Monday, July 27, 2009

St. Paul's Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, 132 East Union Street, P.O. Box 261, Somerset, PA 15501, 814.445.5341, Rev. Keith M. Fink.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were just passing through the area on our way to Virginia, but it was worth the 90 mile trip just for the violin. I think we all associate the organ with church (and maybe hockey games), but for me the violin really speaks to me in worship. It was very well done and enjoyable.

We walked in just as the second service was starting so we didn’t get to meet anyone before the service, but on the way to thank the violinist afterward we did meet a few people. The worshipers seemed to embrace both the praise songs and the hymns. The congregation consisted of a good age mix. The Chancel boasted a very nice large central cross, and the Sanctuary was pleasing.

Some signage would be helpful as we had to ask the location of the restrooms. Also the offering was taken before the Word was preached.

The message was “Reversal of Fortune” based on Esther and the transference of blessings from Haman to Mordecai. The pastor’s enthusiasm was apparent and his passion easily took us to our own reversal of fortune of death in sin to life with Christ. Good message and well delivered.

Jan’s thoughts:

Sunday morning we were en route to northern Virginia for medical reasons, so we pulled off the turnpike and visited St. Paul’s. We arrived just a few minutes after the service began, and the folks who greeted us seemed friendly. The Sanctuary was nearly full, so we found seats in the back.

Some gracious ladies greeted us after the service and took time for some conversation.

The Sanctuary is nicely decorated and well coordinated with white walls and ceiling, dark wood trim around all the windows that matched the wood pews and the wood in the Chancel. The stained glass is traditional and quite beautiful.

We were blessed to hear a gifted young woman perform “Ave Maria” on the violin, and then to participate in some contemporary praise music – the best of both worlds.

The pastor is preaching through the book of Esther, and the sermon was based on chapter 8 of that book which is one of my favorites. I appreciated that he forewarned the congregation that he’d be reading the entire chapter, that it was rather lengthy, and suggested that they “discipline their minds” to attend to the Word of God. Perhaps this idea is proposed more often than I realize, but more often I hear concerns about reading “too much” Scripture so I appreciated his suggestion.

The sermon title was “Reversal of Fortune,” and contrasted the “Thens” and “Nows” of the book of Esther. I.e., Then: signet ring given to Haman (3:10) and Now: signet ring given to Mordecai (8:2), along with several other contrasts. Then the real point of the sermon, the “Thens” and “Nows” concerning life in Christ, i.e., Then: Dead in sin (Eph. 2:5), and Now: Alive in Christ (Eph. 2:5), etc. I sincerely appreciated the pastor’s enthusiasm…something sorely lacking in many pulpits – and hearts not in the pulpit – these days.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Baden United Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at Baden United Methodist Church, 420 Dippold Avenue, Baden, PA 15005, 724.869.2720,, Rev. D. Edward Bailey.

Bob’s thoughts:
This is a church that would be worth a visit even if you were not there for worship. The Sanctuary is A-frame style with very unusual stained glass. It seems less like stained glass than a section of wall built of chunks of colored glass, and the sun created beautiful patterns on the walls near the windows. There is a great metallic cross, centered, and the lighting is such that it creates a shadow of the cross on either side. The cross is hung in front of a back-lit metal screening which has large butterflies attached. The side walls have lovely banners; I particularly enjoyed the one with music symbols in the choir loft.

This great atmosphere to worship was enhanced by the welcome, as we were introduced to many and some sought us out afterwards.

I don’t think the mike was on for the Scripture readings, but we were near the back. I was pleased that the offering was taken in response to the Word.

There is almost no signage and it would take a bit to find your way around. We got to tour a little but a lot of the lower level resembled a school. And there was a large covered porch outside that I was curious about.

The minister was leaving on a camping trip right after the service, and I think he was already there. It was a good message, to kick back and relax and recharge, supplemented with some internet stories. Again we were in the back, but the minister was hard to understand.

Overall I sense this church to be in transition from inward to outward mission. I think they are answering God’s call and I would encourage them to go forward with what they have started.

I also appreciated the bulletin board dedicated to the military.

Jan’s thoughts:

I drive past this church twice each day, and since God didn’t seem to be leading us elsewhere, today seemed like a good day to check it out.

There was no parking lot but plenty of street parking and a perfect weather day to walk the short distance. We followed the lead of all the folks who seemed to be using the side entrance, and as we walked up the outside stairs we saw a porch – rather an unusual site at a church, but quite attractive.

We walked around downstairs some, but it was dark and very little was going on except for an adult Bible study, and then we encountered a gentleman who wanted to know if he could help us. He seemed to want to lead us back upstairs, so we headed that direction.

We decided to head toward the Sanctuary and find a seat. As we briefly spoke with the woman who handed us bulletins, we mentioned we were visitors and she quickly took my hand and led us toward the pastor’s study. She found him with some other folks, and excitedly introduced us to them all. She was an excellent person to have greeting visitors, as she was excited, animated, demonstrative, and more than willing to introduce us around. Someone else took over once we were seated, and he chatted with us and introduced us to more people.

The building was well kept, but we had to ask directions to the restrooms as there was almost no signage of any sort. The Sanctuary was quite beautiful. The pews were comfortably padded and set at a slight angle. There was lots of contemporary stained glass – abstract and very colorful. The rear wall of the Chancel was truly unique: it had white decorative wrought iron from floor to ceiling with a light green wall behind it and attractive back-lighting. Decorative butterflies of various sizes were attached to the wrought iron. Hanging from the ceiling in front of all this was a cross that was lit so as to cast a shadow on the walls on each side of the wrought iron. All this plus some gorgeous banners all the way down each side made for a striking view from where I sat.

The piano and choir were in the balcony to the rear of the Sanctuary, but easily heard.

The bulletin was two 8 ½ x 14” sheets folded in half and included the Order of Worship, attendance and giving figures, events for the week, a prayer list, and all sorts of announcements.

In his sermon, entitled “How to Kick Back, Relax, and Recharge!” the pastor spoke of the very common affliction these days in which we feel we must hurry, hurry, and hurry some more in order to simply keep our heads above water, never mind making any progress. There was plenty of Scripture read, but the one that was not read that kept running through my head was “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). I’m sure I’m not alone in the occasional realization that I strive too much, worry too much, too often believe that my efforts are what make the difference in any given situation. Then once in a while I am reminded, as I was this morning, that God has my back and is handling things way better than I ever could if I just let Him and “be still and know that HE IS God.”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The First Presbyterian Church (of Freedom)

Today we worshiped at The First Presbyterian Church, 600 4th Avenue, Freedom, PA 15042, 724.775.7833, Rev. William Banks.

Bob’s thoughts:

Some churches are so welcoming that you feel like family when you visit there. First Presbyterian of Freedom is one of those churches. To be so welcomed without pressure is an art. The congregation was about 30 people, and I believe we talked to most of them.

The Chancel is paneled in darker wood with a large central curtain. In front of the curtain is a very tall cross, creating a very impressive focal point. The stained glass is rather unusual, and I found one large window in the rear particularly impressive. The interior works very well together, and feels welcoming, personal, like family.

The church could use signage. We were early and had time to look around, and I found the basement restrooms by chance. I had hoped to pray with and for the pastor before the service, but did not have the opportunity.

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

The sermon was on the subject of Revelation 3:14-22, referred to as the “Letters of Christ,” the chastisement of the Church at Laodicea for being on the fence akin to the Mugwump Party of the late 1800s. Christ calls for the Church to be on fire, but for most we sit lamenting the loss of how it was. A church, like a heart, that is not on fire for Christ is the Devil’s best friend. Find a way to relight the spark or last one alive turn the light out as you leave. There was a father in church with his young daughter – that’s something to build on.

Jan’s thoughts:

The front door was open when we arrived, so we entered and took our usual self-guided tour. Surprisingly, no one appeared till we’d been there for about 20 minutes and had seen the downstairs and the Sanctuary.

It’s a small but well-maintained church, and even before anyone arrived I could sense the family-type atmosphere. Interesting architecture in the Sanctuary and Chancel. The rear of the Chancel wall features a floor-to-ceiling drapery with lighting (looked like windows) behind it. In front of the drapery was a wooden cross nearly as tall. It was somewhat stylized, flaring at the four ends, and matched the organ thingies that stuck out from the sides toward the top of the Chancel. It gave it all an integrated feel.

Most of the members present today were retirement age or older, but there was a dad with his very cute little girl of about 3 who flirted outrageously with my husband. (He, of course, hates when this happens… J.) The people were quite friendly and talkative, warm and welcoming, and many invited us to return. My sense is that this is a

The bulletin contained an order of worship, some announcements, and prayer requests in good-sized, very bold type – obviously age-appropriate. In addition to requesting prayers for families and friends of the congregation, each week they ask members to pray for two churches within the Presbytery, listing them by name along with the name of their pastors.

When it comes to the order of worship, it’s usually Bob who comments; however, this time I have an observation also. I was impressed that the Prayer for Illumination came before the Scripture readings. Most churches that still include such a prayer will place it after the Scripture and before the Sermon. I was glad to see someone with them in what I believe to be the correct order.

The sermon was based on Revelation 3:14-22 and entitled “The Church at Laodicea.” Apparently the pastor is preaching a series on the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation. This is the church that Christ says is neither hot nor cold and which He will spit from His mouth; the sermon warned against “fence-sitting” and stressed the importance of taking a stand for Christ.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Riverdale (United Presbyterian) Church

Today we worshiped at Riverdale (United Presbyterian) Church, 1555 Brodhead Road, Moon Township, PA 15108, 724.457.0207,, Rev. Allan R. Drake.

Bob’s thoughts:

When we got to the door of the church and saw that the service was to be outdoors, we almost went looking for another church. It was God’s guidance that we stayed.

The grounds were well maintained with plenty of parking. Signage wasn’t bad but visitors could benefit from some directional signs. We benefitted immensely by Sean, the church AV person, who gave us a guided tour, introduced us to the pastor and some members, and provided some history of the church. I was very impressed with the youth area, some good, dedicated space. Other than the nursery it is probably the most important dedicated space.

The worship service was outdoors. Some people sat on folding chairs, most were on blankets. The mobile wooden cross from the Sanctuary was outside also. There was not an order of worship; I do not know if one is normally projected on the large screen. The offering was taken before the Word.

Being the father of identical twins, it brought a special joy to my heart to watch some very similar-looking children.

Some great contemporary worship songs were chosen, but little passion was shown by the congregation. My impression is that the youth program is just getting started so hopefully the passion will grow with it.

The message, from Luke 10, was busy Martha and attentive Mary, that perhaps the most important was Mary and our focus on Christ. It was a good, simple message that was presented well but ran on with repeating.

Other than mention of a mission trip to Mexico there was little evidence of outward mission; this seems to be an internal church. They have just hired a Discipleship Director who may help their focus. He and his wife certainly sang well together.

Jan’s thoughts:

What a perfectly gorgeous day! We arrived early enough to allow for a tour of the building prior to worship but were surprised to discover a sign on the front doors indicating today’s worship service would be held outside on the lawn. Personally, I briefly considered suggesting to Bob that we go to another church we’d considered, but then we encountered an enthusiastic gentleman who took the time to show us around the building so I decided not to bring up the idea.

The facilities are beautiful and well kept with a truly gorgeous Sanctuary boasting lots and lots of stained glass. The padded pews are arranged at an angle, the cathedral ceiling is wood, and the balcony houses the permanent set-up of some impressive sound, lighting, and other audio/visual equipment and computers, for which our guide was responsible.

One wing of the building is devoted to the youth, and the two rooms we were shown were imaginatively decorated. One was a game room with foosball and several other activities and games, and the other was a café boasting bar-type seating, a kitchen area, and round tables with additional seats. Instead of paint on a couple of the walls, there was a huge blackboard. I could totally see youth having a blast in these areas.

We were told that the motto of Riverdale is “Come as you are,” so dress was not an issue (had I known I would’ve worn my jeans), and the worship is always contemporary in format. Surprisingly, this is the second church we’ve encountered recently that has chosen to forgo traditional worship altogether.

The atmosphere was relaxed but not overly friendly. A few women in front of us acknowledged us without actually saying hello and another woman several seats away initiated some conversation, but the only other people who spoke to us at all were the ones to whom we were specifically introduced.

The worship service was held outdoors with some large speakers aimed at a slight hillside where most of the people sat on blankets. There were some chairs off to the side for the older folks or anyone who didn’t want to sit: 1. on a blanket on the ground, 2. in the sun, or 3. in front of the large speakers. We sat on the chairs because we fell into all three categories.

The music was uplifting (strictly contemporary) and included a favorite of mine, “Days of Elijah,” which I love and haven’t sung in some time. The pastor played guitar and led in the singing as well…he’s very gifted. Lots of children came down for the children’s sermon, and we had been told that there’s never a problem with the children staying with parents throughout the service, even if they make some noise.

Since there was no bulletin, I don’t know the title of the sermon. It was based on the story of Martha and Mary and Martha’s request of Jesus that He tell Mary to help her with the work. Instead, however, Jesus told Martha that Mary was doing the more important thing in spending time with Him. The pastor pointed out that many in the congregation were leading “Martha” lives and needed to re-arrange their priorities to make time for “the more important thing” (spending time with Jesus). He said he understood this because the Holy Spirit had recently convicted him of this, so he was fervent in his efforts to persuade his flock to also take steps in this direction. Knowing nothing of the lives of anyone in the congregation, I won’t argue with him.

However, the sermon did make me ask if perhaps my life is too Martha-like, which I suppose is the point – to get us to at least ask the question. Hopefully, when God answers the question the ears of my heart will be open to hearing His response.