Sunday, May 31, 2009

Concord Presbyterian Church

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

Bob’s thoughts:

Our two daughters were in town for daughter Amber’s wedding shower and Amber wanted to introduce them to the congregation at Concord, and thus our choice was made as to where we would worship today. We worship occasionally at Concord. Knowing our way around the church somewhat, I was surprised to realize today there is almost no signage. There is a unisex restroom on the Sanctuary level and one below off the fellowship hall, but I forgot another set near the kitchen. I doubt a visitor would have a hard time (it is not a large facility) but it is comforting to know the location of the restrooms, nursery, etc.

The Sanctuary features a large central cross and some great banners, and the offering is taken in response to the Word.

I had the joy of holding my granddaughter who was tired enough to be fussy, so I missed some of the service and sermon. I don’t know if there are speakers outside of the Sanctuary, but none were on.

I was glad I didn’t have to follow the Children’s Choir as they had a wonderful presentation which they sang out with enthusiasm.

The hymns at Concord are frequently ones I find difficult to sing, so I was sorry we were a little late and missed the Praise Band.

From what I was able to hear of the sermon, we live in a world of choices but the reality of the only choice of consequence is to accept Christ’s gift. I thought it was a good perspective that gets lost in our busyness.

Communion was served with the standard words of institution and provided silently by the elders.

Jan’s thoughts:

I’ll be as objective as possible today, but I must mention right off that this church has a special place in my heart. Our daughter is engaged to the pastor’s son and just yesterday we held her bridal shower in the fellowship hall here. That same daughter is on the staff as director of the youth group. Nevertheless, I still remember what it was like to walk in as strangers just over a year ago, and what I recall most is the genuine friendliness of the people. They reached out and welcomed us, embracing us with open arms, literally and figuratively.

The building is well-kept and fairly newly remodeled, including an entrance ramp and some handicapped accessibility. The Sanctuary is just the right size for the number of worshippers, with beautiful stained glass on either side along with two sparkly, gorgeous wall hangings. The choir sits to the left facing the organ on the opposite side, but they are easy to hear.

The bulletin is one 8 ½ x 11” ivory sheet folded in half with the announcements on a half-sheet insert, making it easy to handle during worship. Most churches now will list the pastor by name and the members of the church as the ministers, but above those Concord lists Jesus Christ as Head of the Church. They also feature a weekly, monthly, and year-to-date financial report that indicates very little discrepancy between need and actual giving.

Today we were treated to an enthusiastic rendition by the Junior Choir of “Leaning (on the Everlasting Arms), and a gusty performance of “Mighty Wind” by the Senior Choir.

When Communion is served it is usually done in silence; however at Concord the pastor reads Scripture as the elders serve Communion.

The sermon, entitled “The Life or Death Choice” was based on Deuteronomy 30:11-20 where God (through Moses) sets forth the blessings and curses and charges the Israelites to choose which path they will follow: worshiping God (life) or worshiping idols (death). His point was that the choice is straightforward, clear cut, and really very simple. And yet for all these thousands of years we humans forget and choose the latter. But the choice is still before us, every day, and if we do not consciously choose God’s path, the “default option” is death – separation from God. It was a good reminder to think of God’s promises and choose His way every day, every time. The more reminders I have of this, the better.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Park United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Park United Presbyterian Church, 115 E. Grandview Avenue, Zelienople, PA 16063,, Rev. Pat McElroy.

Bob’s thoughts:

This is a small church in Zelienople. Very nice wood work well tied together, especially the paneled wall facing the Sanctuary. Good stained glass, a comfortable family atmosphere in the Sanctuary. Very little signage, but a large directional sign to basement restrooms. The bulletin referred to a nursery in the basement. Did not notice provision for handicapped to restroom level.

We were greeted by quite a number of people, warm genuine greetings. During the passing of the peace a lot of the 50 or so worshipers said hello.

The prayer time was rather informal, very family-like, catching up on joys and concerns before the prayer. The music was from an older hymnal (1946) but the hymns chosen were singable with a good message. The offering was taken before the Word was preached.

I was impressed that prayers were offered after the service, including laying on of hands and anointing with oil.

The sermon was from a series titled Mission Possible, with today’s on outward mission; the idea of executing the Great Commission. I liked the idea of “Open your mouth, dummy.” Many have told me how they can’t do evangelism and then proceeded to relate this great conversation they had with a non-believer. God does the work if we just open our mouth and let Him speak.

Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived early on this gorgeous May morning and so had an opportunity to wander around some. Once we entered the building, however, I was surprised how small it was. We saw only two signs, but no others were really necessary. We looked at the balcony and the basement, each of which took about 15 seconds, then found seats. That was when all the people began approaching us. One after another these friendly, open people came by, introduced themselves, and told us how glad they were we were there. Looking around I saw people greeting each other with hugs just like family, waving to others across the Sanctuary. This church has the most sense of family of all the churches we’ve visited.

The Sanctuary features padded wooden pews and matching wood in the Chancel. The entire rear wall of the Chancel is covered with wood paneling just a shade lighter with a wooden cross on the left and a matching wooden dove on the right. The stained glass was plentiful and lovely.

As small as this church is, they hold a contemporary service also, and we’ll probably try it another time.

The bulletin looks like a labor of love. It consists of two 8 ½ x 14” sheets folded in half and stapled in the center, and color is used to highlight and separate. Following the Order of Worship a note offers the opportunity for prayer, laying on of hands by elders, oil anointing for healing, and/or to receive Christ at the front of the Sanctuary after the service. There are numerous announcements and invitations to participate in the life of the church and, of course, prayer requests.

Since this is Memorial Day weekend, veterans were asked to rise to be recognized and receive applause and thanks, which was touching enough. The prayer that followed left me in tears. I try hard not to cry in a church where I’m a stranger, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. The pastor prayed a heartfelt prayer which touched my heart deeply, forcing me recall the Memorial Day when Dan marched in a local parade (as the sailor he was at the time). Memories made bittersweet by losing him as a Marine.

The sermon series was called “Mission Possible” and the message title was “Transformation of the Spirit.” It was based on Acts 8:26-40, the very cool story about the meeting facilitated by the Holy Spirit between the apostle Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The bulletin contained a sermon outline with the series title, theme, Scripture, sermon title, a “Take-Home Truth,” and the three points of the sermon, in this case:
I. The Spirit directs our witness – Acts 8:26-29
II. Jesus is the content of our witness – Acts 8:30-35
III. God is glorified in our witness – Acts 8:36-40

The sermon was a primer on using the situations in which we find ourselves (i.e., as guided by the Holy Spirit), making Jesus the object of our witness and thus glorifying God. I also appreciated the analogy between military missions and the mission of the church.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon

Today we worshiped at Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon, 7501 Church Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15202,, Rev. Dr. Page L.D. Creach.

Bob’s thoughts:

This is a great church to visit: it has some of the best woodwork and stained glass, an unusual large central cross, and the choir faces the congregation. We enjoyed a junior choir with trumpet accompaniment that was super and an amazing performance from the bell choir. The offering is taken in response to the Word. There is good signage.

This church will be empty the morning of Sunday, June 7, when the congregation will be performing service projects in the community and meeting later for worship and a meal. The program is called “Don’t go to church, BE the Church,” which represents impressively radical thinking in a Presbyterian church.

We were noticed/welcomed by only one person before the service.

The sermon was very well done, the point being that our conversion is ongoing. Our salvation is instant but our sanctification is a process that we fight our way through. We fall away, and blessedly Christ lifts us up and gets us get back on track.

A particular highlight of worship was the choir’s rendition of “Shout to the Lord.” I would not have thought it possible to present that with a choir, but it was done with enthusiasm and passion, and even some joy came through.

Jan’s thoughts:

We’ve attended Malawi Partnership events at Ben Avon in the past, but never a Sunday worship service. This is a stately, well-kept church with a seemingly traditional atmosphere, but there are indications that current thinking is of the “outside the box” variety. A major push is being made for the Faith in Action program entitled “BE the Church.” Both worship services have been cancelled and instead members (and friends) are urged to serve the community through various planned service projects, after which everyone will come together for worship and a meal.

Even with some memory of the layout of the building, I was glad to see signage; however had we been complete strangers to the church we probably would still have found it necessary to ask directions to the restrooms as they’re tucked back in a hallway with only small signs visible from the narthex.

We wandered around the large narthex area among the choir for about 10 minutes before anyone said anything to us, but following worship some friendly folks sitting nearby introduced themselves and greeted us.

The Sanctuary is beautiful, with matching dark wood pews, ceiling, and Chancel decoration. The pew seats are padded in medium-dark green, and the dark wood cross in front is accented in a similar shade. It’s quite lovely.

The Order of Worship is contained on a single legal-sized sheet (of, I’m guessing here, 24 lb. stock – nice heavy paper) folded in half so we could remove the ½ page insert and tri-folded 8 ½ x 11” letter and just put them aside. It’s an informative bulletin, attractively laid out and easy to follow.

There were several treats during the service: the Junior Choir sang “Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet” accompanied by David Anderson’s trumpet, the handbell choir made a superb presentation, but the biggest surprise to me was the Offertory Anthem. The choir sang a medley of the contemporary praise song “Shout to the Lord” and “All Creatures of Our God and King.” I never would’ve expected such a musical endeavor to be so inspiring!

The Rev. Dr. Jerome Creach filled in for his wife this morning, and offered a thought provoking sermon entitled “Even the Gentiles.” Toward the end he spoke of a repentance similar to birth, one that leads to a permanent change and a continuous – even daily – conversion. I couldn’t help but think of the similarities between the birth pains involved in childbirth and those involved in repentance, and the different “new creations” following both. The sermon led me to think of conversion and repentance in some concrete ways I had not before.

Sunday, May 10, 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 were early and had some time to tour around the church. Outside there is a sign on the doors to the worship center which is the only apparent one. There was a fair amount of interior signage but nothing directing from the Sanctuary to restrooms or child care. The large backlit cross in front of dark drapes was very effective. We also saw some great banners and a most unusual plaque. People we met on our tour were friendly and introduced themselves.

After seeing the ancient hymnal in the pew, we felt fortunate that this was a contemporary service. There seemed to be a good comfort system that brought in cool outdoor air. I noticed a child care paging system, and in addition to the dual projector screens there were two monitors on the first pew for the worship team. The worship atmosphere was quite pleasant.

The sermon was part of a series titled “Home Security Systems,” identifying threats to our family and marriage and recommending safeguards. Being Mother’s Day I thought it would have been an easy segue to mothers, but there were some very good points made and the pastor knew when to end his message. An instructor once told me it takes two people to paint a great watercolor – one painting and one to tell you when to stop. For maximum effect, that lesson is important in sermons also.

I was disappointed that the offering was not taken in response to the Word, but was completely overwhelmed by the song sung during Communion, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.” The words were perfect and the harmony of the three men who sang was a delight.

There seemed to be a lot of confusion over partaking of the elements of Communion. With no instruction given, we watched the congregation, and some took as they were served while others waited. Most took the juice at the pastor’s lead. The Communion elements were offered in silence, and it did not seem like Communion without a benediction.

We did get to speak to the music director after the service and relay our appreciation of the Communion song.

The welcome packet was well put together, although no one offered one, I happened to see them and took one. I also was able to look at April and May newsletters. There seems to be some good internal mission, but not so much outward.

Jan’s thoughts:

The building is newer, with a paved parking lot and excellent signage in the parking lot. We arrived early, providing an opportunity to tour the facilities prior to the service. Nearly everyone we encountered on our tour greeted us, which is remarkable in itself. Both floors and the balcony were well maintained and clean. We saw a large kitchen, well arranged and appointed. The facilities also house a day care center and a food pantry.

The indoor signage was plentiful, though they did not protrude so as to be seen from down the hall.

At the back of the Sanctuary is a prayer room that’s utilized as a cry room during worship.

We knew there were two services, and when we entered and heard three men rehearsing a contemporary song we figured we’d lucked out and happened to be attending the contemporary service. To our surprise we were told both services are the same, i.e., both are contemporary, the only difference being that the 11:00 service is attended by a somewhat younger crowd and tends to be more vocal and animated. (We plan to attend an 11:00 service sometime just for the experience.)

The Sanctuary is impressive: clean, nicely painted and decorated, with an airy, open feel and plenty of seating on the main level and additional room in the balcony. The Chancel per se was replaced by a stage due to the format of both services. A large backlit cross hangs on the rear wall of the stage, lovely and striking in its simplicity. Projection screens hang on each side and large monitors are placed in view of the worship leaders.

Judging from a metal sculpture in the hallway and the banners in the Sanctuary as well as additional banners saw hanging in a storage area we stumbled upon, some members are quite gifted and use their gifts to glorify God in the physical building.

We were warmly greeted by many people before and during the service.

The bulletin is one 8 ½” x 14” sheet folded so as to create a flap on the right side of the page so the final size of the bulletin is 8 ½” x 5 ½”. It’s clearly arranged and contains lots of information – except for the pastor’s name, surprisingly enough. The half-sheet insert contained a brief Order of Worship on one side and space for note-taking on the other. Since I rarely take notes during a sermon, my initial thought was there was no way I’d need that much space, but by the time the sermon was over I had used the entire page – including the margins – to note all the sermon points I wanted to remember.

There were two things I didn’t find in the bulletin: as I already mentioned, one is the pastor’s name, and the second is the Scripture upon which the message was based.

The congregation remained seated while Communion was served, but with no written or verbal instruction, we were unsure when to partake of the elements.

The sermon series was titled “Home Security Systems” and today’s was called “Intruder Alerts.” The pastor pinpointed specific, concrete considerations about the strength of our marriage and family relationships. Some of the points I found particularly interesting included: family relationships matter to God; our marriage is not our own – we are stewards, not owners; relationships and worship are related; our marriage and relationships are targeted by Satan and can have consequences to many future generations. We need to stay on the alert so as to honor God with how we treat those we love and live with. We will have to give an account for what He’s entrusted to us, and we need to live with the end in mind. Amen.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Calvin Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Calvin Presbyterian Church, 415 E. Grandview Avenue, Zelienople, PA 16063, 724.452.7560,, Pastor: Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish.

Bob’s thoughts:

The two entrances we used had very good signage, as well as inside. There is evidence of some major renovation showing good craftsmanship; more importantly, showing good planning and forethought. A lot of areas were addressed with useful compromises. The main floor and Sanctuary are handicapped accessible; not sure if there was a provision for the lower level.

The Chancel featured a large wood cross centrally mounted over interesting woodwork, good screen placement and very nice stained glass. The efforts in maintenance and housekeeping show, the facility is clean and pleasant. A high art rail on the perimeter allowed for a simple banner hanger to be used anywhere.

We were greeted by the pastor and a number of others. One woman expressed relief in seeing us as she thought perhaps we had left during the Sunday school time.

From the start it was apparent that this was a praying church; the opening prayers set the tone for the service. The bulletin noted there would be someone to pray after the service, as well as an often neglected healing prayer ministry and other prayer ministries.

The choir, although with good harmony, got through even some upbeat praise worship without smiling until the closing response when there was some enthusiasm for “Amen Amen.” There was a delightful soloist whose smile was as superior as her voice. After the service we stopped at Wal-Mart. As I was waiting for my wife, a man approached me and commented on the joyous message of my Christian t-shirt and my lack of a joyous smile. It’s easy to forget that our countenance preaches for us even when we are silent.

The anecdotal stories supporting the sermon were a little long, but the congregation seemed to get the message of sacrifical love: is the gift worth anything without sacrifice? The offering was taken in response to the Word.

I really enjoyed reading through the visitor packet. Very impressive is that the Session had voted to format Session meetings after a worship service. Personally, I hope they include Communion. As a church this congregation is praying for discernment as to Christ’s mission for Calvin Church and God will surely bless such a prayer.

I was disappointed that there was little reference to mission, but feel God is moving this congregation to be more outward. To have the unity that is apparent after renovations speaks very well to discernment of Christ’s direction and goal for this church.

I admit to some concern about the 7 a.m. “Men’s Room” on the calendar…what about the rest of the week?

Jan’s thoughts:

This building was a bit confusing to me since I have no sense of direction, but it has a lot going for it. We learned that it underwent a major remodeling just a couple of years ago, and the thought and planning that went into it was evident. The outside was unusual, with a combination of red bricks and green painted ones that gave a visual indication of the entry locations. Once inside we found ourselves outside a fellowship hall where adult Sunday school was in session. A gentleman immediately came to greet us – it turned out he was the pastor – and invited us to join in the class or look around as we wished. We saw restrooms across the hall but went in search of others as we toured the building so as not to disturb the class. (The ladies room was clean with deeper than usual stalls that were easy to get into and didn’t force one to struggle to close the stall door.)

After our self-guided tour we found ourselves outside the main office where we came across a small table and a couple of sitting chairs. The table held two books, both authored by the pastor, one with a foreword by Rev. Stan Ott. The world gets smaller every day.

We encountered several staff members, and all recognized us as visitors and were open and welcoming. We were also greeted by some others nearby just prior to the service.

The bulletin consists of two 11” x 17” folded sheets and two 5 ½” x 8” inserts which I witnessed several people pick up after they slipped out. The bulletin itself is well laid out with blue and black print and large type, making it easy to read and follow.

One entire page is dedicated to prayer ministries, including a prayer list, an invitation to pray with elders following each service, a prayer room, prayer group, a prayer shawl committee, and the two most unusual items, a healing prayer ministry (members who will visit and pray for healing with you one a week) and a labyrinth.

The Sanctuary is pleasant to the eye, with good lighting and matching woodwork. I couldn’t help but notice that the colors in the stained glass could be found on the walls and trim elsewhere in the building. I know color coordination isn’t high on everyone’s list, but color is such an important part of my world that I find it enormously satisfying when the colors are given that much obvious significance. It speaks to me on a level almost as consequential as words.

Musically the service would be considered blended, with a combination of contemporary and traditional music. We were treated to an offertory solo by a young woman with an exquisite voice and an equally engaging smile.

The pastor energetically strayed from the pulpit to the front of the Sanctuary and back again several times, which in my opinion only served to underscore his enthusiasm. The message, entitled “Love Is a Sacrifice,” was based on I John 3:11-22, and included some lessons in history and a lot of teaching. My sense is that the pastor has the spiritual gift of teaching and uses it every Sunday as well as other opportunities. As we waited in line to leave the Sanctuary, one woman commented to me that “Every week he teaches.” That is quite apparent from everything we saw.