Sunday, April 26, 2009

North Branch Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at North Branch Presbyterian Church, 139 North Branch Road, Monaca, PA 15061, 724.774.0711.

Bob’s thoughts:

We seldom know where we are going to worship but it is always very clear if God sent us to a particular church. Today was one of those moments when we were listening to God’s directions.

We got the service start times from the Presbytery website which, unfortunately, had not been updated. So we showed up early to find the service well underway. I believe this was the devil trying to keep us from God’s message.

From the parking lots on inside, the signage was poor. The service was in progress but no one seemed to notice us in the Narthex. A young man came through and we were able to find out about the service time mix-up. He managed to find a bulletin for us and with the Sanctuary rather packed we climbed to the balcony. It provided a very interesting perspective to the large cross with unusually long white drape and flowers – a very good focal point. There were some excellent banners also. During the offering, which was taken before the Word was preached, there was an excellent worship by the bell choir.

The service was conducted by, I believe, an Elder and there was an older pastor, I assumed to preach. Much like Susan Boyle, the Scottish sensation on YouTube from England’s Idol-type show, I prejudged him, expecting a retired minister reading a dry sermon. But the Holy Spirit was indeed in this place and the Rev. Dr. Richard Morledge was/is filled with the Spirit. Christ made sure we heard the exact message we needed to hear through him. We were blessed. Dr. Morledge knows the power of the Spirit within us and he believes in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is awesome to hear someone preach from that perspective.

I thought of how hard it is to relate to another believer the joy when you know the Spirit is present and how poorly we do when we try to explain it to a non-believer. I have asked for and received miracles, but only when I believed my prayer would be answered.

Elders are available for prayer after the service. I would encourage the Church to worship and fellowship together and most importantly pray for discernment: what does Christ want North Branch to be about now? I pray they find an interim pastor who will carry them forward to the glory that Christ has planned for this church. In Him they can be the beacon on the hill. Think enormous!

Jan’s thoughts:

According to the Beaver-Butler Presbytery website, North Branch had a traditional service at 9 and a contemporary service at 11:15, and we planned to attend the latter service. We arrived with plenty of time to walk around the building then find a seat for worship, but while approaching outside we could hear the organ and singing through the open windows and we knew our plans had gone awry. Once inside we asked a young man and it turns out the worship time was changed to 10 a.m. However it was too late to go elsewhere, so we stayed. And we were very glad we did.

North Branch Church is more than 150 years old, and the current building was built in 1961. We didn’t get to see as much of the building as we had planned, obviously. We entered directly into the narthex; the restrooms were nearby and easy enough to find although the only signs were on the front of the doors.

The supply of bulletins had been exhausted, so someone kindly gave us theirs and directed us toward the balcony as there were almost no seats available in the Sanctuary. But it gave us a good view of the Chancel area which was artistically decorated with flowers and a large cross draped with white.

The pastor of 14 years recently accepted a call in Ohio, and the guest preacher was the Rev. Dr. Morledge, Pastor Emeritus of First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown, PA, and former Dean of Chapel at Grove City College. I actually recall meeting him at Grove City when Jill was a student there.

We missed a baptism unfortunately, but were treated to some excellent bell-ringing.

We were so blessed, though, to hear the sermon. Dr. Morledge spoke with power, enthusiasm, and passion about the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. About expecting great things from God and about our part in it when God does great things through us. I believe it was precisely the sermon the congregation needed to hear at this point in their corporate life. I knew even as I was hearing it that God was speaking to me because I was convicted of having low expectations. It was a blessing to be there and to hear that message.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Allison Park Church

Today we worshiped at Allison Park Church, 2326 Duncan Avenue, Allison Park, PA 15101,

Bob’s thoughts:

It’s easy for me to get a feeling of “mega-church” when we worship someplace new. Today was a larger facility with lots of parking. Very open greeting area, good signage, large welcome area with coffee and doughnuts. We were welcomed by the greeter at the entrance as well as a number of others. The Sanctuary boasts two large projection screens in front and one on the rear wall, which I’ve always thought was an excellent idea.

Most of the music was louder than I thought it should be, but there was a definite passion in the congregation’s singing. It was worship.

A paging system is utilized for the nursery. A large cross is mounted off to the left of the stage almost like an afterthought. This church obviously employs a good business administrator (efficient layout, anticipation of visitors’ needs, etc.). There was an informality to the worship and those who were identified as pastors wore jeans. Still, the sense of family closeness was unexpected.

The offering was taken after the sermon, but my impression was that that was out of the ordinary as he made it a point to announce it would be done that way today. The church was focusing on single parents, a ministry close to my heart. The sermon related well to some of the problems faced by single parents but also to the rest of us. We all, like Paul, ask God to remove the thorn from our side and don’t want to hear its purpose. I thought Pastor Jeff delivered the message effectively with fine illustrations.

The church is probably still too loud and busy for my worship needs, but the Word of God is preached there and done well.

Jan’s thoughts:

Having been invited to Allison Park (Assembly of God) Church by a co-worker, for a change we knew by Tuesday of last week where we’d be attending church today. Still, it never ceases to amaze me all the various ways God uses to get us where He wants us each week.

The building is quite large, and I must admit I’ve never before seen a church with its own parking garage. Greeters stood immediately inside the front doors of the sizeable Concourse. The signage was large and abundant, so it was unnecessary to ask for the location of restrooms or anything else. To the right of the entrance was a good-sized room with tables, chairs, and refreshments in the form of coffee, tea, and donuts.

Further in was a staffed information desk offering “new member” literature. Opposite it was a coat room with restrooms on either side. I can’t speak for the men’s room, but the ladies’ was spacious, well-maintained, and generously stocked with necessary items.

I was greeted by someone whom my co-worker had informed of our visit, but she was probably the only person there who knew for certain that we were visitors. In a congregation large enough to require one Saturday evening service and two Sunday morning services, identifying visitors is seldom possible, so I was surprised and impressed.

There is a well-equipped nursery-type room off the Concourse for little ones, and we enjoyed watching them through the windows.

The general atmosphere is welcoming with an emphasis on serving members and an open desire to get people “plugged in” to a group. A welcome brochure, nicely done on good, tri-folded 8 ½ x14 paper lists the church’s vision, pastoral staff (of 11!), summary of ministries by age groups, the weekly schedule, a welcome from the senior pastor, and an outline of how the church can help one to reach one’s full potential in Christ. We were also given a small book written by Andy Stanley, “Since Nobody’s Perfect…How Good is Good Enough?” which I plan to read.

The Sanctuary was similar to other churches this size: large with a huge screen on each side of the stage and comfortable padded chairs. I counted 12 musicians, and they sounded wonderful – but also loud. Maybe it’s me, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m the only one for whom the decibel level is an issue at larger, non-traditional churches. Perhaps it’s the acoustics, or maybe I’m having more trouble with my ears than in the past. In any event I was glad we sat toward the back but wished I’d felt comfortable enough to move even further back.

The congregation was enthusiastic and animated with many worshipers waving their hands in the air and/or jumping or bouncing around. I knew I was not in a PC(USA) church.

The message was part of a series entitled “When the Fasten the Seatbelt Sign Comes On” (a great title, I thought!) subtitled “Part 3 – Relational Confusion.” It was based on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 where Paul refers to his thorn in the flesh, specifically verse 9 when he states, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (I’m with the pastor in his love for this verse!)

I first heard this verse when I was much younger and unable to comprehend the meaning at all; however over the years and the intervening events in my life, I believed I had grasped it. However this message took my understanding of this verse one step further. At one point the pastor had everyone verbalize a sentence with him, a statement that convicted me deeply:

“Stop trying to get an exit strategy for something God is trying to lead you through.”
What I heard from this message is: accept my life for what it is and let God do with me and my life what He will; God’s grace IS sufficient.

The church is unlike Presbyterian churches in many ways, but I believe the theology was right on. And I think I’ll tape that sentence to my mirror and several other places where I’ll see it regularly.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fountain Park Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Fountain Park Presbyterian Church, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066,

Bob’s thoughts:

It was especially pleasant to return to a church where the cross is very evident and the offering is taken in response to the Word.

The congregation seemed much more animated (perhaps it’s the joy of Easter), but the volume of the music in the small Sanctuary took away from the excitement. We were late coming in and there were no bulletins left, and surprisingly none left in the Sanctuary afterwards. I sense the powerful Spirit of Christ at work in this congregation, and I expect great things to come.

It was a special joy for me to see so many children and to enjoy a well-delivered sermon.

Easter blessings to all!

Jan’s thoughts:

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6

Praise God for the Good News of the Resurrection, for Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of our faith.

We attended Fountain Park a few months ago, and were again blessed to worship there today. As at most churches, attendance was up – to the extent that they exhausted their supply of bulletins, but the service was still easy to follow. The Sanctuary was filled with extra chairs so the coffee and refreshments usually found in the back of the Sanctuary were outside instead.

Some members of the congregation were much more energetic than the last time we visited.

The music was inspiring and well done, and the lead singer especially had a very strong voice. The only trouble from my point of view was the volume, which hurt my ears. I thought could have been cut in half and it still would have been plenty loud.

Mark’s sermon touched me deeply. He spoke of the necessity of changing our thinking and our hearts in order to make changes in our lives; of God’s steadfast love for us and His desire for a relationship; and His grace and mercy being new each and every day. Mark has the ability to speak plainly and openly and with great sincerity, allowing the truth of his words to become very real. This sermon has made me think about things I’ve resisted thinking about – that God loves even me, and that it’s possible to change with God’s help. At this point in my life these things are vital to remember, and I appreciated the reminder.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Chartiers Valley United Presbyteran Church

Today we worshiped at Chartiers Valley United Presbyterian Church, 320 Washington Pike, Scott Township, PA 15106.

Bob’s thoughts:

The Sanctuary is small with a lot of dark wood which made it seem smaller, but the church had a very “family” feel. The marbled glass windows and prominent cross tied it all together for me.

Before leaving the house some Sundays I get a sense of God’s message for me, and this morning I felt compelled to change my T-shirt to one reflecting a message speaking of Christ’s “coming to save all of mankind but that He would have come just for you.” That was the message of today’s sermon – the very personal basis of Christ’s atoning death for us. It was good to hear a sermon that challenged me to think about my personal relationship with Christ.

I must admit that I welcomed the opportunity to help attend to my grandchildren outside as the Sanctuary was very warm. Bill makes Communion personal, and I missed not partaking. I was pleased to see that the offering was taken in response to the Word. I was also very impressed with the bulletin.

There was not a need for a lot of signage, and what was there was adequate. The passing of the Peace of Christ was the longest and friendliest I’ve ever experienced. The choir came down out of the loft and everyone said hello.

Bill and I agree on almost everything theologically, and it’s always refreshing to hear him preach.

Jan’s thoughts:

With some family in from out of state, we visited this church to see our friends, Jean & Bill Roemer. Bill is now serving as pastor to this congregation in the wake of the sudden and tragic accidental death of the previous pastor.

Unfortunately we arrived during the Introit and didn’t have much opportunity to tour the building. The Sanctuary is small and cozy; the wood in the Chancel matches the pews, and if the wood panel accents on the walls don’t match, they’re certainly close enough. A very large wooden cross decorates the back wall of the Chancel along with a wooden dove, which was a unique touch. The choir all faced the congregation on the left (from our point of view).

The bulletin was amazing, the most distinctive I’ve ever seen. The cover was purchased (donated, actually, according to a note in the bulletin) especially for Palm Sunday. The Order of Worship was full of color and clip art, with the major headings (“Palm/Passion Sunday,” the sermon title, and “Concerns of Our Church”) in large purple 3-dimensional letters, secondary headings (“The Church in Preparation,” “The Church in Adoration,” etc.) in brown lettering, and all music in blue. There was almost no white space on the page, with all sorts of background pictures and even a cartoon. It’s truly a work of art, and by the looks of it a labor of love.

The people were quite friendly, and the greeting time during the service extended much longer than usual, probably lasting a good five minutes.

We celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Communion, but with a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old with us, I was the only one of our party present at that point to participate.

Bill’s sermon was, as always, Christ-focused and thought-provoking. The scenario with which I especially identified was how when someone treats us with kindness and generosity in a time of need and how often the recipient of this generosity develops a hostile attitude toward the one who treated them with such kindness. The point was that oftentimes we develop that sort of hostility toward God even when we know and believe in our hearts that in Jesus God has treated us with much more kindness and grace than we ever could deserve. But we’d rather deserve it – we’d prefer to earn our salvation because then we wouldn’t be the helpless, needy, dependent people we are.