Sunday, June 28, 2009

Concord Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Concord Presbyterian Church, 2832 Conway-Wallrose Road, Baden, PA 15005, 724.869.9135,

Bob’s thoughts:

We had the joy today to revisit Concord Presbyterian Church for a report/service by the mission team. As usual for me, I came away with a lot more from a heartfelt, maybe less orchestrated, service. The passion of the mission team is very apparent with the relaxed service. Even the adults let their enthusiasm show.

There are some very special youth at this church. Their skits and reporting were very well done. With a hard act to follow, the pastor, Harper, led from a core message on the Good Samaritan (the mission focus) to pose an interesting observation about our reluctance to share within the Church. While at the work area, a larger, long-term mission team was also present which was granted overall control of the projects, which led him to ask if we with “ownership” within the Church do the same? How welcoming are we to others? I go one step further in asking, “How welcoming are we to new Christians?” We have something almost too good to mention; are we willing to share Christ?

It was an exceptionally uplifting Sunday. My thanks to the mission team for sharing.

Jan’s thoughts:

Our daughter, Amber, returned yesterday from a one-week mission trip to Philippi, WV, so we attended the service, led by the members of this trip, in order to hear the details of the past week as well as to be available to assist Amber since she returned on crutches. (I’m glad to report that her fiancé, Dan, did most of the assisting, but Dad & Mom felt better being there, and Amber will be just fine in time for the wedding.)

The music was entirely contemporary, the congregation was as friendly as always (that is, very friendly), and the atmosphere was relaxed and supportive. The service lasted about an hour and a half, and it was time well spent. Mostly the service consisted of four youth performing the series of skits they acted out for Vacation Bible School during their week of mission. During the necessary breaks, photos from the week were shown on the screen and accompanied by commentary of team members about the work they performed. The group put in extra effort on some home improvements for two families, in the process displaying their servant hearts and glorifying God.

As you might imagine, it was great to hear details about the week from the point of view of the participants, but witnessing the skits was a special treat. I was astounded at the obvious talent of the youth: Josh, Emily, Miranda, and Ashley. They appeared totally comfortable in their roles and had every nuance of their parts down pat. They really were extraordinary. I thoroughly enjoyed the transformation of the two youth as they started out a week of adventure camp totally self-absorbed and oblivious to God and by the end of the week had had their eyes opened to His presence, power, and beauty. On their last day they found themselves overjoyed to learn they didn’t have to leave God behind when they returned to city life. It was a great reminder that we don’t have to go anywhere to find God; we only have to look where we are. Kudos to the youth and to Concord.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Grace Community Church

Today we worshiped at Grace Community Church, 216 Mystic Pine Trail, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.779.7997,

Bob’s thoughts:

There is an old Pittsburgh saying that “you can’t get there from here,” and this church fulfills that saying. On Freedom Crider Road is a sign that “This is the church you have been looking for.” It cries out for a second sign, “Now try to get here.” You could park on the berm and wade across a stream, but don’t look for signage to direct you in.

If you make it to the church, there are people to direct you to parking and outstanding signage inside. The seating is very comfortable and acoustics are satisfactory. It is a large enough church that we weren’t recognized as visitors but were welcomed by a few people. There was no order of worship and the offering was taken before the Word. Actually it was so early it felt like “get it in case you leave.” My main concern was the lack of a cross in the Sanctuary. There was a female trio who sounded very good together and seemed well-rehearsed.

The pastor delivered a sound message on fatherhood with regard to Father God. There were a few film clips that I thought added little but a great personal story that had to be hard to deliver. With the loss of our son, Father’s Day will always be difficult and the personal story really helped. The sermon wrap-up was a little long and seemed to lose some of the edge.

Saw some very good missional numbers on a budget sheet but did not see much on outward mission other than the current Kenya trip.

Jan’s thoughts:

Today we needed to find an early worship service nearby, so we settled on this contemporary church in Cranberry. We were there once before (before starting our blog), otherwise we never would have found it in time for the service. The sign on the marquee boasts that Grace is “The church you’ve been looking for” and whenever we drive past that sign we chide that whoever that’s directed to is probably still looking for it. The point is, they could use some directional signs from Freedom Crider Road to the church. Once inside, however, signage is plentiful.

There are many thoughtful touches, such as people to open the doors as you approach the building, a café-type area immediately inside. The ladies room is clean, roomy, and stocked with extras (hair spray, hand lotion, and other necessities).

The bulletin was one very colorful, very busy 8 ½” x 14” sheet with a ton of information – everything except an order of worship. Nicely presented, though.

Like most other contemporary churches at which we’ve worshiped, there is a stage, in this case three screens, and padded, very comfortable chairs. By now we know enough to sit as far in the back as possible due to the inevitable volume of the music, and this was no exception.

I enjoy and see great value in both traditional and contemporary worship styles and music, and today I appreciated the opportunity to sing some of the more contemporary songs that I love, especially “Blessed Be Your Name.” The theology expressed in the lyrics is important, and this song has spoken to my heart loud and clear since before Dan’s death but even more so since.

The special music presented by a trio of young women was extremely well done. I appreciated hearing each of the ladies sing solo but their voices blended so well also. It was a treat.

Through some deductive reasoning (since it was not in the bulletin), I determined that the sermon was offered by Bob Zonts, and of course it focused on fathers and fatherhood. It included a cute taped skit called “iDad” containing some really catchy music that I would’ve been singing the rest of the day except for the second half of the sermon. The preaching was Biblically sound, aimed at fathers, and acknowledged those with great difficulty and pain surrounding Father’s Day. It was good, and then it became great. He (in his own words) “took off the mask” and spoke about a painful – gut-wrenching – episode with his then 3-year-old daughter in which he said something extremely hurtful to her and witnessed the pain and heartbreak on her face. He immediately apologized to her and to God, but never forgot the wound his remark caused. Even through the tears in my own eyes (for both him and his daughter), I could see every eye there was on him and you could have heard a pin drop. It took a great deal of courage to confess this event to a large Sanctuary full of people, but it was real, honest, and vulnerable. My feeling is that if you can’t find honesty in a church, it’s hard to find a reason to go there.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

First Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church, 200 North Park, Rochester, PA, 724.728.7000, Rev. Lee Bittner.

Bob’s thoughts:

God led us to church today. Most Sundays we feel God’s leading in deciding where we are to go, but today we knew where we were going and printed a Yahoo map so we knew how to get there. We were early, and so did some shopping before church, and upon leaving the store, waiting for the light to change, we looked up and saw a similarly-named church. I didn’t notice till I checked the bulletin to write a check for the offering. We saved the directions for another Sunday.

This is an average-sized church with great wood beams and panels, really beautiful stained glass, and a cathedral ceiling. A small brass cross on the paneled rear wall of the chancel looks larger because of the bare panels and the spotlight on it. Some amazing stained glass above the cross had been covered over at some point, so when the Chancel was redone it had been a special surprise.

Signage at the main entrance was good – directional arrows. I didn’t see any outside or elsewhere inside.

We were welcomed by a number of people whose interest seemed genuine.

Their music person, Mike Neely, played and sang some contemporary music before the service and is a real asset to worship.

The offering was taken prior to the Word preached, but I understand this is not always the case.

While we were blessed to take Communion, it was served silently. The invitation was well put, that it is open to all, weak and strong, hungry and sated, etc.

The sermon was “God’s Abundant Table”; in prayer we ask God to “give us our daily bread” without a thought of how much more we are asking for and without a thought of how much more our Father provides. My favorite was “Don’t question the Cook.” Being the cook in the family, I was of a kindred spirit. That our God provides the bread that sustains us, not the pastries of the world that don’t last.

Most of the church that we saw seems to be in good repair. The kitchen is open to the social area with accordion doors to close it off when desired. Do not know how handicapped-accessible the social area is, but it could be a real asset.

There is very limited parking, so the main appeal should be to locals. The most important change for this church would be in attitude. They don’t seem to be a particularly inward church, only a defeated one. What I got from those I spoke with is we are a dying church; not a good place from which to start.

I would recommend this church prayerfully consider stepping out in faith. Clean the stained glass and let Jesus shine out into the community. Offer free dinner to the local residents. Give them God’s daily bread. If you are doing God’s will in the neighborhood, people will want to worship with you. Just being Presbyterian is not a good enough reason to keep doing it like we always have. A stagnant church is a sign of death. You can be Satan’s friend and do nothing or God’s servant, but you can’t serve Christ and be still.

I spent a good portion of the day in prayer, wondering why God sent us to this church. I believe He does not want you idle in His Church. As a Marine, we have a simple creed: improvise, adapt, and overcome. Step out in faith and God will bless your efforts.

Much as we find our prayer for daily bread already answered, you are already blessed with much. Will you use it to God’s glory?

Jan’s thoughts:

Today was another one of those mornings when God put us into a church other than the one we planned to attend. That’s always so awesome!

Parking is sparse but we were able to locate a spot on the street. The building is very old and as we took our self-guided tour I saw handwritten notes and reminders that made me feel like we were in someone’s home.

The only signage I saw was in the narthex and consisted of a list of locations followed by directional arrows.

The stained glass is very intricate and striking, and looks like jewels, and if they were cleaner they’d be incredible.

The people were friendly, and we ended up talking for some time with one particular woman who had belonged there most of her life and so was able to convey much of the history of that church. As with so many churches (Presbyterian and otherwise), the time has passed when the pews were packed every Sunday and those in attendance heard powerful sermons from a pastor they had known all their lives. Today there were about 30 in attendance, and the woman with whom we spoke was clearly mourning the losses – human and otherwise.

The bulletin is one folded 8 ½ x 11 sheet containing the Order of Worship, the calendar, greeters’ names, prayer concerns, and church staff, with room left over.

Usually the seating options in a Sanctuary are either chairs or pews, but today we experienced something different: actual padded auditorium seats. Unfortunately the rows were situated uncomfortably close together, leaving me feeling squished.

The sermon was entitled “God’s Abundant Table” and tied in with the service of Communion. He spoke of all the abundance of food in our culture and how we pray for our daily bread “only to find our prayer already answered.” He also reminded his listeners that some days we are given a plate full of dessert and other days a plate full of broccoli, but they’re both given by a loving, all-knowing Provider who knows and gives us what we need each day. It was a good tie-in, as well as a good reminder.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cornerstone Church of Cranberry

Today we worshiped at Cornerstone Church of Cranberry, 709 Thomson Park Drive, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.772.2970,, Brett Probert, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

My impression was of a mini-mega-church that doesn’t aspire to be a mega-church. There is a good family feel of like-minded believers. The church meets in an adapted warehouse, which worked very well. Even the acoustics were ok. There is a large cross to one side and two projection screens: one for the congregation and one for the singers. One young woman played a sax, but I could not hear one note from it. Maybe the audio balance could use work, or just would need to be varied at times in to hear other instruments or singers. The offering was taken in response to the Word.

The coffee offered before the service was the best I have had in 50 years, and I don’t think I’ll go into why that was so memorable (since it involves moonshine…). Their coffee came from a nearby business that I will visit.

Attention to visitors was very good – a number of people welcomed us – and there was excellent signage. This is an inward-focused church which sets aside 10% of their income for mission, but it is used to fund an annual mission trip. I saw nothing to indicate any other outward mission.

The sermon on the lost art of kindness became graft and corruption from the pulpit. I must admit there was no pulpit; the graft involved being grafted to Christ, and sadly, the corruption is us. The message was well done with good Scriptural references and personal stories. Having grafted grapes for my mother many years ago, the vine-and-branches topic has always held special meaning for me, and I am currently planning a new orchard, so today’s message will probably stay with me longer. I thought relating personal struggles was a good way to reassure the congregation of the commonality of struggle.

Jan’s thoughts:

This church seems to go out of their way to be a non-church in physical ways: they emphasize that they do not have a building and meet in a renovated warehouse building, and the first statement on the front of the bulletin is that “Cornerstone Church isn’t a place, we are people.” But after attending a worship service and hearing all the Jesus talk, I doubt they’re fooling anyone.

The building is indeed still being renovated, but it’s very open with a corner café for liquid drinks (with lids provided, which is good), and donuts and cookies on tables in a large hallway outside the worship center. There was plenty of directional signage everywhere, making it easy to navigate.

The pastor stood in the entrance to the hallway, greeting people as they came in and keeping an eye out for visitors whom he greeted enthusiastically. I gave him the name of my co-worker, and he let her know we were there.

The atmosphere was casual but purposeful, the chairs were quite comfortable, and the people were friendly. It’s a very happy place with many children.

The bulletin contains a list of questions based on the sermon and a brief daily Bible reading and devotional also based on the message, along with a list of upcoming events and a weekly giving summary. All announcements are presented on the front screen before the service, and there is no Order of Worship per se. It seems to work.

Each week the children attend church they’re given a “God rock,” which is a flattened marble-size piece of glass that can be found in a craft store. (I’ve seen them used in a glass vase just for decoration…I just love them!) The first Sunday of each month the kids are allowed to use their God rocks to “purchase” small items or donate to a worthy cause (such as recently to help an ill classmate). I’m not quite clear on the details of how this is done, but the kids seemed to have a good time with them.

The sermon was based on Ephesians 4:32 and entitled “The Lost Art of Kindness.” The pastor confessed there were times this past week when he wasn’t as kind as he might have been but God did not display anger at him, instead He showed kindness. He encouraged intentional thoughtfulness and forgiveness of others simply because “God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). His boyhood memory of grafting a pear branch into the stump of an apple tree made a vivid example regarding the Biblical topic of grafting. He was animated and expressive with an excellent delivery of a pointed, engaging sermon.