Sunday, January 31, 2010

Steffin Hill Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Steffin Hill Presbyterian Church, 2000 Darlington Road, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.846.6711,, Rev. Dr. Judy Angleberger, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Today’s was a rather special church visit because it was probably the most welcoming presence – once we got in the door – that we have experienced. What amazed me were the people we met before the service who then came by when we passed the Peace of Christ and addressed us by name. Many of the worshipers told us that their regular pastor was not there and we would have to come back and meet her.

I thought it odd that I had to ask for a bulletin.

At the rear of the Chancel there is a very large, prominent cross in front of a round stained glass panel that makes it look like the cross is in the stained glass. The somewhat unusual arched ceiling has a dropped ceiling suspended and covering most of the actual ceiling area. This design seemed to create very good acoustics. The pews are arranged in a semi-circle and make the chancel area seem as if it is in a small alcove. Most of the woodwork is varying shades of oak from dark to light pecan. Signage was almost non-existent. The Children’s Sermon was oriented to the children and I was happy that there were more than a few young ones, as well as some babies to watch.

An announcement was made to honor some members for their record of perfect (or almost perfect) attendance the past year. I thought the Prayer for Illumination was unusual in that it was what it is supposed to be.

The anthem was almost completely drowned out by the organ. The little continuance while the choir returned to their pews was at a volume that would have worked well. The small choir just couldn’t compete.

The offering really was in response to the Word.

I thought the sermon might have been delivered by a seminary student. The passion seemed to fade as the message wore on; he seemed to have lost a lot of the congregation about half-way through. He was preaching on the importance of love over all when I noticed a young mother interacting with a child. There was the perfect example of the pure love that God has for us – to be able to forgive someone in love and keep no record of the past. The recent death of our dog reminded me that yes, God loves you like that.

I look forward to a return visit.

Jan’s thoughts:

It’s always interesting to enter a church for the first time, knowing that you probably know no one you’ll encounter that morning. But when we entered this church the young woman handing out bulletins was extremely friendly in greeting some people who arrived immediately before us. This would not have struck me as odd at all had she at least looked at us, but she didn’t. She stopped smiling, looked past us, distractedly handed me a bulletin and said “Good morning,” with no emotion. I found myself standing there wondering what we had done. However, before we took two steps there were three women there introducing themselves and welcoming us and several more people greeted us before we sat down. I suppose first impressions are sometimes inaccurate and can be overcome.

Once we got in the door, this turned out to be one of the friendliest churches we’ve visited. Before, during, and after the service people introduced themselves, spoke to us, and invited us to return. We truly felt welcome and were delighted we had come to this church.

The bulletin was well done and easy to read, with the “extra stuff” on inserts that did not interfere with the Order of Worship. The Sanctuary was arranged in a semi-circle. The walls were light green and brought out the greens in the stained glass.

At times worship leaders will begin to pray a Prayer of Adoration and part way through it becomes a prayer of supplication instead, and that was what I heard today. Also, it may seem like a small thing, but the wording in the bulletin is important: it should be a Prayer FOR Illumination, not a Prayer OF Illumination. Today, though, the prayer was what it was supposed to be: a prayer for God’s illumination of our minds and hearts, and was where it was supposed to be: immediately prior to the reading of the Scripture, which is often not the case.

During the Mission Focus I was astonished to learn that this church will have a unique auction on February 14 to benefit a specific medical need in Malawi (a place close to my heart from two visits to that warm-hearted place) and that Dr. Sue Makin has visited Steffin Hill. Every time I begin to wonder if God really “sends” us to the churches we visit, something like this happens and I learn once again that I shouldn’t doubt.

Unfortunately the pastor was on vacation today, and several folks informed us that we must return to hear her preach because “she’s our shining star.” With so many glowing recommendations, we probably will return to hear her.

I understand the gentleman who preached today is at a pre-ordination stage and I wanted to speak with him following the service but we needed to find the restrooms. After some guesswork we located them downstairs and by the time we returned upstairs I couldn’t find him. The sermon, entitled “Without love, I am nothing,” was long but very good, and as you might guess it was based on 1 Corinthians 13.

Oddly enough I’ve been reading and pondering that passage every couple of days this past week, thinking about the difference between God’s love and human love, and how we can do many good things but they will not last unless they are motivated by love.

Recently I again heard that old saying that “God is love,” so in reading the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13 I discovered that replacing the word “love” with “God” allows me to hear it differently. I think that’s sort of what he was getting at – the difference between doing a good thing for some other reason and doing it out of agape love. As I said, the sermon was long and I got lost toward the end, unfortunately.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church

Today we worshiped at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, 399 State Street, Baden, PA 15005, 724.869.7635,, Rev. Jill E. McGregor, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Today we went to check out one of the churches closest to us; however we arrived a few minutes late, so we saw only the Sanctuary. The building has a great dark wood ceiling and unusual half-round stained glass windows set in the ceilings. The colors in the stained glass windows were somber but ornate. The pew cushions were very comfortable.

The Children’s Sermon was well done with many comments back from the children.

A “promise keepers” message that the true kept promises are the promises of God.

Sometimes wish I could be here for the Scripture and message only; so much of the ritual seems unenthusiastic and unfamiliar.

I was able to gain a bit of a feel for the work and activities of the congregation from the old bulletins in the pew rack, and guessing from the number of children I saw this looks like it may be a healthy church.

A congregational meeting was scheduled immediately after the service, so we were able to exchange greetings with the minister only.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is the sister church of the Lutheran church we visited November 29, and the same pastor serves both churches.

We were running a little late today and arrived shortly after worship began. Even so, the usher saw us coming and was ready with bulletins when we got inside. The Sanctuary was quite full and we found seats in the last row. Another usher, who was seated in a pew against the back wall behind us, promptly provided us with a hymnal opened to the page from which the congregation was singing. Although we’ve attended a couple of Lutheran services lately the liturgy is still confusing to me, so her assistance was much appreciated.

I was unable to see any of the children who went forward for the Children’s Sermon, but was enthralled to hear the enthusiasm of a young one named Emily who nearly took over the time. She was so sweet and genuine, and the pastor treated her interjections with respect.

The sermon was untitled but centered around the fact that although we all have broken promises at one time or another, God cannot break His promises. This is one of those things that I know but had not thought to apply to an issue of conflict with which I’m currently wrestling. God is a God of reconciliation, and He can and will work to heal relationships because that is Who He is. So my hope for this relationship has been renewed by hearing this reminder and my heart now has renewed hope in Him. I suppose from time to time we all need reminders of forgotten truths, and I’m very grateful for this reminder.

Due to a congregational meeting immediately following the service, the pastor greeted visitors as they left and then they began their meeting. Consequently, the only people we were able to greet besides the pastor were the woman next to us and the usher we saw on our way out. Still, I left with a lighter feeling in my heart than when I arrived.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

First Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church, 252 College Avenue, Beaver, PA 15009, 724.774.6398,, Rev. Jeff Arnold, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This church has very good signage, including a “you are here” kind of site map at two of the entrances I used. It is a large enough facility that the map was appreciated.

We were welcomed by a number of people (at a 3-service church) and an extensive introduction by one man who didn’t give his name.

The blended service was in the fellowship hall which we found by accident while touring. The fellowship hall was an addition and some of the original stone wall and glass was incorporated. I noticed there was sprinkler protection, a real asset for a church.

Got a peek at the awesome Sanctuary – great wood work and stained glass. Also creative placement of crosses in both the Sanctuary and fellowship hall.

I thought the voices of the praise team blended very well. The screens were not used for this service, but this was explained by a note in the bulletin seeking someone to run a PowerPoint for the 9 a.m. service. We were told that the church has about 600 members. An impressive new members class was received and the service we attended was about at its limit.

The sermon, “What Does Recovery Look Like,” was delivered in two parts with a time of Confession of Sin in the middle. I pray the congregation felt the affect of “I Surrender All.” I thought it was very powerful.

Some of the sermon connected Matthew 5 and the 12-step program. The message was delivered well and I appreciated the obvious, heartfelt passion of the pastor. Too often I hear Christ’s message given with the passion of a rock. How can anyone believing Christ not be on fire in the Spirit to tell of Him?

I noted good evidence of extensive mission efforts and the offering was taken in response to the Word.

The Statement of Faith was spoken together as a benediction followed by the benediction by the pastor.

A highlight for me – a reminder was given of a prayer meeting for Haiti later in the day.

Jan’s thoughts:

With the stone exterior I expected an old church, and in some ways I was correct: this church is over 200 years old. However, they’ve certainly kept up with the times with a beautiful renovation inside including an addition, abundant signage inside and out, well-kept premises, a very informative website, and a move into the world of multi-site churches.

There may have been other parking, but the only parking we saw was on the front street where there were sandwich-boards indicating reserved parking for seniors. We walked past a ramped entrance where there was a sign indicating the direction of the main entrance. Once inside that door, however, we found ourselves in a small foyer adjoining the Sanctuary where, unfortunately, the early worship service was in progress. As we had just come in from the cold rain, we opted to head for the doors across the side of the Sanctuary as quietly and unobtrusively as possible, hopefully not distracting the worshipers in the process.

The Sanctuary, however, is quite beautiful with dark wood boasting intricate details on the ceiling, lovely stained-glass windows, and gorgeous chandeliers.

With three services (traditional at 8 and 11:15 and the one we attended, a blended service, at 9), we expected not to be recognized as visitors. Instead we were welcomed by several people who took a chance and asked if we were new there and who then extended an invitation to the adult Sunday school classes. Prior to worship, one gentleman took the time to tell us a little about the church’s missions and history along with the multi-site plans.

Worship was held in a large multi-purpose room and was crowded. The music was mostly contemporary, but extremely well done and with a beautiful sound by 4 or 5 women and 3 men. The bulletin is one 11 x 17 sheet folded in half and today included one insert with photos and a few words about each of the 25 new members who officially joined today.

The pastor was dynamic and passionate in his preaching. It took some effort for me to remain unbiased as he reminded me very much of a dear friend.

One of the new programs starting up next month is called “Celebrate Recovery.” It originated at Saddleback Church and is a Christ-centered version of the 12-step recovery program used at AA, NA, and probably numerous other organizations. It aims at seeking God’s healing to recover from habitual sins in our lives, and the sermon was about recovery based on the Beatitudes. The sermon outline gave specific steps based on Matthew 5 to aid in this quest for healing and recovery. Interestingly, he gave the first half of the message then stopped and we had the Confession, Assurance, and Response, then part two of the sermon. The sermon included some congregational participation, and the music, most of which was new to me, was powerful. I plan to keep the words to “I Will Change Your Name” just to read and reflect upon:

Will Change Your Name
I will change your name, you shall no longer be called wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid.
I will change your name, your new name shall be confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one, faithfulness, friend of God, one who seeks my face.

Powerful words and a thought-provoking message that touched my heart.

Since this is part 3, I plan to access previous and subsequent sermons via the website in order to catch up. I’m pretty certain they’ll be worth the time.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Northmont United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Northmont United Presbyterian Church, 8169 Perry Highway, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.364.0105,, Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We visited Northmont to hear their new pastor and because of its proximity to a later visit. Northmont has a most impressive Sanctuary, great woodwork and wooden beams across an arched ceiling and a central cross suspended that all works very well together. Although doors are marked, they could benefit from some directional signage: restrooms, elevator, handicapped restroom, etc.

I enjoyed the children’s sermon; it was encouraging to hear one aimed at the children. We were especially pleased to hear the brass ensemble by the Eisenreichs and Scott Eisenreich’s solo of “Mary, Did You Know?” The bulletin was way more awkward than it needed to be, but there was a lot of information.

The pastor’s message was on moving ahead in faith in God, being free to be dependent on Christ. To not let ourselves be held back by our past. When I thought the message seemed to run on a bit I was reminded the message I hear may be very different from what someone else heard.

Jan’s thoughts:

We needed to be in the area early this afternoon, so we opted to visit Northmont to see and hear their new pastor. After arriving and receiving a bulletin, we learned that some friends were presenting the music this morning, so that was a surprise treat.

Even with all the snow still on the ground, the parking lot was well tended to and mostly clean.

We sat toward the back of the Sanctuary which gave us a great view of the woodwork on the ceiling and the rear wall of the Chancel. It’s a very attractive space with the matching wood all around and painted surfaces, especially on the ceiling.

The people were friendly, many greeting us both prior to the service and during worship. It was heartening to see so many children come forward for the children’s sermon, and I enjoyed listening to the young woman who spoke to the children as she had a pleasant, confident voice.

The bulletin contains lots of information; however, it was cumbersome. For what it’s worth, I'd suggest keeping the Order of Worship on the one folded page and including the rest in the form of unfolded inserts. That way when the bulletin is folded for use during worship it's possible to insert everything inside that's not worship-related and still follow worship.

I’ve heard of Dr. Lolla for many years but had not met him - and technically still haven’t, but at least now I know who he is. His manner is exceptionally pastoral, his voice is calm, and his bearing is humble and trustworthy. I’m sure the effect of his ministry on this church will bring glory to God.

The sermon was titled “Moving Ahead↑” and was based on Philippians 3:7-14. After hearing it I knew why God had sent us there today. He spoke of moving forward in the face of change, and in the process depending upon God to free us from the prison of the past and to be our safety net as we walk the tightrope into an unknown future. I believe this message spoke to the needs of this congregation and I know it spoke to mine.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dutilh United Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at Dutilh United Methodist Church, 1270 Dutilh Road, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.776.1094,, Rev. Dwayne Burfield, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This church boasts probably the best directional and specific interest signage we have seen anywhere. The building has an unusual ceiling that is repeated in the fellowship hall and narthex: it is a shallow arch crossed by wooden beams.

The building is very well laid out, evidence that much thought went into the design. This church was literally raised up from the ashes of the original and designed with space for God to fill. I think it would worth a visit just to see the stained glass and woodwork. With all the matching woodwork, however, it seemed odd that the lectern was so different.

We were worshiping at a contemporary service. Frequently there is no order of worship provided, but it would be good for a visitor to know when to expect the offering to be taken. Especially with contemporary services, there is little sit-down time to write a check when the offering is taken before the Word.

This church has three services so it was not unusual not to be welcomed. The greetings we received before the service were very informal, which may not be such a bad thing.

The sermon started with a story about a man repeatedly testing each key of a piano, to the point of annoying the pastor sitting nearby, before he began playing beautiful music. Relating that difference to our beautiful music to God: to give, to pray, and to fast. The sermon delved into the true meaning and purpose of fasting. There were many Scripture references throughout the sermon.

We were directed to bring our prayers to God for relief of physical ailments when we came forward for Communion and asked to leave silently after partaking. The servers identified the elements aloud as they were presented.

I found it interesting that the ushers distributed the attendance pads. I feel sure they receve a better response this way.

We did get to talk with a few people after the service and I was pleased to find that this was the church I read about in Guideposts magazine which, after the fire, rebuilt on faith. I have used that story many times to encourage other churches to take the same leap of faith.

Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived with plenty of time to look around, so we conducted a self-guided tour and observed many inventive ideas put to use.

The building is fairly new, creatively designed, and well maintained. The stained glass is remarkable – mostly frosted glass with bits of the design in various colors. The ceiling design is maintained from the Sanctuary, through the large narthex, and finally through the fellowship hall. We visited the education wing where the Sunday morning nursery is held and pre-school is located during the week.

The signage is impressive, comprised of words printed on an arrow-shaped sign, plenty large enough to see and easy to follow.

We attended the second of three services (8:00 traditional, 9:30 contemporary, and 11:00 blended), so there were people coming and going the whole time we were there. And as you might guess, with that many services and approximately 1,000 members, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Prior to the service one gentleman introduced himself and we had a good chat with the woman attending to the Information Center, and afterward an informative conversation with a woman who observed that she didn’t know us and so introduced herself, then a discussion with one of the Associate Pastors, but that was all. The people were not unfriendly; they just assumed we usually attended another service.

We were given bulletins, but they contained only announcements, no order of worship. The emphasis is quite varied: much about youth of all ages, small group opportunities, an upcoming ministry fair, and mission volunteer opportunities. In the coat room was a cupboard which is to be filled with food donations to be given to the poor. Another shelf contained four cloth bins each with a sign indicating what was being collected, the name of a contact person, and details of how the donations are used.

The contemporary service music, we learned, is mostly led by youth of the church, but is a multigenerational effort. It was good but is obviously still evolving. Still, I enjoyed singing some familiar contemporary songs.

The sermon centered on fasting, as the church will soon begin a 21-day corporate “Daniel Fast” and numerous recipes can be found on the church website for this fast. The pastor explained the purpose of fasting is to redirect the appetite to the things of God for the purpose of deepening one’s relationship with God. He specifically requested the congregation pray for guidance for the leadership and pastors of the church and regarding the possible merger with Mars United Methodist Church. Apparently this church has carried out corporate fasts in the past, so none of this is new to them.

I pray that they receive the guidance they seek from God in this endeavor and are able to move forward into the New Year confident they are following Him in His will for them individually and corporately.