Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mosaic Community Church

Today we worshiped at Mosaic Community Church, 2801 North Charles Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15214,

Bob’s thoughts:

The building is an old Catholic church with ornate architecture but without the glitz. The restrooms are right inside the main entrance and well marked. Some signage outside would be helpful, however.

This church is in an area that not too many years ago I refused to travel without at least one gun, but God has been at work here.

Inside there is a table with coffee, juice, and breakfast items. There is a smaller brass cross on the Communion table, which is just right. I think a large cross would have gotten lost with the architecture.

The projector was not working, so there was a bulletin with the worship songs and readings. Where it was nice to have the announcements and week’s schedule, I much prefer the music on the screen. But it was good to have an order of worship, if only to be prepared for the offering, which was before the Word.

There is a great mix at the appropriately-named Mosaic Church: age, race and economic status. The abundance of beautiful children at Mosaic always helps me to feel welcome.

I thought the sermon missed a good point in the wonderful orchestration of God in our lives, to trust, to let your baby, adrift in a tarred basket, to let go and let God. Shouldn’t miss a chance to reiterate that.

The sermon did develop from the 40-year increments in Moses’ life to a personal message from God for me. I’ve been looking forward to getting to my Promised Land like Moses and realized I was forgetting the importance of the journey over the destination.

I wish the service would have ended with the recording of the Martin Luther King speech. It tied in wonderfully with the direction of the sermon.

It’s been easy for me to think that God will use me once He gets me ready, how when I’m prepared I’ll be ready to do these great things for God. But today I realized He has been doing great things all along and letting me help. I don’t need that Promised Land on this Earth; my faith will take me to the Promised Land that matters and maybe He will continue to let me help along the way. God is certainly at work at Mosaic. Come in and be accepted as you are.

Jan’s thoughts:

Mosaic is one of the churches we have visited several times before, as we’ve known the pastors, Saleem Ghubril and Ed Dixon, and some of the members for years. It’s a unique place, and Saleem and his wife Patty live and raise their family in this area. The evidence of what God has done through them and their work has been obvious. One of Bob’s good friends lived nearby, and Bob has told me stories about the area and how dangerous it used to be compared with how it is now, and God’s fingerprints are apparent. God has clearly used Saleem and his ministry to bring incredible good to this neighborhood on so many levels.

The people at the church are friendly, and the congregation is an intriguing mix of ages, races, and economic circumstances, with lots of babies and children. Worship begins at 11, and at 10:30 a breakfast is offered consisting of coffee, tea, juice, cereal, pastries, and probably some other items but I didn’t look that closely (trying to avoid temptation). It’s a gracious beginning to a time of worship.

The music is contemporary in style, although not always content. What I mean is that many of the songs are more modern, but there are sometimes older, traditional hymns done in a modern style that includes guitar, drums, keyboards, etc. And the music leaders have incredible voices, so it’s easy to follow along (speaking as a non-singer).

Saleem’ message was based on Deuteronomy 34:1-9 (Moses’ viewing of the Promised Land and subsequent death) and Joshua 1:1-7 (Joshua’s commissioning and God’s promises to him). He also mentioned Hebrews 11 and the list of those who believed God and His promises despite not living to see them come to fruition. Personally I felt it was unfortunate that the message then took a political turn.

Be that as it may, I was also disappointed at some missed theological points that could have served to amplify God’s power and goodness. When he referred to Moses’ mother’s placing Moses in a basket and into the Nile River to save his life, he could have pointed out that what she was doing was trusting God with the future of her son. And God then gave her son back to her for a time (which is all any of us is ever given with our children – a time). But she trusted God, and I believe God was pleased with her faith. He could’ve pointed out that when we give our blessings back to God, God does something great with them.

That God did not allow Moses to step into the Promised Land because of a previous act that demonstrated a lack of faith, but God still kept His promise to His children. So apparently our lack of faith does not prevent God from being God, for which I’m very grateful since I sometimes exhibit a lack of faith.

When Moses died, he was buried but no one knew where, which I believe was an extremely gracious act on God’s part. Had they known the location of the bones of this beloved prophet of God, they would have fallen into the very human trap of continuing to look at the past instead of the future that God had prepared for them.

That we all get discouraged at times, and God told Joshua to have courage (in other words not to be discouraged) and through these passages He tells us the same thing. He promised Joshua His presence and power, and those same promises are for us since His Holy Spirit lives in us.

In other words I wish the message had been more about our Almighty God and His sovereign care for our world and our lives. Now that’s a truth I find heartening.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

First Presbyterian Church of Castle Shannon

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church of Castle Shannon, 3636 Poplar Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15234,

Bob’s thoughts:

This is a beautiful little church nestled in Castle Shannon. The Sanctuary is very comfortable, well color-coordinated with nice stained glass and a cross on Communion table. A large screen was used for announcements, so it wasn’t till it was raised for the sermon that I saw it had concealed some wooden slats over the organ pipes. They looked like maybe a Boy Scout project and didn’t fit with the rest of the Sanctuary. Some nice banners and very comfortable pews. No signage from Sanctuary. Pew card noted “Pew Mail – Usher Delivery.”

The offering was taken before the Word was preached.

Children outnumbered adults almost 2 to 1 which made me think perhaps God might be calling this church to a youth ministry. It would be a good way to fill some of the empty seats.

I had the opportunity to page through the Annual Report and noticed a wide spread of mission support. I believe it would help to prioritize mission giving by supporting missions in which the congregation is active and for which they have a passion. The numbers presented in the Annual Report reflect the church returning God’s basic tithe. I’d think mission dollars would be well spent on local youth programs at the church. I would hope that the upcoming movie night has been promoted to neighborhood.

There was mention in the Annual Report of a mailing to new neighbors instead of visiting to welcome them to the neighborhood. Taking a loaf of bread and some welcome information is much more effective, in my opinion.

This church could be a vibrant part of this small community with a strong, passionate preaching of the Word.

Most of the few worshipers greeted us after the service.

I believe God is calling this church to go and do and I don’t think they will have to go very far. This community needs them…they just don’t know that Christ is the answer.

Jan’s thoughts:

The walks and parking lot were clear in spite of a fair amount of fresh-fallen snow. Unfortunately we were a few minutes late arriving, but still the ushers greeted us very warmly. We sat in the very last pew, but there was plenty of choice seating available.

I wasn’t able to see much of the outside of the building due to the snow, but the inside was quite tastefully decorated. The aesthetics were pleasing and the colors very well coordinated. The pews were well padded and very comfortable, and the pew backs and seats were upholstered identically. The wood was dark, accented by white pew ends. It was really quite pretty and looked to be well-maintained.

The liturgist’s name wasn’t in the bulletin, but he could’ve used an injection of enthusiasm. After hearing the pastor, though, I knew who the liturgist was patterning his speech after.

The elderly violinist provided a pleasant musical addition. Immediately following the Children’s Lesson, praise songs were sung and the children were invited to stay and join in. They were a joy to hear (and to watch) – especially the little one in his mother’s arms and holding the microphone zealously singing the “la la la la la la-s.”

Anyone desiring prayer was invited forward following the service for personal prayer. In this very small congregation it’s highly likely that most everyone knows everyone else.

A number of people greeted us after worship and were warm and sincere.

The bulletin could benefit from some creative touches.

The sermon was approximately 20 minutes long.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Centreville Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Centreville Presbyterian Church, 15450 Lee Highway, Centreville, VA 20120,

Bob’s thoughts:

We were welcomed by greeters when we entered and by worshipers during the passing of the peace. There were a lot of comments on my T-shirt (“My baby is having a baby”).

We attended a contemporary worship service with probably around 400 (since there were very few empty seats). There was a healthy mix of age groups and ethnic diversity.

The worship services are conducted in the social/fellowship hall, which has surprisingly good acoustics for block walls. Some of the wall area is sculpted and there is a high dropped ceiling. The seating is very comfortable, and with projection on two screens it’s easy to see. The stage/chancel has a large cross in the center with great banners on each side.

All the workings of the church were built with plans to build the Sanctuary next. They have some of the very best sound deadening dividers I have ever seen (heard?).

The praise group is all male which, although very good, loses something with no female and only one youth. The message was right on theologically and well delivered with one exception: when the pastor emphasized a point, the volume of his voice dropped and I couldn’t hear (we were near the rear). A point I particularly liked: many Christians confuse being a witness with being a judge. The offering was taken in response to the Word.

It’s always an enjoyable experience to worship at Centreville. I perceive a genuine friendliness among the congregation.

Jan’s thoughts:

This has been a special weekend for our family because today, January 11, would have been Dan’s 26th birthday. So yesterday our family traveled to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico to see the brick we donated in Dan’s memory. It was a moving experience, and it’s hard to believe he’s been gone for 2½ years. It was a wonderful visit though, a great opportunity to see the grandchildren (Luke, 3, and Leah, 1) and see how big Brandy’s getting, as she’s due to give birth in the next month or so.

Whenever we’re in northern Virginia (2-4 times per year) we worship at Jill & Scott’s church, Centreville Presbyterian. Both the church and the building are fairly large, and in spite of not knowing many people, it feels smaller. I was ruminating on this following the service as I observed the people chatting and visiting with each other, and noticed how comfortable everyone seemed. Some people spoke with us but I’ve come to realize that part of the feeling one has as a visitor at a church involves the comfort level among the members. If the atmosphere is filled with stress, there is a negative ambiance. Strangely, I’ve only come to realize this consciously after so much visiting, but I now believe that if a church wants to attract new members, it should make sure it is providing growth and fellowship opportunities to the current members.

The building is new, clean, well laid out, and welcoming. The people are friendly and warm. Upon entering the building, there’s someone to greet you immediately, as well as someone at the welcome desk. Today there were approximately 400 people from small children to much older than I attending an 8:30 a.m. contemporary service.

The music is well done, the sermons are God-honoring, and the pastors, who have a definite chemistry, are concerned with mission and Biblical teaching. There’s a genuine feeling of love and caring.

The building is about 5 years old, and the congregation has been growing. Pastor Rob’s sermons always leave me with something important to think about and I enjoy the emotion he exhibits while preaching. He’s very real and very enthusiastic.

This year Centreville is also focusing on creating small groups, which is a great idea in a church this size. They have 13 hosts lined up for the “Growth Groups” and will meet once a week for 8 week periods with 3 “semesters” per year for fellowship and Bible study.

I did chuckle when Pastor Rob announced that next week the Rev. Don Dawson from Pittsburgh Presbytery would be preaching. Unfortunately we’ll miss Don, but Jill & Scott plan to attend.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Presbyterian Church, Sewickley

Today we worshiped at The Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, 414 Grant Street, Sewickley, PA 15143,

Bob’s thoughts:

This dignified Presbyterian church is nestled in Sewickley. Architecturally it feels very Scottish throughout with beautiful stained glass windows and woodwork. However, the wide variety of wood finishes detracted from the effect; the chancel area was not tied to the rest of the Sanctuary. Good pads on the pews, pew racks contained the usual envelopes, prayer cards, as well as emergency exit cards. Signage was good with the exception of the visitor area. The bulletin indicated there were visitor information packets but we were unable to locate the visitor area.

The organ had a very heavy bass early, almost borderline for me, but was very good through the service. The chancel was nicely laid out with a cross prominently displayed.

We did not tour the rest of the building, not even my usual peek at the kitchen.

We were welcomed very warmly by the Senior Pastor, who identified the direction to the Sanctuary. The greeting was so warm that I wasn’t prepared for the prim and proper sermon delivery. I felt he was theologically on track with the topic of the Spirit’s direction of Simeon at the temple and His involvement in our lives currently. I feel the pastor’s style fits the church and they are good for each other.

The offering was taken after the Word and was incorporated with Communion. The elements were passed silently and taken when received. It seemed odd not to commune as one.

We attended an 11 a.m. service, so I was somewhat unprepared for the number of worshipers nearby who closed their eyes for prayer and kept them closed.

I enjoyed Associate Pastor Scott Hoffman’s delivery, confession, welcome, and children’s message. The Scripture readings were good, with some minor differences in translations that caught my attention.

Overall felt I had stepped back in time (I was looking to see if the women’s heads were covered), but the illusion of old Presbyterianism was broken by the odd coloration of the chancel area. We were greeted by smiles and some spontaneous dialog that often happens when a church has multiple services: most didn’t know that we were visitors.

The only obvious evidence of external mission was photos of a Habitat for Humanity house with which the church was involved.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is a very formal, traditional church. The parking lot was quite small but there was ample on-street space. Once inside there was plenty of signage, including a map of the building. The structure is older but quite well-kept, and I wish we’d had more opportunity to look around.

We were still wearing our coats when the pastor, Dana Jones, recognized us as visitors and welcomed us, followed soon by Associate Pastor Tracey Cowan. Dana was kind enough to point the way to the Sanctuary, so we didn’t need to look for a sign.

The room through which we entered, the Robinson Room, was decorated with lots of dark wood and some serious antiques, giving it a very long-standing and affluent atmosphere. However the people were friendly, without actually going out of their way to greet us.

The Sanctuary is interestingly arranged. All the pews are comfortably padded with a few additional pews off to either side in the front. The organ is located in the very back of the Sanctuary, and the organ pipes line the rear chancel wall. The choir sits to the left facing the chancel, and the pulpit is at the horizontal center of the chancel. I expected the color in the chancel to at least complement the dark wood ceiling and pews, but it looked like it belonged elsewhere as it appeared to have been “antiqued.” I wished it matched better.

All the music was traditional and exceptionally well rendered, including a solo in German during Communion.

The offering was taken at the beginning of the Sacrament of Communion, which makes an intriguing theological statement.

The back page of the bulletin was entitled “Welcome Visitors!” with announcements aimed at that specific audience, including an inventive invitation to take a Peace Candle and a brochure to their home congregation, stating, “The candles make visible our prayers for the healing of the warfare and interpersonal violence that poison the human community.”

The bulletin itself is printed on white 11x17 paper with one fold in the center, and announcements that seem to pertain to the members are printed on a pink, single-folded 11x17 sheet inside. It’s well done, in my opinion.

The sermon spoke to the question of whether we are guided by the Holy Spirit, and although the ultimate answer from the pulpit was “yes,” that’s about the extent of what I grasped from it. I heard little excitement from it and was unsure of the point beyond what I’ve already stated.

It's a nice place to visit but...