Monday, December 28, 2009

Baden United Methodist Church

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

Bob’s thoughts:

We needed a church that was close by that our daughter and family could attend that would allow them to meet up with friends. Shortly after arriving, two of my grandchildren got a little loud and Jan and my daughter took them to a nursery area.

At most churches we have felt very welcomed with children. Even though we sat toward the back I noticed a number of frowns around us. The front of the Sanctuary had more children being children, so I guess we sat in the wrong section. Oddly, when I reunited with my family I noticed that the nursery wasn’t staffed.

My youngest granddaughter fell asleep in my arms (while teething) and I honestly was so enraptured that the service faded as I thanked God for this little blessing.

God used the time to renew us all. Jan and our daughter needed time together and I needed to look at a sleeping baby to see God. I pray He guides this church to be a welcoming presence and blesses them as He blessed us.

Jan’s thoughts:

With children aged 4, 2, and almost 5 months, it’s a struggle for our daughter and son-in-law to attend church, although at home they manage to do so regularly. We attended this church because it was nearby and we recalled their friendliness from our prior visit. Shortly after we sat down the pastor invited the children to come forward, so I took the 4- and 2-year-olds up and sat with them on the Chancel. Of the three of us, I was the only one who noticed that the pastor never looked at them, which made me feel sad at their seeming to be excluded.

Soon afterward we felt they were too loud, so we left the Sanctuary. An usher escorted us to the nursery and showed us where the toys were kept, and my daughter and I were able to sit and talk without worrying about the kids’ volume while they played.

I was grateful for the opportunity to spend some quality mother/daughter time with our daughter, and through His presence I believe it was another of God’s gifts to us. He is such a generous God!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chippewa Alliance Church

Today we worshiped at Chippewa Alliance Church, 3629 37th Street Ext., Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.846.2070,, Tom Ranney, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This church has a large parking lot and governor’s drive. There is a much-appreciated roofed area to discharge passengers, although after the service two cars pulled in and parked there. Considering how icy the parking area was, I was probably not alone in wishing I could have utilized that area when we left.

We were early and toured a bit. I liked seeing names on some of the classrooms – a good feature for a new person. The signage throughout was good.

The sanctuary is multi-purpose with a gymnasium floor, a basketball hoop at one end, a stage on the other end, and set up side-to-side for worship. There was a large wooden cross above the stage and engineered beam arched ceiling. I have always thought a multi-purpose room to be very good stewardship of church space. It can be hard to justify a space that is used only one hour a week.

When the youth pastor was speaking it was louder and there was a definite echo. This is the toughest problem with this type of room. The head pastor was not as loud and was more understandable. I enjoyed the children’s song that included sign language.

I thought it would help some to include a female to help lead the singing. The choir was very good. I would like to have heard more solos, but they were good together.

Thought the sermon was theologically correct and great question of who do we say Jesus is? We gratefully receive salvation but are not so quick to acknowledge Him as Lord. The sermon built very slowly for me, wished maybe it started with Christ proclaiming the fulfillment of the Scriptures. I sense this pastor has great compassion and is probably excellent in hospital and grief ministry. It helps to include a personal story to get the message across. I think this congregation could use some excitement.

From the Missionary Alliance churches we have visited one common thread seems to be a lack of heart in worship. Maybe it was just my higher expectation of an advent service.

Jan’s thoughts:

The driveway was scraped but could have used some salt also. We took advantage of a nice little overhang at the entry which provides protection from the weather as passengers are dropped off.

Once we had been inside for 5 minutes or so a few people spoke to us, but they seemed quite unsure whether we were visitors. This nearly always happens when the church has more than one service, but it’s unusual when there is only one service.

The layout is unique with plenty of space, good signage, and many displays in the hallway-type narthex.

Great skill is employed in creating a nicely-decorated and functional worship space in the gymnasium. The chairs were padded and quite comfortable and the sound system was perfectly adequate with no necessity to shout. The choir sounded great, and all the words to all the music and liturgy were displayed on the screen. The only issue I had was a personal one due to an ear condition, and that was the hum of the lights. Most people wouldn’t even notice it.

As I said, the worship area was very nicely decorated, with a makeshift chancel bearing seasonal greens and Christmas trees, beautiful wreaths on the wall, and a Christmas tree on the one side. All the decorations definitely made it easy to get into the spirit of the season.

The people were friendly but very tentative. It’s always awkward when greeting time rolls around and everyone speaks to their friends and visitors are left standing there willing to meet people but unable to get anyone’s attention.

The sermon was part of a series called “His Wonderful Names!” and this week’s was “The Meaning of Messiah.” I appreciated the outline included in the bulletin and shown on the screen. The best thing about the message was that he pulled no punches; he stated unequivocally that any preaching that states there is another way besides Jesus Christ to get to Heaven is wrong, and that the currently popular “prosperity gospel” is a cult and idolatry. He could not have been more plain-spoken, and anyone who left wondering where he stood on the issue was simply not paying attention.

One highlight was the opportunity after the service to greet a Marine (in dress blues, no less!). He was home from boot camp and would be reporting to Camp Lejeune after the New Year. As happy as we were to meet him and proud for him as a new Marine, that still brings all the memories flooding back, but I love witnessing a young man of probably about 19 shaking hands with my husband at 62 and saying, “Semper fi, bro!”

I pray God will bless him and all those serving our country, along with their families.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Today we worshiped quietly at home, as the ice prevented safe travel. We listened to sermons online from the past two weeks on the Centreville Presbyterian Church (Centreville, VA) website. The pastors are Rev. Rob Bromhead, Senior Pastor, and Rev. Michelle Fincher, Interim Associate Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We had a lot of ice this morning and a steady rain adding to it, so we decided to stay in. Some of the podcasting churches were having music programs today, so we listened to sermons from Centreville Presbyterian in Virginia.

Someone recently raised some questions based on our blog, specifically about how we rate the aesthetics of churches we visit. From the little we write I was surprised at the conclusion, but hearing the question gave me cause to think about what we say and what we don’t.

I doubt God cares about the details of worship nearly as much as He cares about the heart. My concerns over where in the worship service the offering is taken should be of no concern. I can’t help but notice it, but do not feel I am judging. When I lament the lack of a cross in a Christian worship serivce, I am mourning the personal loss.

In listening to a sermon independent of the service, some things are clearer. All the rest of the service is part of worshiping God, but I think those elements can take on an importance of their own that takes away from our personal worship of God.

Often when I hear a message I am wondering, “Why do pastors have to keep going over some things?” We must get it by now.” I have come to realize that some of us don’t get it, and that all of us need reminded. Our memory changes, our situations in life change. Maybe it is a completely new message today because of these changes much the way the Bible speaks differently to my current needs every time I read it.

One sermon today was on how we don’t fall in love with marriage, we fall in love with a person. Immediately God brought to my memory how I fell in love with Christ, not religion. When we fall into love of religion, the trappings of our worship separate us from our love of Christ. We come to God with the world’s “Show me!” not with God’s, “Trust Me!”

Jan’s thoughts:

After hearing about a slew of accidents in the area due to icy roads, we decided to do what we did following Bob’s surgery and worship quietly at home. After what we heard online, though, we wanted to share it.

One of the Virginia churches we visit on occasion is Centreville Presbyterian, where we’ve gotten to know some wonderful people and very much appreciate the pastor, Rob. This church has a new Interim Associate Pastor who is also first-rate, although the opposite of Rob in nearly every other way. She speaks in even, measured tones and often with little emotion, unlike Rob whose vocal inflections change constantly and who seems to ad lib surprisingly often. I suspect they complement each other well and ironically the sermons we heard were interwoven in content.

As an aside, I subscribe to the podcasts of these sermons and one of the things I appreciate most is that the podcasts include the Scripture immediately prior to the message and the prayer immediately following.

First we listened to Michelle’s sermon from November 29 entitled “God Speaking in a Personal Way.” In this message she pointed out that faith does not come from having our questions answered, but more often as the result of a crisis. She spoke of how we all must overcome our personal obstacles to believing God, and about the difference between understanding and acceptance. Ultimately, God has invited us into relationship with Him, and that requires more than intellectual assent. It requires our hearts.

Next we heard Pastor Rob’s sermon from last week, “Coming to Terms.” Rob has a unique way of communicating his point to the congregation, and this week was no exception. He began by talking about being irked when people say they are committed to marriage. As strange as that may sound coming from a pastor, it was understandable when he defined his terms: he didn’t want his wife to be committed to marriage, he wanted her to be committed to him. The difference between a categorical commitment (to marriage) and a personal commitment (to Rob). And so it is with God – it must be personal.

He showed a video testimony (unfortunately we could only listen, but I was glad we could do that). A young man named Chris had been an atheist and told of his journey to faith. He had challenged God to prove His existence, and when God did not, Chris moved into his life as an atheist “with a clear conscience.” However, following a series of events, at 27 years of age he realized that he had been taking advice from the 17-year-old version of himself and decided in his heart he wanted to know the truth. So he prayed for God to show him – in His way and in His time – whether or not He existed.

Rob ended with, “God so loved the world that He refused to be a category and did something personal.” Amen, and praise God!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Providence Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Providence Presbyterian Church, 9019 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax, VA 22031, 703.978.3934,, Rev. Dr. Michael P. Burns, Pastor, and Rev. Mary E. Rodgers, Associate Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We attended Providence for our granddaughter’s baptism. We were early but parking appears more than adequate. This weekend we experienced one of the rare early snowfalls in Virginia, and while the parking area was plowed and salted and most walkways were cleared, one large section of walk was snow-covered. There was little signage outside, but good direction inside. We got to tour a little but this is a large facility and I’m sure we missed a lot.

I don’t recall being welcomed in particular beyond the passing of the peace, but almost all we saw gave a welcoming smile. I think most churches with more than one service just think they haven’t met you.

We saw some outstanding banners on burlap and “stained glass” panels on Plexiglas in the youth area. Very well done bulletin boards and displays. There is a table decorated with poinsettias in the narthex with cards to be signed and sent to those serving in the military. The table is directly under a domed skylight that was partially snow-covered…very cool – no pun intended. There were quite a few military listed in the bulletin.

I was pleased to see so many references to mission and an apparently active youth contingent.

We worshiped at the contemporary service and I was pleased with how many children I saw besides our grandchildren - always a sign of a healthy church. The offering was taken in response to the Word, and I don’t know if there was a large cross in front as the screen was down.

We learned after the service as the chairs were being moved and tables set up that we were in a multipurpose room and the Sanctuary was elsewhere. We did find the Sanctuary later: it was very tastefully decorated. Hope to return sometime to hear the impressive-looking organ.

The Elders were well trained in Communion service and offered the elements verbally. The bulletin covered both services and had many inserts which I found a bit confusing. I was blessed to hold my latest granddaughter during the service, so my notes taken during the sermon were unreadable. I had previously handed another granddaughter off to Jan for the service, so we were both so blessed.

There was a large display of literature dealing with abuse, domestic violence, neglect, etc., including the congregation’s response to these issues. I hope to check out this information on our next visit.

Another highlight was a notice in the bulletin of the shawl ministry, different than most: “You are welcome to borrow one if the service area feels cool to you on Sunday morning.”

There were a lot of positive aspects about this church and I am very glad we have family worshiping here.

Jan’s thoughts:

First the disclaimer: We – along with the rest of our family – visited Providence for the baptism of our granddaughter, Ashton. Consequently, there were some, shall we say, distractions during the service, albeit very loving ones!

This church building is quite large and very well laid out. A great deal of obvious thought was given during the planning, and I must believe some members possess extraordinary gifts in decorating, because it presents quite a beautiful appearance. One thing after another appealed to my sense of organization:
Upon entering the welcome area I noticed a large table with poinsettias arranged in a vertical fashion. On the table were greeting cards (Christmas, probably) with pens for members to sign;
A perfect little coat room;
All sorts of bulletin boards for all the activities of the church (youth, upcoming events, service opportunities, Logos, adult education, financial commitment, prayer ministries, missions) which coincide with the categories in the bulletin. Also various literature racks quite attractively laid out containing information about just about anything in the church and community;
Excellent signage allowed us to find our way around, with my lack of directional sense my only hindrance;
A gorgeous conventional Sanctuary for the traditional service and a well-appointed fellowship hall hosts the contemporary service.

OK, enough about the building. What about the church? It’s always different when we attend church with our children. There was a time when the church we attended accepted our children as an extension of us; now when we visit our children’s churches, I have a sense that we are accepted as an extension of them.

The people were friendly in spite of somewhat limited opportunities since Bob and I were holding little ones throughout. Immediately after worship one of the women introduced herself and gave me nametags for both of us.

The worship music was fantastic: the praise band is so gifted and not just musically. After worship I watched as our 4-year-old grandson Luke, who just loves guitars and music (especially country music), slowly walked toward the stage awestruck by the sight of the instruments. One of the guitar players, Chris, thoughtfully brought his guitar down to Luke’s level and let him strum it. Afterward Luke hugged the guitar and I sincerely thanked Chris for his kindness.

The sermon, “A Piece of Peace,” centered on the hope of finding some peace in this season. I had a 2-year-old on my lap throughout the service so I know some of what I heard did not stick (OK, much of it slid out of my memory…), but there was one line that stuck with me: “Joy has a much longer shelf life than happiness.” There’s a lot of truth in that. We tend to make happiness our goal, but happiness is transitory and often situation-based. Joy takes a lot more effort to find, but it also lasts a lot longer. And the best part is that it’s based on Someone Who, once you find Him, will never let you go.

I look forward to visiting this church again, although it is a bit of a commute.