Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chippewa United Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at Chippewa United Methodist Church, 2545 Darlington Road, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.843.4828,, Rev. Rodney E. Smith, Lead Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

I noticed no visitor or handicapped parking area or signage, but parking seemed adequate. We had a little time before the service to look around a bit and find restrooms; there is some directional signage.

In the narthex area we found a box of business cards for members to give when they invite people to attend. They contain they address and all contact information for the church along with days and times of worship services. What an excellent idea.

The worship was contemporary and we were prepared for it to be loud so we sat in the last pew. We didn’t notice till the music started that there was a row of speakers for the last few pews. The loudness, obnoxious bass, and poor balance between the audios drove us from the Sanctuary. There were chairs in the narthex area and an usher, realizing we had a problem with the volume, offered the elevator to the balcony. It would have been a good choice as there were windows to the Sanctuary but there were also speakers turned up.

Announcements were given before the service, but all the noise from the narthex area drowned out most of it.

I was surprised that the contemporary worship and Sunday school were scheduled for the same time.

The offering was taken before the Word, but maybe this is normal in the Methodist Church. As it was we were sitting in the chairs outside of the Sanctuary and could not get the ushers’ attention with our offering.

A large screen was down for the worship so I don’t know if there was a cross. It seemed like very Presbyterian seating as no one was in the front several pews; perhaps it was just too loud for them also. There is a closed circuit TV set up outside the Sanctuary, and from our vantage point we could see most of the parishioners during the praise worship. I was surprised at the lack of passion exhibited by the congregation, making it seem unexpectedly like performance worship.

The narthex area noise and coffee room chatter drowned out a lot of the sermon; what I could catch was about our faith, what do we really believe? We are drawn to the world’s way, to wallow in self-pity. It’s time to wake up the church.

There is an impressive schedule of events for the week, and a remarkable prayer list. There is a lot here for members but I could only find one small mention of mission.

Jan’s thoughts:

Some weeks I feel like we have to work to worship.

This church was promising upon our arrival – lots of parking, seasonal decorations outside (by seasonal I mean fall, not Halloween), a clean, modern, well-kept facility with very good signage and clean restrooms, a large but very informative – and not unwieldy – bulletin, even a couple of friendly people. (As a visitor it is common to be ignored by most church members when there are 2 or more services – people simply figure you generally attend another service so they tend not to greet you.)

This church has three services, and we intentionally attended the 9:45 contemporary service. We looked forward to singing some of our favorite worship songs and experiencing a relaxed atmosphere. We found seats in the very back row, but once the band started playing we had to search for somewhere farther away as they were so loud we felt the vibrations in our feet and it pained our ears.

An usher noticed we had moved and suggested we try the balcony, so we did. However, it was even louder than the area to which we had moved outside the back of the Sanctuary. So we ended up on a bench outside the Sanctuary, absolutely as far back as possible. The music was just bearable but the sermon was barely audible, and people were fellowshipping so loudly in a room nearby that it was impossible to hear much at all. All these distractions made it difficult to feel as if I had worshiped God, but the experience has certainly made me think.

What God has called us to do – visiting different churches – has its benefits as well as its shortcomings. Today’s worship experience was one of the more negative encounters which, though atypical, is still disappointing...and educational.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Camp Run Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Camp Run Presbyterian Church, PO Box 27, 489 Church Road, Fombell, PA 16123, 724.368.8446, Rev. Andy Shaffer, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Our directions to the church were good but when we realized how few road signs exist we realized we should have brought the GPS. As it was, we turned onto a road that had a Presbyterian Church marker and it turned out to be our original destination.

It is a little country church in a very “country” setting. The trees around the church in bright fall colors made a very welcoming appearance. We took a few minutes to tour the lower level and find the restrooms. It was not hard to find our way, but could benefit from some signage perhaps for the occasional visitor.

We were welcomed from when we reached the Sanctuary. There is a large central oak cross that matches the pews. It has the appearance of being massive and thick.

The time of welcome involved the whole church. I was disappointed that the offering was taken before the Word was preached. The pastor is receptive to change but I’m not too sure the congregation will be too willing. I sense they may be on the edge of making some decisions.

The message centered on our being rectified to God once by Christ’s sacrifice for us as our High Priest.

Jan’s thoughts:

We thought we were lost but then were found…

We thought we’d made a wrong turn, but then saw a sign pointing the way. The importance of signs down the street or a mile away can’t be overstated, whether the church is rural or urban. Today we were living proof that you never know when that one sign will be the only thing that gets a visitor to the door.

Fall is at its peak, and this quaint church was sitting there surrounded by God’s gorgeous handiwork.

The building itself is small – when we entered the Narthex and looked for a restroom it was quickly obvious we’d have to go downstairs as we could see most of the floor we were on. We went down the only stairs we could find and located the restrooms then looked around a bit. There were signs on the men’s and ladies room doors, but all other signs were of the handwritten “Please keep this door closed” variety. The building looked to be in good repair and well cared for. It has a definite “family” feel; it is obvious that everyone knows everyone else.

The pastor and several members greeted us prior to the service, and during the greeting time the rest of the congregation greeted us. We were thoroughly welcomed before, during, and after the service. Greeting time began first thing, even before the announcements, and took however long it took for everyone to greet everyone else.

The bulletin is well laid out and easy to read, with impressive use of varying fonts, typestyles, and white space. Also interesting to me was the liturgy written in the bulletin. The Call to Worship, Prayer of Confession, and Assurance of Pardon were almost childlike in their simple honesty. It was refreshing to hear a congregation confess “We talk about serving you, but we do not want the rank of servant. We have lots of ideas about what you might do to help the world and little commitment to what we might do in your name.” Thought-provoking words.

It also contained the most comprehensive and detailed sermon notes insert I’ve seen. Instead of “fill-in-the-blanks” it includes questions and Scripture references to locate the correct response so it can be used as a study guide throughout the week.

I was surprised when the pastor sat on a stool in front of a music stand, adjusted the microphone, and took off his wrist watch prior to beginning the message, but at this church it seemed more like a fireside chat. The message was called “Where is Our Place?” and he spoke of Jesus’ role as our high priest, as one to whom we can go when we feel discouraged and in need of strength and support.

Upon leaving we walked out to see the beautiful colors on the trees heightened by the sunshine. It truly ministered to my soul.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

First Presbyterian Church of New Brighton

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church of New Brighton, 1199 3rd Avenue, New Brighton, PA 15066, 724.846.6144,, Rev. John Dickey, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This is a church with a definite “old Presbyterian” look – a stone structure and large steeple. Inside we found great stained glass and woodwork, and the large central cross was framed by ornate woodwork.

The floor plan was somewhat unusual in that there seemed to be no way to reach the restrooms but through the front of the Sanctuary. I noticed no signage anywhere. The heating system banged loudly through part of the service.

I thought the bulletin was awkward, and I’m sure Jan will address it.

We were very warmly greeted when we entered and again during the greeting portion of the service. There were four Bible readings, and I was very pleased that the offering was taken in response to the Word.

The message, “Loosen Up,” worked around our need to give it up to God to be part of God’s Kingdom. There was mention of the Episcopal churches that seceded from the Diocese of Pittsburgh and wanted to take their property with them but the court ruled in favor of the Diocese. In a way they took what was important, as their ordination would remain intact.

During the announcements the pastor told of the Presbyterian Women donating money for a hospital in Japan and now the hospital is donating the same sum back to be used for mission efforts in Asia. You cannot outgive God. Giving above your tithe may not relieve your financial difficulties, but it does remove the worry when you give it up to God.

When I saw some young children in the congregation I was prayerfully optimistic that this was not just another “old” Presbyterian church at its last.

Jan’s thoughts:

While en route we thought we might have missed the church, but as we looked further down the street we guessed the building with a very tall steeple was where we were heading, and we were right. We were pleasantly surprised to see lots of on-street parking. It’s a large, old building, totally reminiscent of a time when mainline churches were filled to capacity every Sunday, when the men wore suits and ties and the women wore hats and gloves.

The Sanctuary is striking, the entire ceiling matching the dark wood of the pews, intricate stained glass throughout, a huge Chancel area with the choir loft up high and back against the wall and the pulpit in the center just below the choir. On the rear wall of the Chancel was a large cross, also done in dark wood, on a white background with dark wood scallops effectively creating a frame.

There were several positive points:

The people were friendly, many welcoming us prior to the service and during the greeting time (which no one rushed through).

The Prayer for Illumination was prayed prior to the reading of Scripture. I hardly ever see that; usually it seems to follow Scripture and precede the sermon (incorrectly, in my opinion). Then there was another prayer between the Scripture readings and the sermon and another following the sermon.

An Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, a Psalm read responsively, and a Gospel reading…it’s refreshing to hear so much Scripture during worship.

Although plain, the bulletin contained event invitations, a prayer list, and thank-yous; however, the layout was awkward because part of the Order of Worship was on a separate sheet inside the folded page. I was confused for a moment when I first opened the bulletin because the order seemed to begin with the Call to Worship, the Invocation, and the Gloria Patri directly to the Offertory and through to the benediction. I couldn’t find the sermon until I removed all the inserts and then found the rest of the Order of Worship.

As I have in the past, I would suggest keeping the Order of Worship on the one folded page (inside and back page) and including the rest of the inserts unfolded inside. That way when the bulletin is folded for use during worship it's possible to insert everything inside that's not worship-related and still follow the service without having to be concerned about loose sheets.

The sermon was entitled “Loosen Up,” and after reading Scripture from Job 23 and the 22nd Psalm, I was curious to hear a message with that title. The point was to hold loosely the things of this world, as the only eternal value they bear is in how we use them. Good point.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mosaic Community Church

Today we worshiped at Mosaic Community Church, 2801 North Charles Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15214,, Rev. Saleem Ghubril, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were grateful for the opportunity to transport a friend to worship at Mosaic. Frequently at contemporary worship services the volume is up high (a need to feel and hear the music perhaps?). Today I was very sensitive to the volume and went outside for the praise music. Perhaps it was due to recalibrating the sound system, but the audio at the beginning of the sermon seemed to go in and out. As always, I was disappointed that the offering was taken before the Word instead of allowing the offering to be a response to the Word.

The sermon was from Zechariah 8 on the restoration of Israel. An interesting emphasis with the repetition of “Thus says the Lord of Almighty.” Zechariah leaves no doubt Whose message he is delivering. Saleem developed this into a questioning of “why am I here? Am I existing and just going through the motions or accomplishing for Christ?”

Jan’s thoughts:

It is always a joy to visit Mosaic. The enthusiasm and friendly atmosphere make it such a comfortable place to visit, and it’s always uplifting to see good friends in Christ.

We arrived a little late so the music was underway, but we were still in time to sing a song that never fails to bring me to tears, “It is Well With My Soul.” Horatio Spafford’s haunting hymn was part of the music at church the day following the death of our son Dan, and for the rest of my life I’ll recall standing between two dear friends as they literally held me up and told me the history of this hymn while the three of us mourned our loss.

The final verse:
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Music is such a vital part of worship. I may not be able to sing, but I can certainly appreciate the words.

This was only the second time I’ve heard Saleem preach, and he is very engaging. As a friend observed, “he started out slow but the message was powerful.” It revolved around remembering one’s purpose, and for someone who was never quite sure of their purpose, it was still thought-provoking. However even without knowing the ultimate purpose of one’s life, one can still make it a point to remember one’s purpose in a given place at a specific time. Maybe that’s how one finds one’s purpose after all.