidance.)

During the Children’s Sermon Jill talked about waiting, and how, prior to each of the children being born, their moms waited in love for them in spite of never having seen them. The truth of this struck me on several levels. First, as a mother who waited those long months and loved the children I carried even though I had not met them; second, as a Christian woman who is waiting to see her Savior face to face, and third, as a mother who has not seen her son for more than three years who confidently expects to see his face immediately after seeing that of her Savior.

For the last two months, through my daughter’s church, I participated in Beth Moore’s Bible study, “Breaking Free.” It centers on making liberty in Christ a reality, and obviously freedom was a central concept. Not just freedom, but authentic freedom IN CHRIST, which is why the statement in the sermon that most caught my attention was, “We are not free unless we are bound to a human Jesus.” The sermon was much deeper than that one statement, but it struck such a nerve for me that I made a note of it and have continued to ponder it. And I definitely believe it – there is no freedom without Christ, without submitting to His authority and following where He leads.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve Worship

On Thanksgiving Eve we worshiped at the Baden-Conway-Economy Ministerium Community Thanksgiving Service hosted by Our Lady of Peace Catholic Parish, Conway.

Bob’s thoughts:

We normally don’t blog when we attend a community service, but there was something special about the Thanksgiving Ecumenical worship service held at Our Lady of Peace. One of the things that made I special was a dream I had the night before.

Years ago we attended another community Thanksgiving service and found that though the Jewish people were free to talk about their faith, we could not mention Jesus. I guess this experience was heavy on my mind. In my dream, when this imposition was again announced, I stood up in the middle of the congregation until I was allowed to speak. My short speech stated only that my overwhelming thanks was for Jesus and that if I couldn’t acknowledge Him alive then nor could my son be alive. In my dream I then turned and left and most others followed suit. I am happy to say no such statement was made at Wednesday’s service.

I never would have given it a conscious thought, but in my dream the wall was blue, and at Our Lady of Peace, the rear wall of the Chancel was four shades of blue. Thus the memory of the dream flooded back as soon as I walked into the church for the first time and saw the wall.

I must say, I’ve never had a problem finding a cross in a Catholic church, and the prominent crucifix against the blue framed by wood carved sides was very powerful. Like most churches we visit, we never know what the norm is and what might be just for that service, but I was pleased that the offering was in response to the Word and that it was given to benefit the Uncommon Grounds in Aliquippa. We also had very enjoyable, meaningful conversations before and after the service.

I especially enjoyed (no surprise to anyone who knows me) the Children’s Choir. They sang very well, sounded great, and were well-directed. I was impressed that they sang with their mouths open, they appeared poised while singing, and that they watched the director. They were a joy to experience. The combined adult choir was excellent also, but my heart was won by the children. They also joined hands during the Lord’s Prayer.

During the message the pastor talked of visiting someone in the hospital suffering with an incurable illness but who prayed with nothing but gratitude. I smiled when he spoke of his prayer ending and the patient picking up immediately where he left off. I was reminded of an occasion where I called my wife to join me to lay hands and pray for a dear elderly friend and how, when we finished our prayer, our friend held on to our hands and prayed the most eloquent, heartfelt prayer for us.

His words also brought to mind a woman to whom we tried to minister who was so overwhelmed by disease that she was constantly in excruciating pain. She would pray for every member of the church and for anyone else she heard of who needed prayer. I will always remember her crying because the pain was so intense, then quickly apologizing and going back to prayer.

Never think there is nothing you can do; never miss the joy, the chance for heartfelt prayer.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is different! Usually, when we write our blog entries, I type mine as Bob handwrites his. When mine says what I want it to say, only then do I type Bob’s. Consequently, it feels quite odd to know what he is saying prior to composing my part. So I’m going to be adventurous here…

I knew nothing of Bob’s dream until after we left, so I simply appreciated the Sanctuary for how it looked, which was dramatic. The four shades of blue with a huge crucifix surrounded by what looked like sun rays made a vivid presentation.

Prior to the service we had a powerful conversation with a Lutheran pastor, and we both felt called to attend her church on Sunday. This should be interesting – I’ve never gone to a Lutheran church before.

Our Lady of Grace Church is the home church of a neighbor family, and while mom and dad sang in the choir and older brother conducted the children’s choir in which a younger sister took part, we sat with younger brother and sister. It was great to visit with the kids some as well as help put mom and dad’s minds at ease.

After the service we enjoyed the hospitality extended in the form of home baked cookies and other refreshments.

I appreciated the opportunity to worship at a time when I was feeling especially grateful to God for His bountiful blessings, so I was very thankful to go to church.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Aliquippa Christian Assembly

Today we worshiped at Aliquippa Christian Assembly, 166 West Shaffer Road, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.775.9101,, John J. Bannon, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We followed someone in from the parking lot and were amazed by the lack of signage, but we were quickly greeted and welcomed. We were given welcome bags and directions to the Sanctuary and restrooms.

With a minimal look around we entered the Sanctuary for the prayer time from 9:30 till 10. It is a very comfortable Sanctuary with a large cross inlaid in the wall. A number of people came by to welcome us. I was impressed that an usher came forward twice to remove an aisle chair to make room for a wheelchair.

There is wide spacing between the rows of chairs, allowing the ushers to walk through for the offering, which was taken early. I wonder if Communion is served the same way.

I came to realize that as a visitor I would appreciate having at least an approximate order of worship. It is nice to know when the offering will be taken, etc. so I can be prepared. There is a visual paging system for the nursery, and I believe this is the first church I’ve ever been in that has no piano or organ in evidence. The service started with less than 50, but by the second song there were 100+.

I found it odd during the announcement on Christmas dinner that it would be free for members but guests would be charged.

I was disappointed that the Scripture readings weren’t projected on the screens; I guess we’ve gotten used to seeing a lot more than the words of the songs up there.

There is an overlap of praise and prayer comments (“Amen, pastor!”) that makes a lot of the service hard for me to understand and follow. Seemed like a lot of small conversations going on also, and the pastor’s voice trailed off at the end of each sentence, which didn’t help. There were a couple of poor “jokes” that were retold several times. Before we left there were at least 7 Scripture readings in the sermon, which I think was about our bondage in the trials we face. It seemed a very informal sermon, like a personal conversation with some of the congregation. Although a welcoming congregation, I sense visitors would feel like outsiders because of the style of the service.

I don’t know the history, seems like this may be a church made up by the pastor. During the message the pastor commented that the congregation wasn’t praying enough for him as he was having problems. I felt a real lack of pastoral sense, no humility in preaching. I thought perhaps this is a pastor with little theological training.

Jan’s thoughts:

Today we felt led to this non-denominational church, and I’m still not sure why. I went seeking an answer and hoping for a word from God, but left this place with more questions than when I arrived.

When it comes to worship style, I’ve experienced plenty of traditional, a lot of contemporary, and some that borders on Pentecostal. This church falls into the last category. I have to think God is pleased with all true worship, and far be it from me to say whether any worship is true. That is God’s job.

The building is obviously quite new, with decorative gray blocks accented by matching orange ones, with the pattern continuing inside. Both the narthex and Sanctuary were sparsely decorated, giving the area a somewhat cool feel. The “Chancel,” however, was very warmly decorated but was used much more as a stage. There was a cross (in the orange blocks against the background of gray blocks and lit from the floor), a pair of matching wingback chairs, four decorative trees strung with white lights, and a modern looking pulpit. The chairs were comfortable and arranged to provide plenty of legroom.

Upon our arrival we were greeted warmly by many people and each given a gift bag containing a welcome brochure, a daily Bible reading calendar, a copy of the Shepherd’s Guide, a tract, and a CD (or DVD) of a recent service, as well as a mug and a pen. All in all a very generous visitor’s gift.

Numerous people spoke to us, introducing themselves, shaking hands, and pointing out the Sanctuary and the restrooms. There was no printed bulletin. When we entered the Sanctuary 5 or 6 people were walking all around praying aloud for various members and a range of concerns as well as for the service.

Up to this point there was nothing really wrong and several that seemed very right. Then the preacher began to speak, and things went south in a hurry.

I know, really, nothing about this “pastor,” I did not meet him and I had not heard of him before today. The website comes very close to crediting him with founding this church. I found nothing about his education or any other credentials.

However, I can state my opinion about his style and approach, which I found to be arrogant, cynical, narcissistic, sarcastic, and self-pitying. We left during the sermon and I have no desire whatever to have anything further to do with this organization.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Sewickley Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at New Sewickley Presbyterian Church, 101 Big Knob Road, Rochester, PA 15074, 724.846.5734,, Rev. Daniel Callahan, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This church could really benefit from some signage starting with the road into the very adequate parking area. (We passed by the entrance before we saw the church.)

The ceiling is a low arch covered in knotty pine and there is a beam through the arches to resemble being set on edge, to very good effect. Didn’t remember to get a close look at the windows; they appeared to be etched clear glass, almost like an etched design one could then “paint by numbers” to look like stained glass. There is a good central cross, and the offering was taken in response to the Word.

We had a few minutes before the service and found some good bulletin boards in the hallway, including an excellent one on veterans of the church. We met the pastor in the hall and he mentioned he was rather new to this congregation. I was impressed that during the children’s’ message he was able to call the children by name. There was an easy interaction with them as well as their parents.

This was a very welcoming church; many people introduced themselves and welcomed us. The family in front of us (with beautiful children) asked us to stay for Sunday School. From what I saw and heard, the church has a strong orientation to mission.

I found last week’s bulletin in the pew and was sorry we weren’t there for the sermon “Tithing or Tipping” – a subject dear to my heart.

I was impressed with the congregation – they spoke out loud and clear. This is something we don’t see often. It makes me look forward to a visit to the contemporary service.

Today’s sermon, “Giving Thanks” was built around giving God thanks in all circumstances. A good message that might have gone a little more into the hard times to thank God, but I understand with a recent war death in the congregation it may be too raw of a situation. We were given 30 seconds to think of the blessings in our lives, which no one could condense to 30 seconds.

The pastor told a story of a man who was putting his house up for sale and gave the real estate agent the particulars. When she called back to confirm how she planned to list the house and started to read off the list, he interrupted and told her never mind as this is the house he always wanted.

A few years ago we were living in a house that God had given us at the South Hills Country Club. The house was built in the mid-1920s, and very little maintenance/updating had occurred. So one day I made a list of what the house would need to bring it up to modern standards. On a separate sheet I wrote a pipe-dream wish list of what we would look for in a house if we could afford to look, let alone buy.

It was almost a year after we moved to Economy (at His leading) that I came across this wish list. This house He led us to fulfilled everything on that list and much more. Many were items we had forgotten. We have experienced the worst times and the best times. Thanks be unto God that He’s always closer for the bad times.

Jan’s thoughts:

This church is about a 20 minute drive and nearly a straight shot from home, but approaching from the direction we were we would have driven past it had we not stopped at a stop sign and happened to see the marquee. There is, however, plenty of parking on an asphalt lot and a level entryway.

Finding a table set up in the narthex bearing gifts for SERRV (much like Ten Thousand Villages), I was immediately distracted…not that it takes much to distract me. After being greeted by many of the people in the narthex, we wandered down an innocent-looking hallway where we found restrooms, offices, and several bulletin boards. Church bulletin boards are often a good indication of the heart of a church. There was one with information for and photos of youth events, one with plenty of mission info and notes of thanks, and one honoring members of the military both past and present. The pastor indicated that the church had recently lost a member Marine in active duty and his service was yesterday. There was no way he could have known that we had experienced a similar loss just over 3 years ago.

The Sanctuary was not fancy, but very nice. No stained glass that I noticed, but a lovely wooden cross in the Chancel which matched the striking wooden ceiling. All the walls were painted white. The carpet looked well-used, but clean.

The bulletin is plain but easy to read and follow. And I knew we were approaching Thanksgiving because we sang “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.”

Many folks greeted us warmly during the passing of the peace as well as after the service. This was an open, welcoming church; surprising only because they have a second service. As we’ve said before, most churches with two (or more) services tend to be less responsive to visitors as the members usually assume that anyone they don’t recognize attends the “other” service. We do plan to attend the contemporary service sometime.

The pastor mentioned he was fairly new there, but he seemed to share a good rapport with the congregation. Prior to reading the Scriptures, he gave terrific instructions, giving the page numbers and chapter and verse twice, and plenty of time to locate the Scripture so we could follow along.

Unfortunately, following the Prayer of Confession the bulletin listed a “moment of silent confession.” The bulletin did not lie: the moment lasted about two seconds, not long enough to confess hardly anything. (Possibly I just had more to confess than he did.)

In the message, titled “Giving Thanks,” he gave instructions on living a life of gratitude:
1. Learn to rejoice always – give thanks in the bad as well as good;
2. Learn to pray without ceasing – prayer and giving thanks go hand-in-hand; and
3. Give thanks in all circumstances – it releases God’s power in our lives.

Obviously the first part of each point is Scriptural, but I’m not too sure about the “releasing God’s power in our lives” thing. It sounds too much like the “name it and claim it” stuff that’s being preached, and I have sincere issues with that. Other than that, I appreciated the sermon.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fountain Park Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Fountain Park Presbyterian Church, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.779.2003,, R. Mark Plumb, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We needed to worship at a church in our area where we knew our daughter and her family, visiting for the weekend, would feel welcome. It was an easy choice to go to Fountain Park, as we have always received a warm welcome there.

This is a smaller church that makes very good use of their space. I appreciate the heavy wooden cross set off to one side at the front of the Sanctuary. Today it was accented with seasonal decorations that wonderfully highlight the cross.

There are dual screens and one in back, so no matter how much you look around you can see to sing along. As always, I was pleased to see the offering taken in response to the Word. I was surprised when we prayed using the “new Lord’s Prayer;” don’t know why it was changed.

I sensed from some things said during the prayer time that the church was recovering from a schism, but the financial information in the bulletin didn’t indicate that. It is odd to see an income spike in July/August almost equal to the Easter spike.

I had the huge blessing of holding my newest granddaughter during the service. She was born the morning they took me to the Emergency Room, and I had only just met her earlier. She started to drown out the sermon and I ended up walking with her. Jan and I both had a sense that this was God’s way of letting our children hear this message. With three little ones, they seldom get to sit through a service.

The service was rather sparsely attended and mostly inanimate, but incredibly warm and welcoming.

I think the sermon was part of a series dissecting the Lord’s Prayer, a favorite sermon topic of mine.

Jan’s thoughts:

We chose Fountain Park today because we knew it was family-friendly for our three visiting grandchildren (4, 2, and 3 months of age). As always, it was good to see Mark and Lin Plumb, and after the service we had a chance to catch up.

We had no sooner sat down and heard the last half of the children’s message than I felt the urging of the Holy Spirit to take Luke (4) and Leah (2) to the nursery. The longer I sat there the louder they became and the more insistent was God’s urging that I be the one to take them. So I took them out and stayed with them. (We had fun playing in the nursery!) Consequently I did not participate in the worship service, and instead worshiped God through my obedience. It was only later that I learned God’s reason for His urging.

The sermon notes page in the bulletin indicated the message was on the topic of surrender (ironic, huh?). Our daughter, who possesses a B.A. in Christian Thought from Grove City College, explained to me later that this sermon was exactly what she and her husband needed to hear. (With three children under 4, they hardly ever get to worship together, but this day they heard the same sermon while sitting side by side.) They were encouraged in their belief that God has them living where He wants them to be living right now, that He has everything perfectly under control, and what he wants them to learn is to be content in His provision.

Also printed on the sermon notes page was The Serenity Prayer – in its entirety. I was unaware there was more to it, so in case you’d like to read it, here it is:

The Serenity Prayer
By Reinhold Niebuhr (also a surprise to me!)

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time,
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your will
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen

I pray that my life would be that totally surrendered to Him.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Valley Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Valley Presbyterian Church, 237 Main Street, Imperial, PA 15126, 724.695.0300,, Rev. Jeri-Lynne Bouterse, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Today we went back to Valley Church – always a delightful church to visit. I enjoyed the aesthetics of the Sanctuary. There is a smaller stained glass window in the front of the Sanctuary that matches the larger side windows. The front window is framed well so that the frame amplifies it. The space is pleasant and well-utilized.

From the bulletin boards and other displays of information, the church seems very mission-oriented.

It is also a friendly, welcoming church. The bulletin includes a welcome/sign-in reminder slip which also incorporates prayer requests. The Deacons collect these early in the service.

I was disappointed that the offering was taken before the Word, but pleased with the powerful effect of three crosses mounted together on the back wall of the Chancel.

The message was presented by a missionary who serves in the South Pacific with Campus Crusade. The message showed ways that our faith is never in vain; personal stories of chance contacts becoming Christian leaders provided a reminder that we never know how God will grow the seed we sow.

Jan’s thoughts:

It has been more than a year since our last visit to this church served by our pastor/friend Jeri-Lynne, and today seemed like a good time to make a return visit.

Although we had visited for worship once and once to speak with the Stephen Ministers about grief, I seemed to see the church through different eyes this time. I noticed the plentiful parking, the walk area with benches for sitting and talking or just taking in the sunshine. Inside the signage was very good, and the people were as friendly as I remembered, which is to say they were very friendly.

Jeri-Lynne was not expecting us, so was surprised when she turned a corner and ran into us. Since there was a guest preacher this morning, she had more time than usual so she invited us into her study and we spent about half an hour or so just catching up. (Obviously we were very, very early this morning!) We could hear the praise band rehearsing in the Sanctuary and were very pleased to be there for the contemporary music.

We entered the Sanctuary at the front and found a seat in the very last row where we were able to look around. Only then did I realize how very well designed and decorated the Sanctuary was. The Chancel is asymmetrical, with a fairly small stained-glass window bordered by a large frame, and both the glass and the frame matched the rest of the windows. To the left on the rear Chancel wall were three crosses. On the opposite side was a banner, along with an empty space perfect for use as a projection screen.

While we waited for the service to begin several people greeted us, including two who sat nearby and one who came from across the Sanctuary. Others did so during the passing of the peace during worship.

The bulletin was busy – like the church, apparently – containing a wealth of information about the goings-on at Valley. It was well laid-out, and everything not worship-related could be put aside for later, which I appreciated.

This was Presbyterian Women’s Thank Offering Sunday, and the speakers were husband and wife (and son) missionaries Rev. Don and Melanie Roths and John Lane. The Roths family currently serves with Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of the South Pacific on the island of Fiji. I admit I never really thought of Fiji as a mission field, but it is a very fertile one according to the brief video shown.

In his sermon Don Roths began by talking about his former college roommate who went into and then left the ministry. When Don was called to mission work on Fiji he was introduced to “the most influential Christian leader on the island.” As the story unfolded we learned that this influential Christian leader had come to Christ years before as a direct result of the work of Don’s former college roommate. Don surmised that this former roommate probably never knew the results of the seeds he planted, but declared that “faithfulness in ministry is never in vain.”

More and more I’m convinced that we will not know the true fruits of our labors on Earth until we meet Christ face to face, and I will remind myself of this story whenever I need hope that the seeds I plant are not in vain either.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chippewa United Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at Chippewa United Methodist Church, 2545 Darlington Road, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.843.4828,, Rev. Rodney E. Smith, Lead Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

I noticed no visitor or handicapped parking area or signage, but parking seemed adequate. We had a little time before the service to look around a bit and find restrooms; there is some directional signage.

In the narthex area we found a box of business cards for members to give when they invite people to attend. They contain they address and all contact information for the church along with days and times of worship services. What an excellent idea.

The worship was contemporary and we were prepared for it to be loud so we sat in the last pew. We didn’t notice till the music started that there was a row of speakers for the last few pews. The loudness, obnoxious bass, and poor balance between the audios drove us from the Sanctuary. There were chairs in the narthex area and an usher, realizing we had a problem with the volume, offered the elevator to the balcony. It would have been a good choice as there were windows to the Sanctuary but there were also speakers turned up.

Announcements were given before the service, but all the noise from the narthex area drowned out most of it.

I was surprised that the contemporary worship and Sunday school were scheduled for the same time.

The offering was taken before the Word, but maybe this is normal in the Methodist Church. As it was we were sitting in the chairs outside of the Sanctuary and could not get the ushers’ attention with our offering.

A large screen was down for the worship so I don’t know if there was a cross. It seemed like very Presbyterian seating as no one was in the front several pews; perhaps it was just too loud for them also. There is a closed circuit TV set up outside the Sanctuary, and from our vantage point we could see most of the parishioners during the praise worship. I was surprised at the lack of passion exhibited by the congregation, making it seem unexpectedly like performance worship.

The narthex area noise and coffee room chatter drowned out a lot of the sermon; what I could catch was about our faith, what do we really believe? We are drawn to the world’s way, to wallow in self-pity. It’s time to wake up the church.

There is an impressive schedule of events for the week, and a remarkable prayer list. There is a lot here for members but I could only find one small mention of mission.

Jan’s thoughts:

Some weeks I feel like we have to work to worship.

This church was promising upon our arrival – lots of parking, seasonal decorations outside (by seasonal I mean fall, not Halloween), a clean, modern, well-kept facility with very good signage and clean restrooms, a large but very informative – and not unwieldy – bulletin, even a couple of friendly people. (As a visitor it is common to be ignored by most church members when there are 2 or more services – people simply figure you generally attend another service so they tend not to greet you.)

This church has three services, and we intentionally attended the 9:45 contemporary service. We looked forward to singing some of our favorite worship songs and experiencing a relaxed atmosphere. We found seats in the very back row, but once the band started playing we had to search for somewhere farther away as they were so loud we felt the vibrations in our feet and it pained our ears.

An usher noticed we had moved and suggested we try the balcony, so we did. However, it was even louder than the area to which we had moved outside the back of the Sanctuary. So we ended up on a bench outside the Sanctuary, absolutely as far back as possible. The music was just bearable but the sermon was barely audible, and people were fellowshipping so loudly in a room nearby that it was impossible to hear much at all. All these distractions made it difficult to feel as if I had worshiped God, but the experience has certainly made me think.

What God has called us to do – visiting different churches – has its benefits as well as its shortcomings. Today’s worship experience was one of the more negative encounters which, though atypical, is still disappointing...and educational.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Camp Run Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Camp Run Presbyterian Church, PO Box 27, 489 Church Road, Fombell, PA 16123, 724.368.8446, Rev. Andy Shaffer, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Our directions to the church were good but when we realized how few road signs exist we realized we should have brought the GPS. As it was, we turned onto a road that had a Presbyterian Church marker and it turned out to be our original destination.

It is a little country church in a very “country” setting. The trees around the church in bright fall colors made a very welcoming appearance. We took a few minutes to tour the lower level and find the restrooms. It was not hard to find our way, but could benefit from some signage perhaps for the occasional visitor.

We were welcomed from when we reached the Sanctuary. There is a large central oak cross that matches the pews. It has the appearance of being massive and thick.

The time of welcome involved the whole church. I was disappointed that the offering was taken before the Word was preached. The pastor is receptive to change but I’m not too sure the congregation will be too willing. I sense they may be on the edge of making some decisions.

The message centered on our being rectified to God once by Christ’s sacrifice for us as our High Priest.

Jan’s thoughts:

We thought we were lost but then were found…

We thought we’d made a wrong turn, but then saw a sign pointing the way. The importance of signs down the street or a mile away can’t be overstated, whether the church is rural or urban. Today we were living proof that you never know when that one sign will be the only thing that gets a visitor to the door.

Fall is at its peak, and this quaint church was sitting there surrounded by God’s gorgeous handiwork.

The building itself is small – when we entered the Narthex and looked for a restroom it was quickly obvious we’d have to go downstairs as we could see most of the floor we were on. We went down the only stairs we could find and located the restrooms then looked around a bit. There were signs on the men’s and ladies room doors, but all other signs were of the handwritten “Please keep this door closed” variety. The building looked to be in good repair and well cared for. It has a definite “family” feel; it is obvious that everyone knows everyone else.

The pastor and several members greeted us prior to the service, and during the greeting time the rest of the congregation greeted us. We were thoroughly welcomed before, during, and after the service. Greeting time began first thing, even before the announcements, and took however long it took for everyone to greet everyone else.

The bulletin is well laid out and easy to read, with impressive use of varying fonts, typestyles, and white space. Also interesting to me was the liturgy written in the bulletin. The Call to Worship, Prayer of Confession, and Assurance of Pardon were almost childlike in their simple honesty. It was refreshing to hear a congregation confess “We talk about serving you, but we do not want the rank of servant. We have lots of ideas about what you might do to help the world and little commitment to what we might do in your name.” Thought-provoking words.

It also contained the most comprehensive and detailed sermon notes insert I’ve seen. Instead of “fill-in-the-blanks” it includes questions and Scripture references to locate the correct response so it can be used as a study guide throughout the week.

I was surprised when the pastor sat on a stool in front of a music stand, adjusted the microphone, and took off his wrist watch prior to beginning the message, but at this church it seemed more like a fireside chat. The message was called “Where is Our Place?” and he spoke of Jesus’ role as our high priest, as one to whom we can go when we feel discouraged and in need of strength and support.

Upon leaving we walked out to see the beautiful colors on the trees heightened by the sunshine. It truly ministered to my soul.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

First Presbyterian Church of New Brighton

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church of New Brighton, 1199 3rd Avenue, New Brighton, PA 15066, 724.846.6144,, Rev. John Dickey, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This is a church with a definite “old Presbyterian” look – a stone structure and large steeple. Inside we found great stained glass and woodwork, and the large central cross was framed by ornate woodwork.

The floor plan was somewhat unusual in that there seemed to be no way to reach the restrooms but through the front of the Sanctuary. I noticed no signage anywhere. The heating system banged loudly through part of the service.

I thought the bulletin was awkward, and I’m sure Jan will address it.

We were very warmly greeted when we entered and again during the greeting portion of the service. There were four Bible readings, and I was very pleased that the offering was taken in response to the Word.

The message, “Loosen Up,” worked around our need to give it up to God to be part of God’s Kingdom. There was mention of the Episcopal churches that seceded from the Diocese of Pittsburgh and wanted to take their property with them but the court ruled in favor of the Diocese. In a way they took what was important, as their ordination would remain intact.

During the announcements the pastor told of the Presbyterian Women donating money for a hospital in Japan and now the hospital is donating the same sum back to be used for mission efforts in Asia. You cannot outgive God. Giving above your tithe may not relieve your financial difficulties, but it does remove the worry when you give it up to God.

When I saw some young children in the congregation I was prayerfully optimistic that this was not just another “old” Presbyterian church at its last.

Jan’s thoughts:

While en route we thought we might have missed the church, but as we looked further down the street we guessed the building with a very tall steeple was where we were heading, and we were right. We were pleasantly surprised to see lots of on-street parking. It’s a large, old building, totally reminiscent of a time when mainline churches were filled to capacity every Sunday, when the men wore suits and ties and the women wore hats and gloves.

The Sanctuary is striking, the entire ceiling matching the dark wood of the pews, intricate stained glass throughout, a huge Chancel area with the choir loft up high and back against the wall and the pulpit in the center just below the choir. On the rear wall of the Chancel was a large cross, also done in dark wood, on a white background with dark wood scallops effectively creating a frame.

There were several positive points:

The people were friendly, many welcoming us prior to the service and during the greeting time (which no one rushed through).

The Prayer for Illumination was prayed prior to the reading of Scripture. I hardly ever see that; usually it seems to follow Scripture and precede the sermon (incorrectly, in my opinion). Then there was another prayer between the Scripture readings and the sermon and another following the sermon.

An Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, a Psalm read responsively, and a Gospel reading…it’s refreshing to hear so much Scripture during worship.

Although plain, the bulletin contained event invitations, a prayer list, and thank-yous; however, the layout was awkward because part of the Order of Worship was on a separate sheet inside the folded page. I was confused for a moment when I first opened the bulletin because the order seemed to begin with the Call to Worship, the Invocation, and the Gloria Patri directly to the Offertory and through to the benediction. I couldn’t find the sermon until I removed all the inserts and then found the rest of the Order of Worship.

As I have in the past, I would suggest keeping the Order of Worship on the one folded page (inside and back page) and including the rest of the inserts unfolded inside. That way when the bulletin is folded for use during worship it's possible to insert everything inside that's not worship-related and still follow the service without having to be concerned about loose sheets.

The sermon was entitled “Loosen Up,” and after reading Scripture from Job 23 and the 22nd Psalm, I was curious to hear a message with that title. The point was to hold loosely the things of this world, as the only eternal value they bear is in how we use them. Good point.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mosaic Community Church

Today we worshiped at Mosaic Community Church, 2801 North Charles Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15214,, Rev. Saleem Ghubril, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were grateful for the opportunity to transport a friend to worship at Mosaic. Frequently at contemporary worship services the volume is up high (a need to feel and hear the music perhaps?). Today I was very sensitive to the volume and went outside for the praise music. Perhaps it was due to recalibrating the sound system, but the audio at the beginning of the sermon seemed to go in and out. As always, I was disappointed that the offering was taken before the Word instead of allowing the offering to be a response to the Word.

The sermon was from Zechariah 8 on the restoration of Israel. An interesting emphasis with the repetition of “Thus says the Lord of Almighty.” Zechariah leaves no doubt Whose message he is delivering. Saleem developed this into a questioning of “why am I here? Am I existing and just going through the motions or accomplishing for Christ?”

Jan’s thoughts:

It is always a joy to visit Mosaic. The enthusiasm and friendly atmosphere make it such a comfortable place to visit, and it’s always uplifting to see good friends in Christ.

We arrived a little late so the music was underway, but we were still in time to sing a song that never fails to bring me to tears, “It is Well With My Soul.” Horatio Spafford’s haunting hymn was part of the music at church the day following the death of our son Dan, and for the rest of my life I’ll recall standing between two dear friends as they literally held me up and told me the history of this hymn while the three of us mourned our loss.

The final verse:
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Music is such a vital part of worship. I may not be able to sing, but I can certainly appreciate the words.

This was only the second time I’ve heard Saleem preach, and he is very engaging. As a friend observed, “he started out slow but the message was powerful.” It revolved around remembering one’s purpose, and for someone who was never quite sure of their purpose, it was still thought-provoking. However even without knowing the ultimate purpose of one’s life, one can still make it a point to remember one’s purpose in a given place at a specific time. Maybe that’s how one finds one’s purpose after all.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Glade Run United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Glade Run United Presbyterian Church, 1091 Pittsburgh Road, Valencia, PA 16059, 724.898.3503,, Rev. Greg Wiest, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We visited Glade Run for their traditional service. The Sanctuary is very nicely tied together: a larger cross is framed with a rounded archway in wood paneling. Over all, the wood trim and ceiling treatment draw attention to the impressive stained glass. It has the feel of a country church.

There are matching banners in front: very colorful, but I’m not sure of the significance. I was disappointed that the offering was not taken in response to the Word.

I’ve never attempted to ring handbells, and maybe there is a concentration required that demands seriousness, but I had hoped for a smile when their exceptional worship was done.

The message was part of a series on Christianity and other religions. I am not sure what is gained by the comparisons but do believe it will help in our witness to other faiths. I am always amazed at how parts of a faith are made up at will, but am reminded of all the ‘extras’ the Jews added in and the host of things added by some denominations within the Christian church.

If we encourage other faiths to talk about their beliefs, we are able to explain our personal relationship with Christ. I agree our strong witness are our prayers for them and the witness of how we live our lives for Christ.

Something seemed to be missing in worship however. Worship. The elements were there, but there was no noticeable passion or joy. Other than the children and some young mothers, I only saw one smile during the service. There is something very Presbyterian in this. Maybe we are affected by the Reformed Presbyterian, that we feel we can’t be happy in worship.

The only reason I note this is for what came after the worship service. We were looking at a bulletin board of missionary activities during the coffee fellowship time, and I commented to Jan how I thought we stood out and was surprised that no one greeted us. As if on cue, people came by and introduced themselves and invited us to join them. That fellowship time was characterized by joy and laughter, a time of sharing and breaking bread together (well, cake, which I enjoyed in spite of my doctors’ directives).

I don’t know if you try to redirect some of that joy to worship or bring worship to the coffee hour. The worship time was marred by some folks sitting nearby who not only talked throughout the service but spent their time complaining.

The benediction reflected a personal belief about how we readily accept Christ as Savior but have trouble acknowledging Him as Lord.

I really enjoyed talking to the pastor and others. Also was impressed with the mission involvement. We hope to make it back for the contemporary service.

Jan’s thoughts:

This building was much larger than I expected; very well kept and tastefully decorated with much attention to detail. Plenty of parking space.

The signage was part of the décor, so it was unobtrusive. We asked the location of the restrooms when we entered and they turned out to be through the Sanctuary and down the hall a ways. It was a good thing we asked as we would never have encountered them just looking for them.

The pews were comfortably padded and set in a curved arrangement. The Chancel boasted lots of wood, including a huge Celtic cross against the rear wall. I never tire of seeing the beautiful stained glass, and the colors on these particular windows were unusual and quite stunning.

The bulletin was well-done, with the worship service information on the outside sheet and all the inserts foldable inside so as not to get in the way during worship. It worked well.

We attended the 8:45 a.m. traditional service but will likely return for the 11 a.m. contemporary service at some point.

Bob will probably write something about this, but I’ll say it too: I sensed almost no passion or joy from anyone during this service with the exception of the pastor. However the people were like another congregation after the service, which I’ll address in a moment.

The sermon was part of a series contrasting faith in Christ with other faiths, and today’s message was “Jesus and Hinduism.” He pointed out that yoga is one of the philosophical schools of Hinduism, a fact which seems to be lost on many of its numerous practitioners. He outlined some great steps to take should you be seeking to evangelize someone of the Hindu faith, and actually I thought they were great points to keep in mind in any evangelization effort aimed at someone of another faith or someone with no faith. They originated with Indian-born Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharius. I wrote as fast as I could and I think I got them all:
1. Begin by creating a relationship. Show respect for their beliefs without compromising your faith.
2. Listen more than you talk (good advice in general).
3. Respond to their needs.
4. Emphasize the personal relationship with Christ (something lacking in every other faith).
5. Pray for them.
6. Don’t overwhelm them – take your time. Studies show that younger people especially are open to hearing the Good News.
7. Our call is to present the truth of Christ. People can only be loved into the Kingdom, not coerced or dragged.

Following worship we sought out the restrooms again and as we were looking at the bulletin board full of information and communications from missionaries, several people approached us and introduced themselves. They were extremely friendly, showing us where to find coffee and inviting us to try some of the many cakes, etc. We each spent some time with several members who took the time to share some of the church’s history as well as personal conversation. The obviously friendly teasing, chatting, and general fellowshipping going on seemed so different from the stoic (Presbyterian) worship. We may just visit again for the 11:00 contemporary service after all. We were very glad we stayed for the fellowship time.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bethany Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Bethany Presbyterian Church, 740 Washington Avenue, Bridgeville, PA 15017, 412.221.5132,, Dr. David Antonson, Interim Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Back to Bethany to hear Hetz Marsh preach. So much thought and planning went into the extensive remodel of Bethany that it is always a pleasure to visit. I was especially glad since the website start time was not updated and we were an hour early.

Can’t remember any service that had more extras added in. One that I enjoyed was a report on Vietnam ministry which included a story I hadn’t heard before, that to be a minister in Vietnam requires two things: a call from God to serve and that you have been imprisoned for your faith. Sort of weeds out the less committed candidate.

There was a presentation by the Evangelism Committee – some very nice door hangers were made up. I do hope they also plan to knock on the door.

I would have enjoyed the chili tasting after the service, but due to a prior engagement I couldn’t try to sneak in a taste of chili…besides it’s no longer on my diet.

Hetz delivered an impassioned message; it is always so much easier to believe when the speaker lets his/her passion show.

I was disappointed that the offering was taken before the Word was preached, but very pleased with the mission involvement evidenced by the bulletin board postings. There was also some good literature available, though some needs updated.

Jan’s thoughts:

It’s been a while since we visited Bethany, and since a friend was filling the pulpit today it seemed like a good time to return.

The facility has been very well kept, clean, with great signage. From the moment we walked in the door there were signs pointing the direction toward every possible destination. Right outside the Sanctuary is a welcoming area with café seating and a well-supplied coffee bar.

Only a few people spoke to us, but the ones who did were very friendly and helpful, giving us plenty of new member information.

The service was jam-packed with the usual substance of worship as well as the Logos staff commissioning, a Moment for Mission, and a report from a seminary student who had participated in a mission trip to Vietnam.

A couple of comments about the bulletin (can’t help it…I’m a former church secretary): It contains color, which is a marvelous thing, it’s well laid out, easy to read, and contains much more information than it’s possible to digest in that brief amount of time. However, it was cumbersome. Early on, after finding an empty spot to make a note to myself, it took some time to figure out what was what again. I'd suggest keeping the Order of Worship on the one folded page and including the rest in the form of unfolded inserts. That way when the bulletin is folded for use during worship it's possible to insert everything inside that's not worship-related and still follow the service. Just a thought, for what it's worth.

The message, entitled “If You Are Happy and You Know It…”, was given by Hetz Marsh. I had not heard him preach before, but found his style animated and engaging. As the title suggests, the topic was happiness, and for once a sermon on that subject did not wander into the issue of “happiness vs. joy,” instead focusing on happiness as blessedness based on the Beatitudes, and concluding with what, in the end, makes for a truly happy life is that it is a life committed to God’s ideals. As I seek to learn God’s intention for my life I’ll be pondering that idea as a starting place.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Concord Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Concord Presbyterian Church, 2832 Conway-Wallrose Road, Baden, PA 15005, 724.869.9135,, Rev. J. Harper Brady.

Bob’s thoughts:

We made a visit to Concord so that I could thank them for the cards and prayers and to witness that those prayers worked. I also asked for continued prayers for my wife as I am going to be around for a while.

Concord has some of the most caring and loving people of all the churches I have known, and it is always uplifting to be around them.

Jan’s thoughts:

The members of Concord were so very supportive before, during, and after Amber & Dan’s wedding then throughout Bob’s surgery and recovery with their prayers and cards, we wanted to be with them to express our gratitude and provide living proof of God’s answers to their prayers (and those of numerous others!). It was good to be in worship again with this warm and welcoming congregation. I think by now we’re considered friends of Concord, which is a fine.

Many folks greeted us and were glad to see Bob upright(!), and everyone is becoming accustomed to calling our daughter by her new last name.

I did want to comment on the music, specifically the Senior Choir Anthem which today was “In Christ Alone.” Today I was able to understand the words…so powerful, and very well done in spite of being short several voices (I understand). It brought me to tears.

Mostly it was just good to be among friends and family.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church

Today we attempted to worship at Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church, 1828 Roosevelt Road, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.741.6880,, Rev. Doug Dorsey.

Bob’s thoughts:

We tried to worship at Mt. Nebo but the service started before the start time posted on the website and even on the outdoor marquee. We were in time for the sermon. Some of the message was about ministry outside of the church that I think is lost on most.

I thought it interesting that much of the message was about being a welcoming congregation, but no one noticed us sitting outside the sanctuary. When I went up to put an offering in the plate (which was taken after the Word) the usher did offer me a bulletin. For how many people went by, it was odd to not be welcomed.

There is a great wood cross hanging above the entryway. We planned our arrival to allow plenty of time to look around; as it was we were able to look around a bit after the service. Bulletin boards displayed announcements referring to various missions. Some doors are identified only on the front of the door, so they could well benefit from signage. I noticed a lot of vehicles parked on the grass across from the church and wonder if this is the case in the winter.

Jan’s thoughts:

This has been enough of an issue in the past; I should have remembered to call the church and ask about the worship time, but I didn’t. Instead I trusted the website. Consequently, we arrived at 10:10, thinking we were 40 minutes early; instead we were 40 minutes late. How disappointing.

We arrived during the reading of the Scripture, and while we stood right inside the doors trying to decide if we should just go elsewhere, we could clearly hear the sermon in which he spoke of being a welcoming church, and a story about Gandhi once attending a service at a Christian church and being treated in a distinctly un-welcoming manner. Then going on to ask the congregation how first-time visitors at Mt. Nebo would be treated. All the while we first-time visitors sat in the narthex with people walking past or standing in the narthex themselves, and no one stopped to ask who we were or if they could help us. Seems like the pastor’s question was answered.

So we missed most of the service (including a baptism, unfortunately). The sermon, however, was worth hearing. In addition to the story about Gandhi and his visit to a Christian church, there was a story about Tony Campolo finding himself in a diner in Hawaii at 3:30 one morning. He encountered some prostitutes, one of whom told a friend with her that the next day was her birthday. The friend made unkind remarks about it, so after they left Tony made arrangements with the owner of the diner to have a birthday party for the woman (a regular) the next night.

Of course, the woman was stunned, and so was everyone else when she wanted to take her birthday cake nearby to show her mother. When she had gone, Tony led the many other guests – mostly prostitutes – in prayer for the woman, after which the owner declared he had no idea Tony was a preacher and what kind of preacher from what kind of church frequents a diner full of prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning anyway? In a flash of inspiration Tony replied “The kind of church that throws a birthday party for a prostitute, that’s what kind of church.” To which the owner replied “Where is that church – I want to join it.” People come to know Christ through coming to know His people. Good story and a great point that certainly spoke to us.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mosaic Community Church

Today we worshiped at Mosaic Community Church, 2801 North Charles Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15214,, Rev. Saleem Ghubril.

Bob’s thoughts:

We went back to Mosaic in part to see a dear friend. It is always uplifting to visit at Mosaic; it is great to be worshiping with an animated congregation. There were many children present, so of course I was happy. There was a young woman on drums who was excellent and added a lot to the worship experience. The enthusiasm of the congregation always makes the worship more genuine. You can’t deny your passion for Christ if you are on your feet worshiping Him.

A friend recently posed the question, “Why is it important to you that the offering is taken in response to the Word?” I believe Scripture directs us to give in response to the Word of God. I don’t believe you ever give in response to the Pastor, only to Christ. Our giving is to be in response to the Word, Jesus Christ. The Scriptures read and message given are from God. Some reference from the Book of Order: W-2.500, W-3.3202, W-3.3507. It means something to me.

I was able to visit with good people and get a jump start for my re-plumbed heart. Praise God!

Jan’s thoughts:

We have some very good friends at this church, so it was a joy and a blessing to worship with them. Mosaic is bursting at the seams with children and babies, and more are on the way! We were told that a number of the kids are from the neighborhood and come on their own…perhaps they are some of the “little children who will lead them…”

As always, the music was varied and uplifting. Songs like “Lean on Me,” (from the ‘70s, originally sung by Bill Withers) and “Siyahamba,” an African song well known by those involved in the Malawi Partnership. Music has power to bring amazing heart-feelings, and I especially felt these two songs this morning. With only a few vocalists, an acoustic guitar, and a drum, this was powerful music.

The congregation has spent this summer focusing on a different Psalm each week, and this week it was Psalm 23. The message on this Psalm was led by Elder Rick Mason, and in an attempt to get the congregation thinking about how the Psalm could apply to their individual lives, he stopped partway through and gave everyone 10 minutes to move to the tables set up around the room to draw or write something about how God has worked in those particular ways in their lives. It was interesting stuff.

Mosaic’s congregation is diverse, hospitable, comfortable, and Christ-centered; it’s a peaceful place to be on Sunday morning.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Four Mile Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Four Mile Presbyterian Church, 6078 Tuscarawas Road, Beaver, PA 15009, 724.495.6520,, Rev. R. Martin Williams.

Bob’s thoughts:

We decided to go back to Four Mile to experience the second service. It surprises me sometimes what you notice on a second visit. I remember the impressive cross over the drapery, and how the back-lighting made it stand out. Today it seemed that the cross was on fire…maybe that was just for me. The congregation was more animated than our last visit, and there were a lot of children present. I was pleased that the offering was taken in response to the Word.

I had the opportunity to look at the July and August newsletters and noted more references to outward mission.

The church seems education-oriented, and of note to me was a grief-sharing class lasting 13 weeks. Much better effort than most churches offer.

The sermon started out as a good Bible-based message. Unfortunately, pain forced me to stand and I missed a good bit of the sermon. While I was standing in the narthex, I found what was for me the highlight of our visit: on the information table was a Sunday worship feedback form with questions and room for comments. I was very impressed.

Jan’s thoughts:

Today was our second visit to this church. When we attended the 9:30 service we were told the 11:00 service was livelier and well-attended, so today we were able to see that they were absolutely right about that.

It’s a nicely laid out facility with mostly good signage, except for the restrooms right off the narthex. The signs are placed on the front of the doors, which is fine when the door is closed, but I nearly walked through the open mens room door because I didn’t see the sign until I was a step through the door. (I’ve just GOT to quit walking through the first restroom door I see…) My suggestion is to place the sign so that it protrudes into the open space so that someone can tell (from across the room, if necessary) which door they are headed for.

A few of the adults greeted us by nodding to us on our way in, but as is so often the case when a church has two services, no one really knows if you attend the other service or if you’re really a visitor. For most, their comfort level decides for them that you’re probably not a visitor and therefore don’t need to be greeted.

The music at this church is really superb. The musicians are all male (why, I don’t know…) and are quite talented. I was very glad we sat in the last row because the volume must have been cranked all the way up – I could literally FEEL the bass. But their sound is excellent, the screen graphics are attention-grabbers, and one of the songs they performed today was an original composition. Obviously a very gifted group.
The message was from the current sermon series entitled “Winning the Battles for Life” and was based on I John 4:1-21. The part I heard most loudly was that our lives matter to God and that our battles matter to God also. I appreciated the note at the bottom of the sermon notes: “Whatever it takes, wherever it leads, Jesus – let You be seen in me.” Amen to that.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Message from Bob

Just realized we haven’t blogged for a while. By way of an update, on July 27 we traveled to Virginia for an appointment at Inova Hospital in Fairfax where our daughter (Brandy) works as a Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist. As I needed a heart cath, she arranged for a wonderful team to perform the procedure, which resulted in a recommendation for a multiple bypass ASAP.

The arrangements were made, necessary testing done, and I was scheduled for surgery on August 4. We returned to Pittsburgh on July 29 (the 3rd anniversary of our son’s death while traveling to Pittsburgh for another family wedding). On August 1 I was delighted to walk my baby girl (Amber) down the aisle. On August 2, while back in church at Concord, we received a text message that our other daughter (Jill) had delivered Ella Grace. We (read that: my family) noticed my symptoms were worsening so we headed to the emergency room at Allegheny General Hospital. Because of the pre-testing done in Virginia, they were able to schedule me for a bypass on the 5th.

This probably like a very hectic time, but it has been one of the more serene and tranquil episodes of my life.

Before the testing, not breathing was just an inconvenient pause after which I told myself “OK, you can breathe again, go back to work.” About from the time that I was aware there was a medical problem that needing fixing, I knew that I had the power of Christ inside me to heal whatever was wrong. The really cool thing is I came to know that this was something He wanted me to experience. It may be so I can help someone down the road, it may be just for me, it may have been just for the people that I have met and prayed with and for thoughout the experience. The “why” was not important, but I have gone through this experience about as removed as I suppose the patient can be, with no worries or even the slightest apprehension. It has been like watching a play.

I was blessed with hindsight to see His orchestration in my life to bring me here. For a year I resisted His call to write a book about losing my son, and when I got started it was easy to use the garden, etc., as an excuse to stop writing. He has my attention again.

Monday, July 27, 2009

St. Paul's Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, 132 East Union Street, P.O. Box 261, Somerset, PA 15501, 814.445.5341, Rev. Keith M. Fink.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were just passing through the area on our way to Virginia, but it was worth the 90 mile trip just for the violin. I think we all associate the organ with church (and maybe hockey games), but for me the violin really speaks to me in worship. It was very well done and enjoyable.

We walked in just as the second service was starting so we didn’t get to meet anyone before the service, but on the way to thank the violinist afterward we did meet a few people. The worshipers seemed to embrace both the praise songs and the hymns. The congregation consisted of a good age mix. The Chancel boasted a very nice large central cross, and the Sanctuary was pleasing.

Some signage would be helpful as we had to ask the location of the restrooms. Also the offering was taken before the Word was preached.

The message was “Reversal of Fortune” based on Esther and the transference of blessings from Haman to Mordecai. The pastor’s enthusiasm was apparent and his passion easily took us to our own reversal of fortune of death in sin to life with Christ. Good message and well delivered.

Jan’s thoughts:

Sunday morning we were en route to northern Virginia for medical reasons, so we pulled off the turnpike and visited St. Paul’s. We arrived just a few minutes after the service began, and the folks who greeted us seemed friendly. The Sanctuary was nearly full, so we found seats in the back.

Some gracious ladies greeted us after the service and took time for some conversation.

The Sanctuary is nicely decorated and well coordinated with white walls and ceiling, dark wood trim around all the windows that matched the wood pews and the wood in the Chancel. The stained glass is traditional and quite beautiful.

We were blessed to hear a gifted young woman perform “Ave Maria” on the violin, and then to participate in some contemporary praise music – the best of both worlds.

The pastor is preaching through the book of Esther, and the sermon was based on chapter 8 of that book which is one of my favorites. I appreciated that he forewarned the congregation that he’d be reading the entire chapter, that it was rather lengthy, and suggested that they “discipline their minds” to attend to the Word of God. Perhaps this idea is proposed more often than I realize, but more often I hear concerns about reading “too much” Scripture so I appreciated his suggestion.

The sermon title was “Reversal of Fortune,” and contrasted the “Thens” and “Nows” of the book of Esther. I.e., Then: signet ring given to Haman (3:10) and Now: signet ring given to Mordecai (8:2), along with several other contrasts. Then the real point of the sermon, the “Thens” and “Nows” concerning life in Christ, i.e., Then: Dead in sin (Eph. 2:5), and Now: Alive in Christ (Eph. 2:5), etc. I sincerely appreciated the pastor’s enthusiasm…something sorely lacking in many pulpits – and hearts not in the pulpit – these days.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Baden United Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at Baden United Methodist Church, 420 Dippold Avenue, Baden, PA 15005, 724.869.2720,, Rev. D. Edward Bailey.

Bob’s thoughts:
This is a church that would be worth a visit even if you were not there for worship. The Sanctuary is A-frame style with very unusual stained glass. It seems less like stained glass than a section of wall built of chunks of colored glass, and the sun created beautiful patterns on the walls near the windows. There is a great metallic cross, centered, and the lighting is such that it creates a shadow of the cross on either side. The cross is hung in front of a back-lit metal screening which has large butterflies attached. The side walls have lovely banners; I particularly enjoyed the one with music symbols in the choir loft.

This great atmosphere to worship was enhanced by the welcome, as we were introduced to many and some sought us out afterwards.

I don’t think the mike was on for the Scripture readings, but we were near the back. I was pleased that the offering was taken in response to the Word.

There is almost no signage and it would take a bit to find your way around. We got to tour a little but a lot of the lower level resembled a school. And there was a large covered porch outside that I was curious about.

The minister was leaving on a camping trip right after the service, and I think he was already there. It was a good message, to kick back and relax and recharge, supplemented with some internet stories. Again we were in the back, but the minister was hard to understand.

Overall I sense this church to be in transition from inward to outward mission. I think they are answering God’s call and I would encourage them to go forward with what they have started.

I also appreciated the bulletin board dedicated to the military.

Jan’s thoughts:

I drive past this church twice each day, and since God didn’t seem to be leading us elsewhere, today seemed like a good day to check it out.

There was no parking lot but plenty of street parking and a perfect weather day to walk the short distance. We followed the lead of all the folks who seemed to be using the side entrance, and as we walked up the outside stairs we saw a porch – rather an unusual site at a church, but quite attractive.

We walked around downstairs some, but it was dark and very little was going on except for an adult Bible study, and then we encountered a gentleman who wanted to know if he could help us. He seemed to want to lead us back upstairs, so we headed that direction.

We decided to head toward the Sanctuary and find a seat. As we briefly spoke with the woman who handed us bulletins, we mentioned we were visitors and she quickly took my hand and led us toward the pastor’s study. She found him with some other folks, and excitedly introduced us to them all. She was an excellent person to have greeting visitors, as she was excited, animated, demonstrative, and more than willing to introduce us around. Someone else took over once we were seated, and he chatted with us and introduced us to more people.

The building was well kept, but we had to ask directions to the restrooms as there was almost no signage of any sort. The Sanctuary was quite beautiful. The pews were comfortably padded and set at a slight angle. There was lots of contemporary stained glass – abstract and very colorful. The rear wall of the Chancel was truly unique: it had white decorative wrought iron from floor to ceiling with a light green wall behind it and attractive back-lighting. Decorative butterflies of various sizes were attached to the wrought iron. Hanging from the ceiling in front of all this was a cross that was lit so as to cast a shadow on the walls on each side of the wrought iron. All this plus some gorgeous banners all the way down each side made for a striking view from where I sat.

The piano and choir were in the balcony to the rear of the Sanctuary, but easily heard.

The bulletin was two 8 ½ x 14” sheets folded in half and included the Order of Worship, attendance and giving figures, events for the week, a prayer list, and all sorts of announcements.

In his sermon, entitled “How to Kick Back, Relax, and Recharge!” the pastor spoke of the very common affliction these days in which we feel we must hurry, hurry, and hurry some more in order to simply keep our heads above water, never mind making any progress. There was plenty of Scripture read, but the one that was not read that kept running through my head was “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). I’m sure I’m not alone in the occasional realization that I strive too much, worry too much, too often believe that my efforts are what make the difference in any given situation. Then once in a while I am reminded, as I was this morning, that God has my back and is handling things way better than I ever could if I just let Him and “be still and know that HE IS God.”