Monday, December 27, 2010

Christ's Continued Blessings

With all of our children, spouses, and grandchildren in town, we looked forward to worshiping together, but guess we should have seen it coming when our son was the only one able to join us on Christmas Eve. By Sunday the grandbabies were getting sick and it made sense to return home and do what we could to help.

We managed to wash the sheets (before the washer broke), and the families are on their way home today.

Last month we were surprised with the news that one daughter and son-in-law are expecting twins next June, and on Christmas Day we were blessed with the news that we will have not two, but three more grandchilren by next Christmas. All in all, God has blessed us beyond anything we could have hoped or imagined.

We hope you were richly blessed this Christmas also, and that God continues to bless you in the New Year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Clinton United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Clinton United Presbyterian Church, 25 Wilson Road, P.O. Box 175, Clinton, PA 15026, 724.695.7993, www.clintonupchurch.org, Rev. Laura E. Strauss, Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

A pretty country church with soft stained glass, tastefully decorated for Christmas. In addition to the cross on the Communion table, there was a large one on the wall and one above with a window effect.

They have good signage, and we were welcomed well. We sat towards the front to be with friends and had good seats for the Children’s Sermon, which was well done, a good length, and the children responded well.

There was no evidence of joy from the choir, but the pastor’s genuine smile made up for it.

The sermon wove around adoption: Joseph’s adoption of Christ, our adopting of Christ, to our adoption by Christ. We are welcomed to “Christ’s Home” with all ties to our former sinful lives severed.

I appreciated a time for silent prayer – very powerful in a corporate setting. I enjoyed seeing how Christ led the Elder in the mission moment; when He ignites the passion, it’s great to be used. I wondered what other missions may be supported.

I felt called to pray for the pastor and the church and felt/saw an aura that I interpreted as Christ’s blessing. I recall talking with young children in church who always saw the angels there that we adults are too old/staid to see.



Jan’s thoughts:

We had wanted to visit this church to catch up with an old friend, and we finally made it. We had a happy reunion with our friend and her daughters, both of whom were very young when we saw them last. We were glad for an opportunity to chat and catch up as well as get to know the girls some.

The building is well kept and beautifully decorated for Christmas. The facility was a bit confusing downstairs, but the signage helped greatly. The people were friendly: even before we caught up with our friend, folks were recognizing us as visitors and greeting us with introductions and questions.

There was color everywhere: the red carpet, the Chancel covered in red poinsettias, the choir in their red robes, beautifully crafted Christmas banners hanging on the walls, lighter but no less beautiful shades in the stained glass. I think the color added to the excitement in the air – it was awesome!

The bulletin was well done and user friendly.

The children participated enthusiastically in the Children’s Sermon, which centered on where there was room for the Baby Jesus in the nativity scene. This tied in perfectly with the sermon.

The sermon, entitled “He Has Come,” was based on Romans 1:1-7 and Matthew 1:18-25. The pastor explained that Jesus’ birth was all about adoption: literal, metaphorical, and divine. Jesus was literally adopted by Joseph once He entered this world; He is metaphorically adopted by us as “our Lord,” and we are divinely adopted by God.

The pastor told the story of her parents’ adoption of her younger brother and her vivid memories of his arrival at their home. She pointed out that when a child (or anyone) is adopted as part of a family, the family must physically make room for its new member, and asked “Have we made room in our hearts for the adopted Christ?” A good question, I think…any time of year.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hebron Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Hebron Presbyterian Church, 1767 Route 30, Clinton, PA 15026, 724.899.2276, www.hebronatclinton.org, Rev. George L. Leitze, Interim Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

We were led again today, this time to Hebron Presbyterian Church. The church has the look of a modern building with muted blue classical stained glass in the Sanctuary. We found good but somewhat misleading signage: the restrooms are identified and signage indicating additional restrooms upstairs or down, but are single capacity.

There was a screen with announcements before the service, but it was not used at all during the service. The Prelude and music throughout was exceptional, and the anthem was very impressive. Also a good age mix to the choir, and some smiled – they loved worshiping in song.

Though the bulletin had a lot of inserts, I still thought it was easy to use. There is an atrium-type feel to the entrance, welcoming even with stairs. Some of the little things that make me smile were there – the large cross, and the Offering taken in response to the Word, and one of the warmest welcomes we have received. There was intentionality to the greetings before and after the service, even to the woman who inquired as to our lunch plans after.

They refer to themselves in the bulletin as “a lively country church.” There were a number of children in worship and I understand this was less than usual.

The sermon, “Defying Reason” was Christ in a nutshell. To come and sacrifice His life for a bunch of worthless sinners, the love story of Christ. A love that transcends reason, thanks be to God.

There are some good things at Hebron that could be great. We had the opportunity to donate to a mission to provide Pack & Play units for an East Liberty Health Care Center, and there is a good involvement with Angel Tree and a food pantry. There is also an impressive prayer ministry going on.

From what I could discern, they are missing the amazing blessing of tithing. The opportunity is there to worship God with His tithe and your offering, and you will be overwhelmed by the blessings. You can not out-give God, but please try.


Jan’s thoughts:

Again today we ended up at a church we did not set out to attend, but I must believe we were where God wanted us nonetheless.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Interim Pastor at this church was a gentleman with whom I had served on Pittsburgh Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry some years ago.

This is a small-ish country church, very well maintained inside and out. Well-coordinated woodwork, delightful stained glass windows, with a different, offset Chancel, and great signage. We had no trouble finding anything here, as many of the signs stuck out from the walls. Downstairs there were signs specifically stating that the restrooms were upstairs, so someone was thinking like a visitor.

The bulletin was well laid-out and easy to read. The people were extremely friendly: easily half the congregation greeted us before and after worship, and it felt unforced and genuine. One woman noticed Bob’s Marine Corps shirt and thanked him for his service. Many people who extend gratitude to a veteran have no idea how much that means, especially to someone who served in Vietnam.

The Children’s Time brought to the front probably 15 young ones (which we were told was down from the usual 20 or more!). In talking about lighting the Advent Candle of Love this morning, this time seemed at first to morph into a Minute for Mission, but further explanation made me realize it was more of a “hands-on” lesson in the meaning of love: the congregation is collecting funds to purchase 50 Pack & Plays for children in need. I was very touched, both for the mission itself and for the lessons taught to the children in giving and loving.

The music was very well done, and it was a joy to both watch and listen to the choir’s untitled anthem. It was upbeat, and the joy was apparent.

The sermon was titled “Defying Reason” and was based on Isaiah 63:7-9 and I John 3:11-18. The moment I read the title I felt God speaking to me with the resolution to an issue with which I was dealing. And when I heard the pastor say that “love transcends reason and sense,” the resolution to my issue was clear. By the end of the service my heart echoed the pastor’s words when he prayed that God would “help us to be unreasonable.”

I’ve been struggling to decide whether or not to take certain steps that would enhance the view some others have of me or to forego those steps and depend instead on God’s provision. This sermon forced me to remember that depending on God is the better choice.

I doubt anyone else heard this sermon the way I did, but that’s often the beauty of God’s Word in worship – the Holy Spirit helps us hear what our Heavenly Father knows we need to hear, which is usually different from what everyone else present needs to hear. And it’s reassuring to be shown once again that He knows me – and each of us – individually and perfectly. What a magnificent God we serve!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Valley Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Valley Presbyterian Church, 237 Main Street, Imperial, PA 15126, 724.695.0300, www.valleychurchweb.com, Rev. Jeri-Lynne Bouterse, Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

Again God led us to where He wanted us to be, and today I learned not to write the name of the church on our offering check until we know which church He has us in.

Some things I noted: a major improvement in signage, the restrooms have been remodeled, the children’s message was projected on the front screen, well done (i.e., easy-to-use) bulletin. This church has impressive stained glass, and I realized there is something very calming about the colorations in the glass.

The choral introit sounded like the worship and praise I believe it was intended to convey. Some places, I have heard it presented sounding more like a funeral dirge.

The church was nicely decorated for Advent and I enjoyed the children lighting the candles. The children’s message seemed to go a little long.

The congregation seemed very attentive to the message: do we welcome all as Christ did? Maybe more of WDJD…can we do more of what He did?

This congregation seems poised to go forward with Christ’s leading for Valley Church. They seem ready to make a difference for Christ, and I’m sure the Devil is watching and planning his attack. I pray the members will be strong in Christ, and I look forward to the exciting ministry to come.


Jan’s thoughts:

I had wondered if God could still “misdirect” us if we used the GPS, and today that question was answered with a resounding “YES!”

I mapped out the route to the church we planned to attend, but the printed directions led us directly to a dead end. (For the record, I hate to include these details…I’m really a very capable person, but when God wants us somewhere besides where we are headed, He always manages to win. Duh…I’m learning…)

So, we ended up at Valley where our friend Jeri-Lynne is the pastor. This church remains a friendly one; people greeted us before, during, and after the service.

The Sanctuary is aesthetically pleasing, and it doesn’t hurt that the carpet is a deep purple (which I love), with almost-matching pew cushions. The walls are a soothing neutral shade, and the stained glass is lovely. The Chancel is asymmetrical, but balanced. The Christmas decorations were charming also, with all the colors working well together.

Instead of a photo of the church building adorning the front of the bulletin, it was printed with children’s hand-decorated embellishments. What a great way to include the youth in this season of celebration.

The choir was sweet-sounding and joyful.

The Message for Young Christians was immediately followed by the Lighting of the Advent Candles, and both were displayed on the front wall so all present could see.

The sermon, “Waiting for a Welcome Sign,” was based on Isaiah 11:1-10 and Romans 15:4-13 and centered around the unconditional welcome Christ extended to everyone with whom He came into contact. The question is, should we do less?

Communion was celebrated by intinction, and the servers spoke as we partook. Bob comments on this often, but today I noticed myself how much it meant to hear the words. I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s right, the Sacrament is more powerful when I am reminded that these elements represent the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ who died for me…even me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Presbyterian Church of Sharon

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church of Sharon, 600 E. State Street, Sharon, PA 16146, 724.981.2211, www.1stpcs.org, Rev. Dr. Glenn Hink, Senior Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

I have said that I am not surprised how Christ uses us in this ministry or how we have been re-directed, to His glory, in our efforts, but I still am amazed when the focus changes.

We chose a church that was near a hospital where we needed to make a visit. Ministering to someone who is seriously ill was how God was using us today, but I got to experience a meaningful Advent worship service.

When we arrived at the church, it was quiet and the Sanctuary was empty. I thought the website time was wrong till I found a bulletin that referred to an 8:30 worship. We heard singing and assumed it was a choir rehearsal, but when we went to investigate we found the early service underway in a small chapel area off of the main Sanctuary.

We didn’t get to look around much, but this church could use some signage. The Sanctuary has truly amazing stained glass and wood work.

The men’s room that I found had a wallpaper border strip with a wildlife motif. (I can imagine today’s hunters studying the deer, with buck season starting tomorrow.) However, there is a grade in that hallway that took me by surprise and would benefit from some stripes or anti-slip strips.

I found the bulletin a little confusing. Worship was a Chrismon Service. The intermingled message Scripture and song were effective in presenting Christ’s birth and mission. The symbolism behind partaking of the Communion bread when served and taking the cup together was explained. Although Communion was served silently, when I heard someone else in the rear also state what they were serving, it warmed my heart.

I didn’t doubt that the music dated to the 17th century, but there was an enjoyable rendition of the “Carol of the Bells” during the offertory.

The Advent candle was lit from a box of kitchen matches, and while it seems odd to notice this, those matches were a staple in my house when I was young. They were used to light the pot belly stove, our lamps, and candles. A simple thing that made me feel at home.

The Advent message was God’s focus for me this morning, and the man we went to see off is not afraid to meet his Master…he is looking forward to Christ.



Jan’s thoughts:

This building is a beautiful, very old, building, with the most impressively intricate stained glass I have seen anywhere. The windows are huge, the floor is like polished brick, and the ceiling boasts unique, detailed wood work.

For many years this church presented the “Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival” each January, which I attended once many years ago. They took a hiatus for a time, and this coming January will again present this festive, symbolic production. (If you’d like to see some photos of the Sanctuary and last year’s festival, use the link above to visit the church’s website and on the homepage click on this event as it scrolls through the box on the left. They are definitely worth the time, and you’ll see what I mean about the Sanctuary – a truly distinctive structure!)

It was dark when we arrived, and we saw no signage, so we followed the sounds of singing, which led us to a chapel immediately adjacent to the Sanctuary. In this intimate setting we found 15-20 people in worship, and we joined them. I wished we had not been late.

There was no sermon; instead it was a Chrismon Service. This was new to me, so the explanatory paragraphs in the bulletin were helpful. Communion was also celebrated, and only slightly differently than I’ve seen before. I was grateful for the pastor’s explanation prior to beginning: he indicated that the bread would be served first and the congregation should partake when they receive it to indicate the individual nature of each person’s relationship with Christ. Then the cup would be served, and this should be held until all had received it and everyone would drink together to indicate the commonality of our faith. (Some of the words may not be exactly right, but the meaning is there.)

The people were friendly, with more than a few greeting us following worship. One staff member spent a good deal of time talking with us and we learned we had a great deal in common. We have agreed to keep in touch via email, which I look forward to.

Perhaps one day God will bring us back for the 10:30 a.m. service…or maybe even the Boar’s Head Festival!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Calvary Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Calvary Presbyterian Church, 1099 Sixth Avenue, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.843.6790, home.comcast.net/~padat/calvary.htm, Rev. Dr. Paul Holland, Stated Supply Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

God has been busy showing me the fallacy of my misconceptions, and I am so thankful when He opens my eyes.

This is an older inner city church with great wood work ceiling, etc., the style of the old Presbyterian churches. Some of the things God brought to my attention: for those who have trouble making it up the steps to the Sanctuary, the service is broadcast to a TV at ground level. There is an internally-lit glass cross hung in front of the organ pipes. The stained glass is stained and dirty, much like us, but it shone with the morning sun.

The congregation is small in number: the pastor said about 20 in worship out of a membership of 50. I think they hope to stick it out till the end, but they are not quitting. This weekend they held a Hope Chest Ministry to give out free clothing, etc. to the needy of the neighborhood. They may be small in number, but are doing what they can to serve Christ.

We were warmly greeted by a number of people.

I think I would have thought the organ was too loud, but with the few worshipers it had the opposite effect – the people sang louder. The choir was two people. I admire a church that won’t quit…they are still serving Christ.

The sermon raised some interesting points and gave some things to think about, especially the invitation to harass God.

Something I appreciated was after the pastor laid up the basics of his sermon, he took time to pray for enlightenment.


Jan’s thoughts:

A beautiful older facility with lots of steps, nicely cared-for and lovingly kept. The building is older, but there are many points of interest: remarkable stained glass, an incredible pipe organ, arc-shaped pews, and an amazing multi-faceted wooden ceiling.

The people were quite friendly and helpful; many introduced themselves and greeted us with genuine warmth. The pastor explained that the congregation understands their mission to be that of serving the immediate neighborhood, so they carry out various projects to support their outreach efforts.

The bulletin is user-friendly and easy to read.

The sermon was based mostly on Genesis 18:22-33 but also various verses of Psalm 106, and was entitled “Grace & Gratitude.” After pointing out how Abraham spoke to God in pleading over Sodom and Gomorrah, he pointed out that we, like Abraham, approach God on the basis of our past relationship with Him. That on that basis we have a level of comfort in our relationship with God that means we don’t have to be afraid and that because we know God more we are better able to receive His blessings. He said that we have not only the right to harass God, but that when Jesus taught to “persevere in prayer” He was actually inviting us to harass God.

I understand that to some degree we approach God on the basis of our past relationship with Him, but I believe that mostly we approach Him on the basis of our faith in Christ and His atoning work on the cross. No, we do not have to be afraid (scared) of God, but we should definitely fear (respect) Him. Hopefully we experience a comfort level with God that allows us to ask and continue to ask, but we’re to ask in faith. To my mind this means our faith drives us to ask (as did Abraham’s when he said to God, “Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Genesis 18:25b) based on our faith in Who God is.

Any time I have been on the receiving end of harassment, the “request” was, without exception, something for which the “requester” had no right to ask. I believe Jesus gave us permission to ask – and to continue to ask – and if we trust Jesus’ statements about persevering in asking, the harassment question is moot.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fountain Park Church

Today we worshiped at Fountain Park Church, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.779.2003, www.fountainpc.com, R. Mark Plumb, Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

Being at a church we are familiar with to celebrate our daughter and son-in-law becoming members afforded me a certain freedom.

We were greeted by people who thought they had seen us before and many exchanged “Hello” or “Good morning.” I noticed a number of friendly clusters of people around the Sanctuary before the service and noticed that my son sat alone at a table and no one approached him. I remembered how as a visitor the small groups could look like cliques to which you don’t belong, and how easy it is to make the visitor feel welcome.

I had the pleasure of watching a little girl who wasn’t saddled with our adult reservations and was free to dance to the praise songs; I appreciated her worship. I thought the Children’s Message was well done, a theological blending to make an Old Testament lesson current. The youth were engaged and the message was tied to the current theme.

There was a differentiation used in the sermon between “us” and “them.” As Christians we use these terms too often. We are called to change exactly this reality. You can use a Marine principle, “There are Marines and there are those who want to be.” There are many who would like to know Christ…we only need to make the introduction. We meet people every day who are searching, most times they don’t know for what or Whom.

Part of the sermon dealt with being salt and light, the uses of salt to melt ice, improve taste, etc. Salt was and is used in some unusual ways as a medicine and thought that a good analogy taking healing to those different from us. I thought the LifeSavers tossed to the congregation were the best metaphor: we have that chance to save a life by introducing the lost to Christ.


Jan’s thoughts:

Our visit to Fountain Park today was for the happy occasion of witnessing our daughter and son-in-law join this congregation with an adult baptism thrown in as well. It’s always uplifting to hear the contemporary music done so well, to hear Mark preach, and to worship with Mark and his wife, with whom we’ve been friends for years through the Pittsburgh Presbytery Partnership with the Synod of Blantyre in Malawi.

As we entered, there were a few folks who recalled our faces from past visits, which surprised me as it has been a while.

The bulletin was full of information about opportunities for service in numerous areas, stemming from the current sermon series. This week was the culmination of the sermon series and related small group studies entitled “Outflow: Loving the World!” with today’s installment called “Outward focused living in a self-focused world.”

I truly appreciate the sermon notes page that’s always included in the bulletin: it makes it so much easier to take notes and then to recall the points later. Today Mark spoke about the fact that in God’s eyes, we’re all missionaries in the particular place He has us. Like Moses, we tend to ask, “Who am I?” “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me?” or point out our shortcomings to God as Moses did: “I’m not very good with words.”

I missed the name of the author of this quote, but the quote itself is worth repeating: “To be a missionary for God, you do not have to cross the sea, but you do have to see the cross.”

God sees us as salt and light. I loved Mark’s list of the attributes of salt:
It melts ice – it may even melt the icy attitude of some people in the world;
It enhances flavor;
It acts as a preservative;
It makes one thirsty – maybe thirsty enough to seek out the Living Water; and
It doesn’t fulfill its purpose if it stays in the salt shaker. (I thought this one was
especially meaningful!)

God sees us as seed sowers. He wants us to go out into the world as a satisfied customer who wants to share a great experience. He desires that we generously sow seeds for Him to use to bring growth. The more generously we sow, the more God has to work with.

For me, this is another reminder that “It’s not about me.” It’s about Jesus, and the fact that we are permitted to help in any small way is a wonder in itself. Our hearts should be filled to overflowing at the knowledge that God can and does use us, even when we don’t notice…perhaps especially then.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mount Lebanon United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Mount Lebanon United Presbyterian Church, 255 Washington Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15216, 412.531.3387, www.mlupc.org, Rev. Dr. Timothy A. Janiszewski, Lead Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

Seems almost like a conflict of interest when there is contemporary worship at an old Presbyterian church. It is impressive to see the stone and wood work, the stained glass from an era of pride in workmanship. It seems a somber setting for contemporary worship, but it works well here. There is great attention to detail on the upkeep of the facility.

There was a good age mix in the congregation and the praise team. We arrived while the praise band was practicing and it was so loud that we thought we might have to be elsewhere when they played, but with 200-plus in worship, the sound was dissipated significantly.

We were only welcomed by a few, perhaps thinking we were from the other service?

As with a lot of contemporary worship there was no Order of Worship, but I was so entertained by a young family in front of us that I barely noticed. There are carved crosses on the wing walls of the Chancel but I still felt the lack of a central cross. The offering was taken in response to the Word, and those who served us Communion spoke.

The sermon spoke to the converse of the fruits of the Spirit, “the works of the sinful self.” In our relationship with others, who we are is for others. We seek the power to love one another. The pastor related a Bonheoffer quote that “Jesus is the man for others.”

I thought the message was well developed, thought-provoking, and an unusual take on the familiar Fruits of the Spirit. The message was well presented and seemed to be received well by the congregation.

There was a moment for stewardship which I had some trouble discerning what was said, but sensed it was an area the congregation was striving with. I can guarantee, they can’t out-give God.


Jan’s thoughts:

I drove past this church regularly when I worked at Sunset Hills Church, and I always thought the parking lot I saw next door, on Scott Road, belonged to them. Today I learned that it doesn’t. They probably have a large parking lot somewhere, but I’m not sure where. We attended the 9:15 contemporary service, and due to the time change, we arrived early enough to wander around and meet some people prior to worship.

The facility is huge, with probably the best signage I’ve seen anywhere. The building is old and stone, and felt cool but not cold. There was an old-time feel to the building, but everyone we met introduced themselves warmly. Those we met offered to answer any questions we might have, indicating we were welcome to ask any church member we might come in contact with as well.

The bulletin was unique: a single folded 8 ½ x 14 sheet with a ½ sheet inside and two “fall outs”. The only Order of Worship was at the top of the page an indication of the Scripture Lesson and the Sermon. I don’t know if the traditional service received a different bulletin (I imagine they did), but this was enough for this service. Besides, there is so much going on here that they needed all the space they could find for the announcements.

The Sanctuary contains some magnificent stained glass, and both dark and medium-shades of wood.

When we arrived early, with virtually no one in the Sanctuary while the praise team rehearsed, I was afraid we’d have to sit downstairs to tolerate the volume. However, soon after the service began the Sanctuary was about 75% full, so the volume was not a problem. I was surprised, but grateful.

The sermon was part of the pastor’s “Back to the Basics” series and was entitled “Who You Are Is for Others.” Based on Galatians 5:13-26, he began by contrasting the works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit as outlined by Paul, then continued to look at the Scripture in the context of surrounding Scripture. He concluded these vices and virtues “must be considered in our relationships within our lives.” Therefore we are who we are in order to be “set free to love others by serving them through Christ.”

We are who we are not because we’re so great or lovable or pious or any of the other attributes we secretly want to believe about ourselves, but so that Christ can make Himself known through us for the sake of others. It’s about Christ first and then others; it’s not about us. We are His handiwork and His tools, to use as He sees fit, and which He treats with grace and mercy and love...the same way we’re to treat others.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Centreville Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Centreville Presbyterian Church, 15450 Lee Highway, Centreville, VA 20120, 703.830.0098, www.centrevillepres.com, Rev. J. Robin (Rob) Bromhead, Senior Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

We were in the area so we revisited Centreville. I realized that we knew this church before they built this building, so our response was not as a first time visitor, and what I noticed today was the lack of directional signage. There is a portable signpost in the Narthex and signs could be added there for the restrooms and nursery.

The multi-purpose room they are using for worship has a massive-looking wood cross, which makes a great focal point. The keyboard was playing while the Associate Pastor was speaking and made her words hard to hear/understand.

A major positive change since we visited last was the Praise Team. Seemed to be thrice as many people with good female and youth participation. Two of the girls had a great duet during the Offertory.

The sermon was delivered well and the bulletin included an outline sheet. The core thought of “How do we achieve godliness?” was presented to make us delve deeper into developing godliness ourselves.


Jan’s thoughts:

We had a fantastic visit with our children and grandchildren in Virginia this weekend. J

Centreville is a terrific church. We’ve been there many times over the years and are always very warmly welcomed. There are always exciting things going on at this church.

We knew they had instituted a second contemporary service, giving them 8:30 and 9:45 contemporary services and an 11:15 traditional, and the Session has recently made the decision to forego the traditional service altogether and go back to two services, both contemporary. I’ve not seen this done before, so I’m interested to watch how they do it, albeit from a distance. From what I heard today, they have a plan to listen to the congregation and they are working to honor the past as well as look to the future. This church is so vital and active, reaching out in countless ways, locally, nationally, and internationally, it truly is one of the most exciting churches I know.

A pastor from Nepal spoke briefly about how Centreville’s support is helping spread the Good News in his country. They are doing impressive work, and I was moved to see photos of people being baptized there.

The music was stirring…the praise band has about quadrupled in size and they sounded just awesome.

The message was based on I Timothy 4:7-16, and is part of the “Doing Church God’s Way” series entitled “Lead by Example.” Rob is a terrific preacher, full of enthusiasm and passion. He spoke about godliness, it doesn’t just happen (1 Timothy 4:7, Ephesians 4:17, Hebrews 5:11-14, Colossians 2:6-7), its definition (“having the character and attitude of God”), and how God’s character is reflected through our speech, the way we love, the way we trust in Him, and how we show His purity (I Timothy 4:12). He pointed out that godliness is the only thing that lasts, it will cost you something, and it starts with a daily decision. The bottom line is that to be godly one must practice godliness. To live a godly life one must be godly in the small, everyday moments. One must practice, practice, practice, moment by moment, day by day.

Not easy, but more than worth the effort…just to hear God say those words we all long to hear from Him: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church, 2662 Rochester Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.776.5310, www.ccupc.org, Rev. Dr. James M. Moran, Senior Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

I didn’t look at our blog before we re-visited CCUPC and didn’t remember even where it was, but when we pulled into the parking lot I remembered where we parked and the condition of the lot.

The signage is good and offers something extra: where the sign identified restrooms it also directed where others could be found. I couldn’t find a wastebasket near the Narthex however, and there was an echo from the Pulpit on the higher tones. We were welcomed by a number of folks and had a longer talk with an usher.

The Chancel has an atrium-look with lots of natural light; the Sanctuary is comfortable and pleasant. We sat near the rear, and the passion of the choir came through even at that distance. It’s great to hear a choir worshiping. I do wish there had been a moment for silent confession.

I was impressed with the prayers of the Assistant Pastor. She seemed very comfortable in prayer, something seldom seen.

The sermon was part 4 of a series; today’s addressed Paul’s direction to Timothy. Paul’s legacy to Timothy (and us) that he had fought the good fight and withheld nothing. Over lunch we discussed how people who live life that way are sometimes put on a pedestal and how we are sometimes hesitant to act lest we be so categorized. We came to realize the larger sin is not to act when called.

A story related in the sermon sounded like a country song: mountain climbing as though you have no tomorrow. The climber, at the point of giving up, heeded the call to rescue another climber and so in rescuing, he was rescued. The one-line wrap-up – What will the Master say? Thought the sermon was well developed and delivered.

The pastor told me of a co-op situation with other Presbyterian churches for the good of the catholic church. Pretty radical and exciting thinking for Presbyterians.


Jan’s thoughts:

This was our second visit to this church. Two years ago next month we attended the later service, and this time we attended the earlier worship. It was interesting to notice how my point of view has changed since our last visit, as well as what contributed to such a different experience this time.

This facility is still very well kept with excellent signage. We still did not use the name tags for visitors. This time we encountered a friend who belongs here, but she was part of the choir so we were unable to sit together. We also had the opportunity to catch up with the Assistant Pastor, who had attended Grove City College with one of our daughters.

There were several bulletin boards in the greeting area: one contained photos and pre-printed mailing labels for the college student/members – what a great idea; another was full of detailed financial statements; and there were several others with various types of information. The one that caught our eye bore military photos. As we were looking it over a gentleman approached us and initiated a conversation centered around the photos and the Marine Corps emblem on the back of Bob’s shirt. We learned that this man’s son is currently serving in the Navy, and of course, we talked about our son Dan, his time in the Navy and then the Marines, and how he currently came to be guarding the streets of Heaven. It was a warm conversation that helped us to feel very welcome.

Numerous other people also greeted us and invited us to stay for lunch and the Steeler game following the later service.

It was so ironic that the prayer during worship included a joy expressed in thanksgiving for God’s protection of a son who escaped injury during an auto accident on I-79.

It was a joy to sing some contemporary music as well as learn some hymns I did not know previously. The Offertory was a different rendition of “Come, Go with Me,” which was quite well done.

The sermon was based on 2 Timothy 4:6-8 and was the fourth and final part of a series entitled “Notes to a Young Pastor.” This entry is called “Your Personal Stamp,” and he raised questions regarding the legacy each person would hope to leave in their wake. “How will we be remembered? What will be our legacy? Will we be remembered as one who gave all they had or who took the easy way? Whose life will be better because we lived?” And most importantly, “When our ‘race’ is over, what will the Master say about our lives?”

These very questions have preyed on my mind for some time of late. As much as I wish I could sit down and list the answer to each issue, I’m slowly reaching the conclusion that that is impossible. I do not know enough. But I think his basic advice is good: live with passion. At the very least I think it’s one of the keys.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Presbyterian Church of Prospect

Today we worshiped at The Presbyterian Church of Prospect, 115 Church Street, Prospect, PA 16052, 724.865.2063, www.tpcp.net, Rev. Robert Allison, Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

We had a great idea to drive a little farther to church and enjoy the fall leaves; we might have missed the peak, but it was an enjoyable ride.

The church looks conventional from the outside but has some most unusual features. The pews are arranged in the center section at a 90° angle to the roof line and the floor slopes toward the chancel. The social area extends out from the Sanctuary which gives a very open feel even with the folding curtains. There is a pressed tin ceiling, a large brass cross, comfortable pews, and impressive stained glass. The architecture sort of grows on you; I was part way through the service when I felt like I was sitting side saddle. The piped music before the prelude sounded like country gospel.

We were welcomed by more than a few, offered coffee, and invited to stay for lunch.

The pastor was on vacation and the guest pastor was ill, so an elder stepped in. She delivered a message on perseverance in prayer from Luke 18:1-8.

The visitor packet contained a large selection of maps and local info and a folded insert on the church.

From the newsletter I learned they are moving towards being a missional church. This is a hard move from an internal focus, and I pray God carries them through. There is very minimal signage and some who wear too much perfume.

I pray we can return for a normal service.


Jan’s thoughts:

Today the pastor was on vacation and the pastor who had agreed to fill the pulpit was sick, so one of the elders led worship and preached.

The building and grounds are nicely kept and decorated. The only sign I saw was for restrooms, and it was unobtrusive (which is to say I missed it the first couple of times I looked for it). There was an obvious sign at the nearest highway exit which I did not miss.

The layout was unique – the fellowship hall was quite large and open with a kitchen in one corner, tables for people to sit together, and the walls contained bulletin boards and tables full in information. There was no wall separating fellowship hall and the Sanctuary, it was completely open. A large, beautiful stained glass window looked out from fellowship hall toward the parking lot.

The people were friendly, providing direction and conversation when we arrived and inviting us to stay after worship for food and fellowship.

The pews were interestingly arranged and comfortably padded. Strangely, the Sanctuary floor slopes toward the Chancel and the pew ends are shaped in such a way that how much of a slope to expect was unclear to my eye. The Sanctuary carpet and pew padding were light turquoise and the drape hanging on the rear wall of the Chancel was dark red, setting off the brass cross in front.

The organ and piano faced the same direction with one in front of the other, making it a simple procedure for the Organist to move between the two. The music was very traditional.

The bulletin was well done but had a lot of white space. I would have appreciated use of a larger font for things like the Confession of Sin which I had to read.

The “moment” for silent confession was just that – a moment. And during the Apostles’ Creed, I’m wondering whatever happened to “He descended into Hell…”?

The sermon was based on Luke 18:1-8 and was titled “Being Pushy.” Obviously the topic was the value of persistence in prayer.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

College Hill Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at College Hill Presbyterian Church, 3400 Fifth Avenue, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.843.7170, Rev. Dennis D. Burnett, Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

With two Geneva alums among our children, I looked forward to visiting this church; consequently I was disappointed not to see a student presence. However we received a warm welcome from many people, including one gentleman who left his adult education class to greet us and invited us to join the class.

There has been an attempt at signage and I don’t doubt you could reach a restroom from any of the Sanctuary exits, but signage for restrooms, nursery, etc. would help.

There is a large cross over decorative wall treatment on the Chancel wall, interesting stained glass, and an unusual ceiling. The bulletin required a bit of shuffling, and I’m sure Jan will offer advice.

Some of the choir smiled while singing and most sang with their mouth open. It was nice to see some enthusiasm; it made their presence felt.

The church seems to be experiencing some turmoil, moving out of a season of doubt but not quite into secure faith. Like most churches, they have focused on numbers – attendance/members and money – and know they want to change. I believe God is calling this church in a new direction with a new life. With such a wealth of young students in the area, what might College Hill provide for them?

The sermon, “Praise and Proclaim,” was built that God’s people praise God no matter what happens. The early part referred to Luke 17:11-19 – Christ healing the 10 lepers – and it struck me as odd that this story was relayed by Luke the Physician. I recognize that in that time and culture it was the priest who decided a case of leprosy (or its healing), although nowadays we would assume the first person to be consulted would be a physician. Perhaps modern man with his worldly knowledge is not as smart as we like to think we are. God still heals miraculously every day.

The rest of the sermon came from Psalm 66. To me it was more like two separate sermons, but it was warm and close in the Sanctuary and I had been up since 2 a.m. and was having trouble focusing.


Jan’s thoughts:

It wasn’t till we were on our way that I realized we were headed very near Geneva College on Homecoming Weekend. However, since we arrived with more than an hour to spare (I’m math challenged but am usually much better than that with time…), we viewed this as an opportunity to tour the building more extensively and meet some people.

The signage was not bad, and some signs even stuck out from the wall so as to be visible down the hall. There are numerous exits from the Sanctuary, however, and no way for a visitor to guess which one leads where.

The folks were quite friendly, some greeting us before and during worship and even again afterward. We sat in the very back row, and during the Greeting Time many approached us, including several members of the choir. Very friendly indeed.

The main door leads immediately into the Sanctuary. All the colored glass windows are alike in colors and patterns, but non-traditional in design. An uneven ceiling, indirect lighting, and out of the ordinary pattern on the rear wall of the Chancel gave the Sanctuary an interesting feel.

The bulletin contained a “Welcome to Worship!” box that included a paragraph with directions for visitors about when to sit/stand, and nursery location. This is something that makes a visitor feel like they really are welcome at a church.

The bulletin was very well laid-out and looked great; however, it was awkward to use, so, as a former church secretary, I would humbly offer my 2 cents regarding user-friendly bulletin design. I suggest keeping the Order of Worship on the one folded outside page and including everything not worship-related (prayer lists, announcements, etc.) in the form of unfolded inserts. That way when the bulletin is folded for use during worship, the Order of Worship is visible and everything else can be inserted into the folded portion to be read later.

We were privileged to be present for the observance of Pastor Appreciation Month. It’s heartening when a congregation lets the pastor and his wife know how much their ministry means to them.

The choir had a much larger sound than I expected, given their number.

The sermon was centered on Jeremiah 29:1,4-7,10-14, Luke 17:11-19, and Psalm 66, and was called “Praise and Proclaim.” He began by referring to the 10 lepers who were healed as they obeyed Christ’s command to go and show themselves to the priest, with only one returning to Him to extend gratitude. We are to praise God and proclaim His activity in our lives, but we do a lot more lamenting than praising.

My guess is that if our faith moves God’s heart, it’s our gratitude that makes His heart smile.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Old Union Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Old Union Presbyterian Church, 200 Union Church Road, Mars, PA 16046, 724.538.8672, www.OldUnionChurch.com, Rev. Dr. Peter deVries, Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

Expecting a more sedate country church, I was pleasantly surprised with a modern, vibrant worship center. We arrived right before the service was to start. One woman did come over to welcome us.

Although I noticed no signage, we did locate a social area and restrooms, which I must add were clean, bright, and well laid-out.

There is a large wooden cross on the rear wall of the Chancel, some attractive banners, and one excellent painting I noticed. The congregation stood as the Communion elements were carried in by the serving Elders. We sat in an offset from the main Sanctuary so I was unable to see the whole choir, but the face of worship was evident on one woman as she sang.

The sermon title of “By Hook or by Crook” got the attention of this old Marine who sometimes needed to acquire weapons that were not in our budget by any means possible.

The sermon caused me to reflect: it is amazing how easy it is to disagree or be offended when someone’s theology or style of worship is different than ours. I find myself in this very position. I have been uncomfortable in the large, loud churches and I guess I have been quick to judge them as leading people astray from God’s Word. That if they offer “feel good” worship it cannot be honoring Christ. But if Christ is preached and it is done with loud cymbals, Christ is still preached. We need to know in our heart that whatever the worship style in the other church, it is still worship of Jesus. I may never be comfortable in a mega-church, but I cannot judge the sincerity of their worship. These are people for whom Christ died also.

Communion was introduced using Paul’s words “I received from the Lord what I now share with you.” I was disappointed that the elements were shared silently.

We were greeted by only a few people but the student pastor remembered us from a visit to another church a year ago.

The church seems to have an active mission involvement and I was please to see Northside Common Ministries as one they support as it is still close to my heart.

I really appreciated their ministry to the military. There is a world deployment map on the rear wall with some biographical information. During prayer time the list of service people they hold in prayer was read aloud by the congregation and I was told how some have a member praying just for them.


Jan’s thoughts:

This is a clean, well-kept facility, nicely decorated with some unique touches such as some distinctive stained glass created by a member of the church and a large quilted wall hanging that was a gift from American Indians visited by members on a mission trip.

I thought the parking lot was a bit confusing. Also I was surprised that there was so little signage: the only signs I saw anywhere were on the front of the restrooms. The ladies room was quite spacious, lacking only a place to hang or lay my wrap while I used the facilities. It looked almost barren, and the entry space to the rest room could use some decoration also.

A few people only nodded hello and said nothing, but a few went out of their way to introduce themselves and welcome us. Shortly after we took our seats in the Sanctuary a woman came over and introduced herself and told us how glad she was we were there, all the while rubbing my shoulder, which I thought was rather sweet.

I was perplexed during the Lighting of the Candles when everyone sang some music but we were left scratching our heads because the music was not listed or identified in the Order of Worship.

The organ was well done during most of the service, but during the Prayers of the People it was playing very quietly but almost all I could hear was a deep bass reverberation that left me dizzy due to my ear condition. A nice touch during the Prayers was the reciting aloud of the names of the 26 members of this church who are actively serving in the military, along with a bulletin board indicating their locations on a map and including photos and notes, all clear indications that this church has not forgotten those who fight for freedom.

The offering was taken “African-style” which made me smile after an enjoyable dinner with two Malawian friends the evening before! The congregation was invited to come forward and place their offering in a basket toward the front of the Sanctuary while some lively music was played. It was different from most Presbyterian churches – in the United States, anyway!

The Sermon was entitled, “By Hook or by Crook” and was based on Isaiah 45:1-8 and Philippians 1:12-18a. It had to do with perspective – when Paul was in prison he was not sitting around complaining, feeling sorry for himself. Instead he saw it as an opportunity to espouse the Good News to a (literally) captive audience. Paul acted as a “force multiplier” – the important thing is that Christ is preached.

I also appreciated the point made by the pastor that God can and does use whom He wishes to use, regardless of whether that person acknowledges God or is the least bit inclined to work for God’s purposes. I’m so grateful for this, as it means that even when I make a mistake, He can still bring good from the situation. Remembering that is always so encouraging, and believing it makes it even more so!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bethlehem United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Bethlehem United Presbyterian Church, Shippingport, PA, Rev. Robert W. Kennedy, Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

We sometimes refer to a country church as small in size or number. Including us today brought the total worshiping together to seven humans.

This is a church that is small enough that it wouldn’t benefit from additional signage.

The triple-hung windows have a band of color at the edge. A large wooden cross hangs on the rear wall of the Chancel, and the wooden pews were much more comfortable than they looked.

A couple of things here I thought were special: When the offering was dedicated, the minister stepped down from the Chancel and faced the cross; the pastor spoke with the congregation and discussed by name some members who weren’t present.

This church is all but in the shadow of the cooling towers of the power plant; they are literally surrounded by this massive power generating station at Shippingport. What came to me while I prayed for this church and pastor was that the real “Power” was in this little church and that Christ is calling this church to a prayer ministry for those who work for the power company. I believe they should let the employees know they are doing this and solicit prayer requests. They may not experience great growth in members, but great growth in the Kingdom.

I sometimes hesitate to share what comes to me in prayer but was encouraged by the pastor’s sermon to share, to see, and to speak up now. The pastor also shared how God sometimes has to throw a brick at us to get our attention, and I have often said it sometimes takes a third brick before I get the message. I look forward to hearing exciting news from this church.


Jan’s thoughts:

This facility is older and well kept, much like a treasured family heirloom. The pastor pointed out two wooden beams in the basement ceiling, both of which were salvaged following a fire that demolished the original building.

As we entered literally everyone with whom we worshiped today introduced themselves and greeted us. The atmosphere is casual and friendly, and this church seems to personify the term “church family.”

The arched windows were textured and were outlined with a light pink row of glass.

The only signage was an indication which restroom was which.

During the service, the pastor’s wife was preparing to read the Scripture readings and asked the pastor if he wanted one story or another, and he replied, “Both.” I deeply appreciated this because, it is sad to say, but so often an attempt is made to limit Scripture reading. The pastor followed his instructions with the comment that it is good to read Scripture. I couldn’t agree more.

The sermon was untitled and based on Psalm 91 and (mostly) Luke 16:1-13 about the rich man and Lazarus. The points he made were:

Once life is over you cannot salvage things – share them now.
Once life is over you cannot seize opportunities – seek God now.
Once life is over you cannot save others – speak up now.

“Now is the time” seems like the message. Amen.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown, PO Box 127, 58 Heckert Road, Bakerstown, PA 15007, 724.443.1555, www.fpcb.org, Rev. Dan Muttart, Senior Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

We were looking forward to returning to Bakerstown for the contemporary service. Unfortunately our extensive tour of Route 8 looking for the church made us late enough to miss the beginning of the service. While we missed the praise worship music, what we did hear later was enjoyable.

A highlight for me was the group for the Children’s Message being projected on the large screen for all to see.

The sermon was from the 11th chapter of John about Christ raising Lazarus. I am always interested in the nuances of Scripture translation and thought how very fitting that Christ’s call to “trust” could also be to “believe.” We are called to trust God’s endgame…difficult, but a great plan.

The sermon was followed by a powerful testimony from a parishioner on being faithful through the illness of a daughter.

I found a notice in the newspaper of a Christian Education presentation on “Heaven, Hell, and the Afterlife.” With the losses in our family I thought it might be of benefit. The presentation was by a doctor from the seminary who seemed quite comfortable in his delivery but the message was intellectualized.

Locating the seminar did amplify the one problem I experienced at this church, the complete lack of signage. It is a confusing campus for a visitor.


Jan’s thoughts:

We saw an announcement in the paper that Bakerstown was beginning a 3-part adult education series called “Heaven, Hell, and the Afterlife.” Reading this reminded us that we had wanted to attend the contemporary worship service there, so we opted to combine the two. Unfortunately, due to a story much too long to tell here, we arrived during the last half of the last praise song.

We were instantly given a bulletin but I needed to find the ladies room. Seeing no signs in the immediate area I simply asked for directions.

The Order of Worship for the traditional service is contained on the inside two pages of the folded 11 x 14 sheet and the (brief) Order of worship for the contemporary service is on ½ of one side of an insert. The only other insert is a helpful, informative outline of Adult Christian Education offerings through March.

The Children’s Moment was in process as we entered the Sanctuary, and it was being shown on the screen in the front. I was very glad as that was the only way we would see anything from the very back of this beautiful but deep Sanctuary.

The sermon was powerful. The title was “Where Is Jesus When I Hurt?” and the text was John 11:17-44 about Lazarus’ death and return to life.

Scripture just never ceases to amaze me. Since July,I’ve been reading and meditating on the book of John, and I’ve read this passage recently but I never took it personally until I heard it today. As the pastor read the Scripture, when Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth!” it suddenly felt personal. It was as if Jesus was calling me personally forth from a life that at times feels more dead than alive. (This is not the way I’ve thought of any part of my life, so it was a surprise to me. But perspectives change sometimes, especially when God steps in.) And it makes me think that Jesus wants to say this to each of us, as I suspect we all have areas in our lives where we feel more dead than alive.

The sermon points spoke to trust: 1 – trust in God’s endgame (great term for His ultimate goal); 2 – trust in Christ’s presence; 3 – trust that Jesus restores.

Then a gentleman from the congregation spoke at length about the birth of his daughter. My guess is that the congregation was well aware of the history and the current situation; however we were unacquainted with the details so I’m sure did not grasp the full import of some of what he shared. Nevertheless, it was a compelling story with a happy ending that was based on the parents’ trust in God and a reminder to “Look how God has answered your prayers.” I don’t believe I’ve witnessed a standing ovation for a sermon before, but I did today.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Westminster United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Westminster United Presbyterian Church, 330 E. Main Street, Evans City, PA 16033, 724.538.8188, www.westminsterevanscity.org, Rev. John C. Park, Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

Today we were led to Westminster UP, about 20 miles from the church we planned to visit today. We found very limited parking, but were early enough to get a spot.

We entered from the rear of the building, which brought us to the front of the Sanctuary. I don’t know if there is any signage coming in the front doors, but the rest rooms were marked.

There is a lot of stained glass but it doesn’t seem to fit with the Sanctuary. I enjoyed the shadow pattern from the ceiling light fixtures, and found the organ pipe layout most unusual.

The Call to Worship was a responsive reading from the Shorter Catechism, a good reminder. A portion of the service near the end was headed “Responding to God’s Word” which included prayers and the offering.

The sermon was the conclusion of a series on the “12” Commandments. The pastor developed that although we are called as far back as Leviticus to love our neighbor, Christ’s call was different as He calls us to love our neighbor as He has loved us. An interesting question, in my opinion, was whether unbelievers would say that we love one another.

The lack of signage seemed to support my theory of inward focus, as I found little mention of mission or outreach.

I was really enjoying a Starbuck’s decaf (for all of you who know my cardiologist). I had a shot of black cherry flavor and wanted that last gulp as the service was starting. I was not prepared for the couple spoonfuls of grounds in the bottom of the cup. Made it hard to focus on worship.


Jan’s thoughts:

Since the church is situated in a residential area, parking is at a premium. Upon entering I saw a (helpful) sign indicating restrooms, but that was the only signage I observed.

After entering only a few steps we were warmly greeted by the pastor, who also gave us bulletins and directions to the Sanctuary. We had little time before the service, so we headed for the Sanctuary. As it happened, we entered at the front of the Sanctuary and I felt conspicuous as we made our way all the way to the back. However several people gave us friendly smiles and greetings as we walked past. Even after we were seated the woman at the other end of the pew where we sat greeted us and instructed us as to which hymnal was required for the first hymn. I make note of this because it often doesn’t happen even at very friendly churches.

The organ, though very well played, I thought, was loud enough that I was glad we sat all the way in the back.

The Sanctuary was light yellow with very light wood pews and lots of matching wood in the Chancel area. The organ pipes were arranged imaginatively, but this precluded displaying a cross, so the only cross in the front was a brass one on the Communion table. The windows were very large with dark colors and intricate, older-style pictures in stained glass.

The service and music were traditional, although there was evidence of at least an occasional blended service.

During worship the congregation joined in the Apostle’s Creed. I know there are denominations that exclude the words “He descended into Hell” when reciting the Apostle’s Creed, but this was the first time I experienced this in a Presbyterian church.

The sermon was the last in the pastor’s summer series. It was based on John 13:31-35 and was entitled, “The New Commandment.” This “new” commandment, of course, is that those following Jesus “love one another.” He pointed out that this commandment can also be found in Leviticus, so it’s not entirely new. And of course some have asked, “Who is ‘one another’?” He acknowledged that it is a difficult command to apply, especially when the person we are commanded to love has caused us pain, but we need to ask God to help us love that person and we must pray for that person as the first step to loving them. Loving others proves our discipleship. Even those who persecuted members of the early church had to admit that “They do love each other.” And he ended with the question: Do people say that about us? A good question for each of us to ask ourselves, I think.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church, 2720 Brodhead Road, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.378.3821, www.mtcpc.org, Rev. Mike Anastas, Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

We found a nice, paved, well-marked parking area but were a little confused as to which of the five entrances we should use. We found the Sanctuary by trial and error and nearby restrooms had signs on the doors. They were the only signs I saw on a rather confusing campus.

The Sanctuary was pleasant with some particularly interesting stained glass. The rear windows of the Chancel were conventional-looking stained glass, the side were modern colored rectangles, and the high windows were splatter glass. I never would have thought they would work so well together and of course the sun beaming through enhanced the effect.

The pews are in four arc-shaped sections with wide aisles. The physical feature I enjoyed most was the cross on the Chancel wall. The rear wall is muted sandstone and the large narrow cross is painted to match. My first thought is that I would lose that focus point, but from my vantage point the cross aligned perfectly with one of the lit candles and was an extension of it.

It was a cool day and the area was comfortable; I was told the Sanctuary is air conditioned.

We were greeted very warmly, some of the current history of the church was offered, and we were introduced to others by name. We were asked to visit the visitor’s desk and were given name tags, and many of the people we met were wearing theirs.

There were many things that pleased me, like the cross, and offering taken in response to the Word, but also a real blessing – the servers spoke when offering the elements of Communion.

The sermon was in regard to God’s name and a good explanation of what it means to take His name in vain. The congregation was attentive and seemed to get the message. The pastor made a very smooth recovery when chimes rang inadvertently during the sermon.

I agree, in our pursuit to be God-like we judge God and His creation…a position we don’t want to be in.


Jan’s thoughts:

In my mind Aliquippa was not the greatest area, so I was surprised to arrive at a pretty, well-kept church on the corner of a busy intersection. The paved parking lot was well marked (always helpful for visitors). Once out of the truck, however, we had to choose between door #1, door #2, and door #3, with indication of which one led to what area. And to top it off, people were entering through each door! So we chose one and began our exploration from there.

Part of the reason we explored was to locate a rest room. Literally the only signs I saw were a small one on the door to the secretary’s office and on each of the doors to the rest rooms. Hopefully the Session is in the process of identifying necessary signage and locations because from all indications this church is much more outwardly-focused than the lack of signage would indicate.

We were quickly identified as visitors and some very friendly people introduced themselves and told us about the pastor (who has been there about a year) and the remodeling of the Sanctuary which was one of many positive consequences of the church’s three-year pastoral search.

We were briefly greeted by the pastor, but the elders with whom we were speaking were taking good care of us so the pastor went to attend to his duties while we enjoyed the friendly conversation. We were asked to wear a name tag, which turned out to be part of this church’s system of keeping attendance. It appears that each member has a nametag which they’re to pick up as they enter and drop into a basket as they exit the Sanctuary. Handwriting a nametag for visitors allows that person to also greet the visitor, which worked well in our instance at least.

We sat in the very back and several other folks greeted us as they walked past to their seats. The padded pews were comfortable and widely spaced, as were the aisles. The pew ends were plain, dark wood and perfectly matched the woodwork on the ceiling. The stained glass on the rear wall of the Chancel was bold and intricate, the glass in the windows on the sides were a plain pattern of the same three colors in each window, and up high on the back wall were decorative windows. Each set was different, but they worked well together.

The rear wall of the Chancel was all stone, with a large matching stone cross. It was a gorgeous way to fulfill the need in a very different way.

The music for this blended service was mostly contemporary, which most (but not all) the congregation seemed to enjoy, and the words were projected onto the blank walls on each side of the stone wall, eliminating the need for a screen. The praise team consisted of a drummer, a keyboardist, and three female vocalists, one of whom accompanied on an acoustic guitar. They sounded great together but could have used the support of a male voice.

Toward the beginning of the service the pastor walked halfway down each aisle as he spoke…some pastors do that but I don’t see much of it and it was refreshing.

Communion was celebrated by intinction, and was efficiently executed. Attendance seemed high for a holiday weekend, and we were told there had been many baptisms this year.

The sermon was titled “What’s In a Name?” and was based on Exodus 20:7. All the prayers, the welcome, all were pointing toward the Third Commandment as the topic for the day. He preached with passion about how often this Commandment is broken and how misuse of God’s name is more than an insult, it makes a god of the person doing so.

Toward the end he told a story about being in a crowd and hearing a man seated nearby loudly misusing God’s name, and his 7-year-old daughter stood up and shouted, “Don’t take my God’s name in vain!” Her command stunned everyone within earshot, and this pastor bravely admitted his own shame in his lack of action even as his pride in his daughter’s courage was obvious. It was a memorable story made more so by his heartfelt telling and his valiant admission, and I admired his courage.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Home

Today, as Jan was not feeling well, we worshiped at home


Bob’s thoughts:

Health concerns kept us from visiting today, so we listened to some sermons by Dan Merry at Southminster.

One of them struck me as being related to “Back to the Future” – we all want to know what our future holds for us, and I admit to asking God, “What do You want me to do for the rest of my life?” and eventually, in the silence, I came to ask, “God, what do You want me to do right now?” I’ve gotten comfortable leaving my future where it has always been, in God’s capable hands.

Not trying to poke fun but another brought to mind “I’ll be back.” This was the original “I’ll be back” from Jesus Christ

Another from John reminded me of “Our God is an Awesome God.” By then I was soaking my hands to lessen the garden stains and couldn’t make any more notes.

Dan’s sermons are always uplifting and I get a lot from them but couldn’t help miss the rest of the service.


Jan’s thoughts:

I’m so grateful to be able to spend time hearing the Word preached even when I’m not well enough to be in church. Computers have been known to give us fits occasionally, but sometimes they can be a blessing.

Today we listened to several sermons delivered by Rev. Dan Merry, Senior Pastor at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Mt. Lebanon. I always enjoy Dan’s sermons and they usually speak to me at some level. This morning I learned/was reminded of the following truths:

1 – Hope wins. (I plan to write this one where I’ll see it daily!)

2 – God is greater than our temptations, our sins, and our scars.

3 – The women who followed Jesus and ministered to Him knew what it meant to be liberated.

4 – Freedom means: feeling good about every part of our lives; being an initiator, not a victim; and choosing the right master, and that surrender is good IF we are surrendering ourselves to the love and care of God.

5 – None of the Fruits of the Spirit are dependent on outside influences.

6 – Three tough (and vital) questions are: Who am I? Why am I here? And, where does my power come from?

While my body heals, my mind and spirit were nourished.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Frankfort Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Frankfort Presbyterian Church, 3326 State Route 18, Hookstown, PA 15050, 724.947.3240, www.frankfortpresbychurch.com, Rev. Allison Bauer, Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

I don’t offer much input when Jan is trying to discern which church we should attend. It really does not matter to me, and God has redirected us enough that I know we will end up where He wants us anyhow. We knew the pastor had worked with some of our children at camp, and we had a few minutes to catch up before the congregation came in.

We were warmly welcomed and treated much like family by a few people. The church does not have much signage but is small enough not to need much. There is a restroom right off the Narthex (with a sign outside) and class room/social area in the basement (which we found by exploring).

The rear wall of the Chancel is somewhat startlingly plain white with a large wooden cross, which really amplified the effect of the cross for me. There are two classy banners on the side walls, and the double-hung rounded-top windows have a solid color pane on the sides and around the top.

When it was time for the children’s message, music was played till they all got up front. It seemed unusual that the pastor waited for the children but that small act verified their worth. They connected well with the mini-sermon which was tied to the adult message, and afterward were given a corresponding activity page and insight to what would follow in the sermon. It seemed to get their attention when they were told that Jeremiah was 12 years old when God called him.

I believe Christ has blessed a prayer ministry here. They have an impressive prayer list and commitment to pray. In addition to their regular prayer ministry, they have made individual commitments to pray regularly for one year for unchurched people in their lives.

The sermon was given as a story – a child talking to Jeremiah when he was old. The congregation seemed to really pay attention and get the message.

The ratio of female to male worshipers was about 3 to 1, which is about normal for an older church, but there was an interesting influx of children. I think God has some interesting plans for this church.


Jan’s thoughts:

The church’s website was informative and enthusiastic, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect from this modest, very rural, church – especially when we pulled into the parking lot only to find we seemed to be the first to arrive. It turned out to be quite a friendly place…friendly to us and to each other. The people were relaxed and genuine, and excited to talk about their church and their pastor.

Unbeknownst to anyone there, the pastor went to college with our daughter Jill, and worked at Camp Crestfield with three of Jill’s siblings – Dan, Amber, and Brandy – at various times. I haven’t seen her for at least 10 years, probably longer. Members told us excitedly that she is creative and ingenious, sometimes involving the congregation in the sermon and encouraging participation in imaginative ways. This was borne out in the sermon, to which I’ll speak later.

The Narthex area was completely rebuilt in 2007 after lightning struck the steeple. We saw an amazing photo of the burning steeple as well as some of the damage and subsequent rebuilding. I thought they used the opportunity well, installing a neat stairway to the balcony in the rear of the Sanctuary in addition to the new Narthex.

The Chancel was very open with only a large wooden cross on the wall and lots of “white space” on either side. It actually made for a striking setting for the cross. The windows are very tall with semicircular panes on top of the rectangles and the only stained glass outlining each window.

The bulletin is large-print and user-friendly. I couldn’t help but notice that there were many more hymnals than Bibles in the pew racks.

There were several unique points about the service itself: 1 – following the Prelude the service began with about one minute of silent prayer. I appreciated the opportunity to quietly center my mind in preparation for worship; 2 – the Children’s Time was very well done. We were told that the five children there this morning were about half the usual attendance; 3 – during the announcements everyone was encouraged to attend next Sunday when the service would be led by the children and would include the “Blessing of the Backpacks” in preparation for the start of the new school year. A great way to help the children know that they’re an important part of the church.

The untitled sermon was based on Jeremiah 1:1 and 4-10 during which she told the story of Jeremiah’s call as if Jeremiah, as an old man, was telling the story to a youth. Again an imaginative way to keep peoples’ attention and help them remember.

Today I re-learned not to judge a book by its cover…just because it’s a small country church doesn’t mean it’s not full of life and the Spirit. Praise God!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

North Sewickley Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at North Sewickley Presbyterian Church, 106 Chapel Drive, Ellwood City, PA 16117, 724.752.1272, www.nspreschurch.org, Rev. Don Aull, Temporary Shepherd.


Bob’s thoughts:

I couldn’t help but think about how we are welcomed when we visit a church. Sometimes it feels like everybody in the church says hello, and at times only a few. The number has no bearing on how genuine the welcome feels. Today I felt welcome, from the woman who waited while we parked and got out of the truck to those who welcomed us inside. People asked about us instead of telling us about them. We were shown the restrooms and introduced to others.

I thought the signage was good and was particularly impressed with the clean, well laid-out restroom.

The Sanctuary is an A-frame with impressive beams, a large cross on the Chancel wall and another on the Communion table.

The Children’s Sermon was aimed at the children and was just long enough.

The sermon was on the faith of Rahab from the 2nd chapter of Joshua. With the reality of the danger Rahab faced in stepping out in faith, we should be less surprised that she is included in Matthew’s recounting of the genealogy of Christ. Her actions were referred to as the “early battle of Jericho.”

Some other choice phrases: referring to the Interim Pastor as the “Temporary Shepherd” and during the benediction the mention of “those no one loves.”

I felt Christ’s presence in this place. There are some good things going on and I look forward to seeing what God does next here. It was an unexpected joy to encounter some friends from the Presbytery office.


Jan’s thoughts:

Upon our arrival, as we were pulling into the parking lot, I had noticed a couple just exiting their car. As I opened my door I heard a female voice say hello – they had waited there to greet us! This was the first time we were greeted before we even got out of the truck! These kind folks walked in with us, guiding us toward the appropriate door, and once inside introduced us by name and pointed us toward the rest rooms. The other folks we met were as friendly…at least one person knew Bob from his visits to the Presbytery office, but others just stopped to introduce themselves and make us feel welcome. One woman (a member acting in the capacity of an unofficial greeter) gave us each a printed card with all the church’s contact information, and everyone we met invited us back. We felt genuinely and warmly welcomed here.

The Narthex contained a bulletin board and a world map with pins and photos of mission activities worldwide.

I don’t usually comment on the rest rooms, but these deserve to be noted. The ladies room was attractively decorated, very clean, with the small touches women appreciate such as a couple of small decorated corner tables with a basket of hand lotions on one and a box of Kleenex on another. It was neither too homey nor too antiseptic.

The Sanctuary is pretty with an A-line design, decorative pillars, and great color coordination. Also good directional signage…although we did not make it downstairs, we knew how to get there!

Air circulation has become an issue for us since Bob’s surgery. With the high ceilings found in churches, ceiling fans are not generally all that effective, and some low-level air movement might be more advantageous.

I heard an organ and a piano, but could not see either instrument. We were too busy talking with people after worship to go forward for a close-up look at the Chancel, so I’m guessing what I heard was an electronic keyboard. The traditional music sounded very good, and although contemporary music tends to sound awkward with only a keyboard, it was okay.

Strangely enough (some will say I’ve finally lost it with this), but while looking at this church’s website on Saturday evening, I found they had a .pdf of the bulletin available to view. I took a look at it and was excited to go there because of the bulletin. It was well laid-out, easy to read, and user-friendly. I also found myself eagerly anticipating the sermon entitled, “Moving Toward the Promise #10 – Rahab Fought the Battle of Jericho.” The title alone gave clear indication of where the pastor would be heading, and I couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say.

He described Rahab as a “Canaanite businesswoman” who made the “monumental announcement” that Jericho would be “under new management” by the time God’s plan for it was completed, and that, like Rahab, we should “live as though the Promised Land is already here” – living and acting in faith. He pointed out something new to me – that Rahab’s scarlet cord is reminiscent of the blood of the Passover. What a beautiful connection, and another reminder of what it means to act in faith.

This church is in the midst of a search for an installed pastor, and I will be joining them in prayer during this interim journey.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Crestview Community Church PCUSA

Today we worshiped at Crestview Community Church, PCUSA, 210 Kline Avenue, Callery, PA 16024, 724.538.8559, Rev. Tom Clyde, Interim Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

Usually when we visit a church that is lacking signage it proves to be an inward-focused church, so with the lack of signage I was surprised at the mission involvement. There is a large wooden cross high in the Sanctuary and an interesting round stained glass window on the Chancel wall. The pews on either side are angled toward the center, making the worship more focused.

There was some constant chatter behind us through the first half of the service that did stop for the Sermon.

The Sermon, I think, was about how we should strive against contamination. I am not sure what Bible is common here but we were told that the Devil doesn’t tempt us, which is contrary to any version of the Bible that I’ve read.

I was pleased to take Communion, although it was served silently. The Deacons served the Bread and the Elders the Cup. I also appreciated the comment that it should be referred to as the “First Supper.”

Found it very confusing as to what the normal time of worship might be: both the website and sign say 9:45, but today that meant 10 a.m.


Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived with more time to spare than we anticipated, as we understood this service was to begin at 9:45 but it turned out to be 10. Numerous members of the congregation also were confused about the start time. But it did give us some time to speak with the pastor and learn a little about the church.

The first thing I saw when we walked into the Sanctuary was a Malawian banner on the front wall. Apparently this church has formed a partnership with a church in Blantyre Synod but independent of the long-standing partnership between Pittsburgh Presbytery and the Synod of Blantyre. The sister church happens to be the home church of The Rev. Silas Ncozana, one of the co-founders of the Pittsburgh Presbytery/Blantyre Synod Partnership. There were numerous bulletin boards and photos and much information about this church. The world gets smaller every day.

This is a pretty little church with a roundabout route to the parking lot and lots of steps to climb back up once we parked. The people were genuinely friendly…many greeted us before, during, and after the service and seemed sincerely happy to see us.

The signage was prominent where necessary. The bulletin was user-friendly; it was helpful to have worship-related information on one different-colored insert.

There was a fair amount of stained glass, including a Star of David on the rear wall of the Chancel…an object not normally seen in a Christian church, but very nicely done with Scripture around the frame. Also a large wooden cross toward the front of the Chancel and attached to the ceiling.

The music was traditional, which is fine, but I was completely unfamiliar with five of the six hymns. Although I was willing to try, they were very difficult to sing and totally new to me so I just read and appreciated the words/poetry.

The Sermon was entitled “Godly Treasures for Godly People – Psalm 101: A Purifying Life-Style!” and was based on Psalm 101 wherein David expresses his desire for a pure life. I agreed with some of the pastor’s points, such as that God does not tempt us and that we humans use God’s good gifts in perverted ways. However I totally disagree with his statement that neither does the Devil tempt us and that humans are at fault for the evil in this world because it is an act of our will. Not only can I not find a single statement in Scripture to support this argument, I can find numerous ones that dispute it. Christ Himself experienced Satan’s temptation (Matthew 4). No doubt humankind bears a certain amount of responsibility for the evil in the world, but throughout Scripture we are taught that the Devil is responsible for bringing evil into the world initially and that he can and does tempt us.

We are constantly at war with unseen forces (Ephesians 6:12), but are helped (Isaiah 41:13, Hebrews 2:18), protected (Ps 32:7, John 17:15), and given victory (I John 4:4) by God Almighty.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Providence Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Providence Presbyterian Church, 9019 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax, VA 22031, 703.978.3934, www.providencechurch.org, Rev. Mary E. Rodgers, Associate Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

I’m sure the church has changed little since our last visit six months ago for Emma’s older sister’s baptism, but it seemed so different to me. I had a sense of how the Christmas/Easter worshiper must feel when I remembered that at the time of our last visit there was a considerable snowfall and Christmas decorations were displayed. We were able to worship with some family members whom we hadn’t seen in a while. The space was cooled, which helped me greatly.

The sermon was about the conflict between Martha and Mary, and I appreciated the presentation. I also enjoyed the praise team’s worship music and was looking forward to taking Communion.

Earlier in the day I had my first bona fide nosebleed, and it chose this point in the service to return. As I tended to this situation, a few of the men who came into the men’s room offered to get me help; this thoughtful consideration of someone in need speaks volumes for this church.

On our way home at a rest stop on the Turnpike a man collapsed in the rest room and was resuscitated with a defibrillator. He was tended to by many till the rescue crew arrived.

The caring compassion of strangers shown to God’s children.


Jan’s thoughts:

This was our second visit to Providence for the baptism of another granddaughter – God’s blessings abound!

The Narthex is circular with a huge skylight that allows the daylight to fall gracefully into the greeting area. This is a beautiful facility, well appointed with welcoming touches such as rocking chairs placed in various corners so folks can sit briefly (which we did, as we were early), and a visitor’s table just inside with a selection of information about the church (there must have been a number of visitors at the early service, as the supply was depleted this day).

The bulletin is one of the largest I’ve seen, containing the Order of Worship for both services, music, welcome information, announcements, calendar, and prayer list. So many churches struggle when they have two (or more) services with not becoming two (or more) congregations, and this seems a superb way to remind attendees at both services that the church of which they are a part is larger than the congregation with which they worship.

Last week was Vacation Bible Camp week so there was LOTS of evidence of the week’s activities, including a terrific photo of the children and volunteers gracing the cover of the bulletin and the children’s’ participation during worship.

The music sounded professional, although I’m sure they’re not. I was glad we happened to be there for Communion Sunday and could celebrate both sacraments.

The Associate Pastor led worship and explained that the Prayer of Confession is included each week whether or not Communion is celebrated, because we all sin throughout every week and we need to confess whether or not we are preparing for Communion. I really appreciated the wisdom in that line of thought.

Sitting with a granddaughter during the service meant I was somewhat distracted, which perfectly played into the sermon topic. The message was based on Luke 10:38-42, the well-known Mary and Martha story, and how we are all worried and distracted about many things, just as Martha was. We need to remind ourselves that there is one thing that is necessary, and then choose it. I sometimes need a reminder of that.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Highland Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Highland Presbyterian Church, 310 Franklin Street, Slippery Rock, PA 16057, 724.794.8410, www.srhighlandchurch.com, Rev. Albert Rhodes “Rusty” Stuart, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Sometimes when I tell people that our drive for worship was like today’s 80 mile trip, they sort of glaze over. Mentally we are stuck in the memory of the neighborhood church that we could walk to.

We arrived extra early, but did not feel comfortable exploring downstairs with a Sunday School class in progress. We sat and read undisturbed for almost an hour. More than one person commented later that there were a number of visitors today. We were greeted in the Passing of the Peace of Christ and after the service.

I saw no signage, even to identify the restroom. The Sanctuary has a dropped ceiling and fans and there was a box fan in the rear that helped make it bearable. Since my heart surgery I do not handle high humidity well, so I was grateful for any breeze.

I thought it convenient that the responsive readings and hymns were projected on the large screen. The “God is good all the time” and then the reverse has become such a trite and automatic response it’s hard to believe anyone is paying attention to what they are saying. I appreciated the time allotted for Silent Confession.

The sermon spoke of testing the spirits, discerning which spirit’s leading we should follow, and to love each other not just with words.

It was the most unusual Order of Worship, not just that the offering was taken before the Word but that so much of the service came between the Scripture Lesson and the Sermon. It’s just an observation.


Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived about 45 minutes early, giving us time to look around before anyone was aware of our presence. We checked out the literature in the entry way then made our way toward what turned out to a sort of Narthex in the back of the Sanctuary with almost no wall between the two spaces. The carpet and pew cushions are the same mauve shade and the water color stained glass windows contained a surprising pattern of jewel-colored inserts.

Conveniently, a rest room is situated right outside the Sanctuary and straight in from the one entry door.

In spite of the adult Sunday School class in session downstairs we thought we might look around some without disturbing anyone. Unfortunately, when we got down the steps there was nowhere to go except into the room occupied room, so we headed back upstairs. About halfway up, however, a woman came to the bottom of the steps asking if she could help us. We thanked her and explained we were just looking around, at which point she smiled, said okay, and returned to her class without engaging us in conversation.

We sat in two very comfortable chairs in the Narthex and read a copy of the newsletter and some other literature. A few people said hello from a distance but no introductions were made until after the service at which point several people greeted us, shook our hands, and extended a welcome.

The service was very traditional except that, in addition to the printed bulletin, the Order of Worship was also displayed on the screen. The music was traditional and well done. The Time of Silent Reflection was a good length of time.

The Sermon, “Testing the Spirit: Is There Such a Thing as Truth?” was based on I John 4:1-6. It was brief and to the point: truth does exist…do not fear, but stand firm in the truth…God continues to redeem His creation. I especially appreciated the reminder to test the spirits. That thought gets lost in the day-to-dayness at times, which can only aid Satan in his schemes.