Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Centreville Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Centreville Presbyterian Church, 15450 Lee Highway, Centreville, VA 20120, www.centrevillepres.com.

Bob’s thoughts:

With joy we found ourselves back at Centreville and were able to worship at the 11 a.m. traditional service. We were in Virginia to welcome our latest granddaughter and pleased to be able to come and thank God.

The Sanctuary was filled to about 1/3 capacity, but spread out so it seemed fuller. Centreville has some truly great Christian banners and for a worship service conducted in their Fellowship Hall, there is a good church feel.

There were accordion doors behind the choir risers and folding curtains on stage, I assume to conceal the praise band equipment. Perhaps it was just to bring focus back to the large cross.

The room has no ceiling fans, which are a waste with high ceiling space anyway.

We were blessed with an offering from the bell choir and truly blessed to be present to witness a baptism with a large family presence.

There is a large choir, about 25 people, and the music was great, especially the offering piece. However I saw no joy or passion on the faces of any of the choir members, so I felt it was more a good performance. Perhaps a reminder that they are making a worship offering would relight their passion.

The sermon was delivered by the Associate Pastor, Neil, and was presented with an outline in the bulletin.

I have always felt stewardship should be an easy topic to preach on and Neil did a very good job with generous living. I believe it is an easy subject to preach on but a hard concept for congregations to embrace. There was a survey page provided for the congregation to respond with that was well done. To feel ownership in the church people must be given the opportunity to participate. I remember a woman who was unable to attend for years but her valuable contribution was she prayed for members and staff. She had ownership. When I hear a good stewardship message I’m always tempted to send the pastor some of my writings on my stewardship walk; perhaps that is God’s nudging.

I have always felt that the Pastor/Associate relationship was exceptional at Centreville and believe there will be little change to the church’s focus with the Associate’s departure.

Jan’s thoughts:

Our family has been blessed yet again with a new granddaughter! Ashton Jade Brown was born February 17, and mom and AJ are both in excellent health! Consequently we’ve returned to northern Virginia for a few days to meet her and see the rest of our family, and so on Sunday returned to Centreville Presbyterian Church. I always look forward to worshiping there, because I know my way around, it’s very pleasing to the eye, I’m in tune with their theology, and the pastors and members are very friendly. At one point I encountered the Senior Pastor, Rob, who shook my hand enthusiastically and said, “Welcome home!” To be honest, I suppose Centreville is about as close to a home church as we have at the moment since Jill and Scott are members and Amber did her internship here for her mission/youth ministry degree, so at least some of the folks here know our family. On our way in one woman stopped us to ask about Amber’s wedding plans and Brandy’s baby. I’m not sure who she was, but she knew us.

This visit we decided to attend the 11:00 traditional service, which we’d only attended once before. Attendance was sparse at our previous visit to this service (unlike the usual packed house at the 8:30 contemporary service), but attendance was much better this time. Part of the reason could be that just last week the Associate Pastor, Neil, had announced his departure. I’m happy to know that he’s leaving to be closer to family and not due to any conflict at the church. In fact, from what I know, this pastoral relationship has been one of the best I’ve seen. I’m sorry to see him go, but as I told him, I’m certain God has something wonderful in mind for him and for Centreville.

The bulletin contains an easy-to-read Order of Worship on a folded 8.5 x 11 sheet, and announcements, updates, and calendars on yellow inserts. This week there was also another folded 8.5x11 folded sheet for sermon notes titled “The Challenge of Generosity.” Centreville is in the midst of a long-term study of giving. The sermon insert contains a memory verse (Acts 20:35 – “It is more blessed to give than to receive”), and the sermon contained ideas such as, in the end our lives will be defined by either greed or generosity, and that closed-handed, greedy living is life-draining while open-handed, generous living is life-giving. He pointed out that generous living means being generous with my time, talents, and treasure as well as (here’s the one I don’t believe I’ve heard before) with my testimony. He included the importance of telling others about what God has done in our lives, and the back page of the insert was given to a few pointers on preparing our personal testimony. That was an interesting point that spoke to me personally.

The music was well-done – I was pleasantly surprised to find they have a bell choir, and I enjoyed the presentations of the choir, which we almost never see.

There was also a “Time, Talent, and Gift” survey for each person, which gives a good indication of how much is really going on at Centreville – a lot!

It’s a good church, full of life and love for the Lord. I’ll be praying that God will lead someone exciting there to work with Senior Pastor Rob so they can keep the momentum going and that He’ll bless the members with insight in using their spiritual gifts to serve Him through this church.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Northmont United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Northmont United Presbyterian Church, 8169 Perry Highway, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, www.northmontchurch.org.

Bob’s thoughts:

We entered and left via what turned out to be the Education wing and were impressed with the signs that projected out into the hall as well as the number of children in the rooms. Although the interior signage was sufficient, hopefully there was some signage outside the other entrances.

More than a few greeted us, and several offered us coffee. We were early and had more time than usual to look through the facility and speak with the pastor. In our travels around the building we found a very well-done welcome packet: well laid out, multicolored pages, including a lot of information that is usually missing. Also got to see a very new and well-organized kitchen. There is notable evidence of good involvement in various missions.

The Sanctuary is impressive, a good mix of woodwork and painted surfaces. There is a large cross suspended from the ceiling which somehow seems out of place, I think because from the pews it interferes with some ornate woodwork in the back of the chancel.

There were a few pleasant surprises: my friend Andrew (5 years old) was there to worship with his parents; we were blessed to hear David Hughey’s rich baritone solos; and were able to go forward to lay hands to ordain a Deacon, during which there is always a powerful Christ presence. There are numerous Stephen Ministers; one was identified for hospital visits that week and others available for prayer after the service.

A Parish Associate delivered the sermon, “The Spark That Ignites a Fire,” and touched some good points. I agree completely that coming in humility to Christ for healing is prerequisite, but I’m not sure of the context in which he meant obedience is required. I would contend that we are never ready for Christ to intercede in our livesand we’ll never be worthy of Christ’s grace. I think the point of the sermon came across better during the benediction.

I was pleased that the offering was taken in response to the Word.

I always wonder about the things we can’t assess at one visit, but today, at least, other than the children, the Church lacked spirit. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, but the congregation seemed tired and lifeless.

This is a good facility with great potential. While their search for pastoral leadership advances, I hope they pray to discern Christ’s direction for Northmont and find a vibrant pastor to take them forward.

Jan’s thoughts:

This was our first visit to Northmont, where Rev. Dr. Don Ewing is the Interim Pastor and Rev. Alick Kennedy is a Parish Associate. This day Rev. Kennedy preached.

The building is older, well-kept, with very good signage, including many signs indicating the location of an AED. The kitchen contained many stainless appliances, and obvious pride and care was taken in this area. Overall the building had a very “homey” feel which made me believe the congregation was very much like a family. (True or not, I don’t know, that’s just how it felt.)

The Sanctuary was appealing: red carpet in the center aisle and chancel area, white walls, very dark wood beams with more white on the ceiling, and matching wooden cross-type decoration on the rear wall of the chancel. Beautiful stained glass in the Sanctuary also.

The people were friendly, with some initiating and maintaining longer conversations, but some were quite reserved. We encountered some people we knew from another church, so we sat with friends.

It was an honor to unexpectedly find ourselves able to participate in the ordination and installation of a young lady to the office of Deacon.

The bulletin was well assembled with two 8 ½ x 14 sheets arranged with the Order of Worship on the one sheet and announcements on the other and no papers to worry about keeping track of.

There were plenty of announcements and information in the bulletin including Stephen Ministers, dinners, Youth Group activities, a military list, food banks, book clubs, Presbytery events, and formation of a Designated Pastor Nominating Committee.

The guest soloist, David Hughey, was a joy to hear with his rich baritone.

I found myself in some disagreement with the sermon (which was recapped in the benediction) in which he indicated that healing is a result of our obedience and approaching God in humility. I believe both are vital, but my conflict arises from the idea that we must obey God before He will heal us. I believe God’s grace supersedes our obedience (or lack of it) just as His salvation, more often than not, supersedes our knowledge of its necessity. It’s just possible that God might use the healing to bring us to obedience. Of course it’s always better to do it God’s way and obey humbly, but I don’t know too many people who aren’t saved (or healed) in spite of themselves.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Wexford Community Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Wexford Community Presbyterian Church, 10645 Perry Highway, Wexford, PA 15090, www.wexfordpc.org.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were warmly greeted upon entering, and offered direction to the Sanctuary and restroom locations, which was a good thing since directional signage was minimal at best. Consequently I was grateful the general area of the restrooms had been pointed out. The building is modern with comfortable seating. It has the feel of a warm and friendly church as several people greeted us after the service.

The modern stained glass at the rear wall of the chancel was very impressive with the sun behind it. There is also a large wooden cross, but I found myself drawn to a small metal cross on top of the baptismal font. The Malawian items were also of great interest.

The offering was taken not only before the Word was preached but with the congregation standing and singing.

The message, “The Eyes of Faith,” was what I felt missing from a recent sermon at Mosaic about Moses not seeing the Promised Land. The great accomplishments of Moses were because of the faith of his parents who gave him to God in faith. When we “see” in faith we have no fear. I’d be encouraged to see this congregation go forward with eyes of faith.

While the congregation was attentive to the Word, I saw some passion in those leading the contemporary music, but almost none among the congregation. Perhaps it’s new at this church.

Jan’s thoughts:

This was our first visit to Wexford Community P.C., although in 2003 I travelled to Malawi with the pastor, Rev. Bruce Schlenke, who I was astonished to learn has served this church for 27 years!

Signage was good: there were signs on the entry doors (“If it’s windy, use the left door” which I thought was nifty). Immediately upon entering we were greeted by two very friendly women who pointed the way to the restrooms, where to hang our coats if we wished, and the direction to the back of the Sanctuary for a bulletin. Since the restroom doors are around a corner from the hallway, I’d suggest a sign where someone walking down the hallway could see which room was which without having to look so far around a corner to see.

Something that surprised me was that when the ladies introduced themselves, they gave their first and last names. Most times only first names are given, I think because at that point last names seem unnecessary. This wouldn’t have been so remarkable except, upon hearing their last names I automatically gave our last names also, which I don’t normally do.

We were early enough that we could look around some and found plenty of Malawi photos, paintings, even a Chief’s chair and a gallimoto on display. The vitality of the partnership between Wexford and Mchiru was evident and encouraging.

We attended the contemporary service, and the congregation straggled in during the early music as seems to be the case at all contemporary services. There was a good crowd, although the back probably 10 pews on both sides were roped off so everyone would sit forward. (It is, after all, a Presbyterian church.)

For this service, the bulletin was one folded 11 x 17 sheet containing plenty of information as well as two double-sided inserts, one of which was the order of worship.

The music was very well done, but I think would’ve benefitted from a bit more enthusiasm, or at least some smiles.

The sermon was delivered in a more casual attitude befitting a contemporary service, but was deeply theological nonetheless. Bruce’s sermon, titled “The Eyes of Faith,” was based on Hebrews 11:23-29. He touched on most, if not all, the theological points I wished I’d heard from Saleem Ghubril a few weeks ago, then took it a step farther and pointed out that the faith exhibited by the children of Israel as they crossed the Red Sea was built on the faith of Moses, whose faith was built on the faith shown by his parents when they placed him in God’s hands in the Nile. The point was that we WILL not see the good that God brings from our faith because the faith of future generations will have been built on the faith we display. A truly encouraging thought that gives me great hope for the meaning of my own life, as well as a smack-upside-the-head reminder to not be afraid – a reminder I personally need on a very regular basis.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

St. Andrew's United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at St. Andrew’s United Presbyterian Church, 801 Beaver Street, Sewickley, PA 15143.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were back to St. Andrews for Jan’s sister Wendy’s ordination as a Deacon and were blessed to be there for the laying on of hands. This time it was easier to tell which of the front doors was the entrance as the other stairs were snow-covered.

Attendance seemed not to have suffered, perhaps due to Communion and ordination/installation, but it may also be today’s spring-like weather.

We were warmly greeted as if we’d been there last week.

At first I thought there was an improvement in the acoustics, but it was the speaking of the Liturgist.

Although the organ didn’t change, there was an enjoyable interpretation of “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty” on the keyboard.

I was pleased to find Carol Roth as the pastor as I had served with Carol on the Presbytery Stewardship Committee. Unfortunately I had some trouble hearing all the sermon. A highlight from it though was a story about a mother’s efforts to see her special needs child mainstreamed successfully. I believe that often those with special challenges are more in tune with God than others. I believe we are just as indwelt with demons as in Christ’s time on Earth – maybe more so. I’ve been called on to pray to oust demons and errant cells, and I have also wondered about the words Christ used. But I’ve found what we command in Christ’s Name still works. It’s His power, not our words.

I’d love to see the elements of Communion identified when offered by the servers. When they’re offered silently it seems to be more of a chore than a celebration. It also seems like a broken chain when the servers pick up the plates rather than the pastor handing them to the servers. I also appreciated the reference to Christ breaking bread after the resurrection and the eyes of the disciples being opened.

There was a request in the bulletin for flower donations for the Sanctuary for February but there was nothing in the bulletin identifying the donor of the flowers today.

Jan’s thoughts:

Today’s visit to St. Andrew’s was prompted by our learning that my sister Wendy would be ordained and installed as a Deacon today. What a privilege it was to witness her ordination and lay hands and pray for her and for Bob, the Elder who was installed today.

Several folks greeted us immediately upon our arrival, and some even remembered us from our two previous visits. We’re seldom repeat visitors, but that warm greeting of recognition and remembering our names made a significant impression.

It felt a little like “old home week” when I learned that Rev. Carol Divens Roth is now serving as the interim at St. Andrew’s. Carol and I served together on the Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry, and I hold her in high regard despite differences in our theology. I had the opportunity to meet Carol’s husband Mark, and very much enjoyed our conversation.

Most of the same issues we noted in our December 7 blog still exist, and some things may not change in the near future, i.e., the few locations that could use some additional signage, the acoustics, the difficulty understanding everyone except the pastor, the silent service of Communion. But the church is warm, friendly, and caring, and that counts for a lot.

Stephen Wutz, the Student Assistant, led the prayer time after informing the congregation that he would again be available for individual prayer following the service. Not surprisingly, soon after the service ended I noticed a circle of people in prayer at the front of the Sanctuary. This is very encouraging although, as I said, not unexpected. There’s a definite sense of unity among this close-knit congregation.

I enjoyed Carol’s message very much. It was mostly based on Mark 1:21-28 about Jesus’ exorcism of the demons possessing a man. In my experience, pastors seldom preach about such topics, but I think congregations should be educated about spiritual warfare since they face it regularly whether they’re aware of it or not.

Carol pointed out that the Bible doesn’t quote Jesus’ words in His conversation with the demons, and I think the reason for that lies in human nature. After all, look what we did with the Lord’s Prayer. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus said, “Pray like this,” not “Say this prayer.” I’m convinced that if we knew the words He used with the demons, human nature being what it is, we’d likely be saying the same words to people we believe to be possessed by demons. And being human, we have neither the insight nor the authority to make that call.

This is a warm little church that felt like it enveloped me with its gentle compassion, and today that was a moving experience for which I thanked God.