Sunday, February 28, 2010

New Salem Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at New Salem Presbyterian Church, 348 Salem Church Road, Midland, PA 15059, 724.495.6880, Rev. Jeff Marquis, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

I didn’t think I would ever say that a church would not benefit from additional signage, but signage would probably be of minimal value. From what we saw, the Sanctuary is the first floor and everything else is downstairs.

The Sanctuary is attractively decorated: great wood work, pressed tin ceiling, and harmonious colors. There is a large wooden cross in front, and interesting windows – the lower portions have replacement windows, the upper (original?) include a single colored panel at the top and a stained glass panel suspended over the sash. Each window sill had a crafted cross with purple cloth and lilies. Very pleasant overall.

We were warmly welcomed, first by a young man in the fellowship hall and then by many others. We were barely in the door before a bulletin was handed to us…I would suggest letting people get their coats off first. The usher later also offered us a newsletter and other information.

When I was checking the bulletin boards to learn about mission involvement I found a note from someone who had been to Malawi. We learned later this was one of the minister’s daughters. We were led to be at this church, and she was divinely directed also.

We were treated to delightful chimes and a great string trio with piano.

The sermon was a synopsis of Genesis 25-35 relating to God’s promises and how easily we forget.

We have often observed the longevity of pastors in Beaver-Butler Presbytery. We have met a number who have served 20 years at their church, but this pastor’s ancestral grandfather was one of the first supply pastors at this church. The pastor’s family seems to be very involved in this ministry also.

On top of a fulfilling worship experience, we partook of a pot luck lunch after the service and had a chance to speak further with some of the members.

Jan’s thoughts:

I’m always afraid that perhaps I had too much say in determining where we should worship and that I didn’t spend enough time listening to God’s direction. When will I ever get it through my thick head that God can work things out without my fretting?

This was another wonderfully rural little church, very family-oriented, with plenty of young ones. Even with all the snow we could see a nice pavilion and lots of space (probably grassy, if we ever see grass again…).

In the course of the little bit of touring we did we found a bulletin board bearing photos and letters of thanks from the missions supported by this church. One of the letters was from a young woman who turned out to be the pastor’s daughter, and was written during a visit to Malawi.

The people were friendly from the moment we entered, and many who sat near us greeted us as they entered the pew. The bulletin was nice-looking and user-friendly.

The Sanctuary was just beautiful. The comfortably padded pews were well-coordinated with the walls and carpet. The windows were arched with plain glass and one pane of stained glass at the top of the arch. In each window was hung an intricate stained glass panel; it all looked quite lovely.

The music was blended, with both “Rock of Ages” and “Awesome God.” It was a treat to hear the New Salem Chimers and the music was led by Timber Ridge, a band consisting of an acoustic guitar, a piano, a banjo, and a fiddle.

The sermon was entitled “Conflicts and God” and was based on Psalm 46:1 and Genesis 25-35. Apparently the pastor is preaching through Genesis a portion at a time, and today preached on ten chapters. Although it seemed like a lot to bite off for one message, it was an interesting portion of the story.

After worship I approached the young woman who had visited Malawi. We had an excellent conversation (during which she mentioned she had made other plans for this morning but ended up joining her family at worship instead). It was a divinely orchestrated connection that I hope will remain. I love it when God is in control.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church, 102 Shannon Road, Renfrew, PA 16053, 724.789.7145,, Rev. W. Lee Dreyer, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Today we visited a delightful little country church. The architecture says it was a traditional high-ceiling church when built but we were assured by the pastor that the present lowered ceiling replaced a prior dropped ceiling with little room above it. The general contractor in me would like to have investigated further. The current ceiling is very good – white paneling and oak beams that match the rest of the Sanctuary. I noticed no signage. It is a small facility but I would think at least restroom/fellowship hall/nursery directions should be identified.

A smaller cross hangs on the rear Chancel wall: it is a well-placed focal point. The windows have only small blue squares on the perimeter but to very good effect. There was one banner in particular I enjoyed that I would guess was made by a Sunday School class.

I believe we were greeted by everyone in the church during the Passing of the Peace of Christ as well as by a few before the service. The bulletin was rather confusing and I found it hard to keep my place. Parts of Psalm 91 were read responsively, and I would have appreciated it being identified in the bulletin as a responsive reading.

The anthem was presented with only a few choir members and the voices and piano sounded mechanical. I thought the pianist was experiencing some problem until I heard the joy in the rest of what she played. There are few truly singable hymns associated with Communion, but a small choir needs to bump it up a bit to compensate for their size.

The pastor spoke of how easy it is to justify almost anything by using Scripture taken out of context, and how well the Devil does just that when we are not prepared for battle. One of the three points of the sermon touched on the Bible as the word of God, small ‘w,’ as opposed to capital Word, Christ. I didn’t grasp what that was about. The second point was the whole Bible. I was reminded of a woman in a Bible study who showed me her loose-leaf Bible – when she found a part she didn’t like she simply pulled that page out. I don’t know what she kept. We are all easily lured astray by Scripture taken out of context. The third point of all of this is love.

Communion was served silently, and I thought the pastor should have been served instead of having to serve himself. Of course I was pleased that the offering was taken in response to the Word preached.

Sometimes I have a blessed insight, it doesn’t happen too often. My guess is being a man and a stubborn Marine have something to do with it. I became aware today that my comments on the buildings of the churches we visit could be taken as judgmental or as a reflection on worship. When I experienced God in a foxhole, I learned the church building is a tool. I mention things that I notice as a first-time visitor and some of that is just to help me remember between churches.

Today we were blessed to spend some time with the pastor after worship. (In case my cardiac doc reads this I won’t mention the sweets…) It was a joy to gain the additional insight into the church and pastor. I have noticed that sometimes the strongest ministry happens during the social time. Maybe I was just pleased that we got to share a little of how God has used us.

Jan’s thoughts:

As we approached this appealingly rural church we saw an amazing pavilion off to the side of the building. Unfortunately there was still too much snow to check it out up close, but the pastor later confirmed that it is used quite often for worship services, picnics, Vacation Bible School, and even community events.

I think I’ve only seen one other church with a split entry. There was no directional signage to be found. We encountered some people who were friendly enough but did not stop to introduce themselves. However, as we entered the Sanctuary the pastor introduced himself and his daughter, who was dispensing bulletins.

The Sanctuary design was well-coordinated (except for the mauve carpet and bright red pew cushions). All the wood was the same shade including the ceiling joists but on a white painted ceiling. The windows were white opaque and outlined with greenish-blue.

The bulletin contains lots of information, but could use a makeover as it’s confusing and cumbersome. At one point during the announcements the pastor pointed out the brand new web address on the front page and I had to look through each page in my hands to find it. I usually suggest keeping the Order of Worship on one folded page and including the rest in the form of unfolded inserts. That way when the bulletin is folded for use during worship parishioners can insert everything inside that’s not worship-related and easily follow worship.

The sermon was entitled “What is Truth?” based on parts of Psalm 91 and on Luke 4:1-13, the story of Jesus’ temptation at the end of His 40 days in the desert. He pointed out that the Bible is the word (small “w”) of God, not the Word (capital “W”) of God, Who is Jesus; one should read the Bible “big” and in context, not in bits (“An isolated verse is not truth.”) and together with a faith community; and that the ultimate test of whether a concept is Biblical is when it is viewed “through the lens of love.” If it magnifies love of God and others, it can be said to be Biblical.

We celebrated the Sacrament of Communion, which I enjoyed as it has been a while since I last partook of the elements. I wished the servers looked a little bit happy to be serving Communion, but all I saw were frowns.

Following the service we ended up spending a good deal of time talking with the pastor who told us much about the history of the church (both building and people) and about his own faith journey. So often pastors don’t really get what we do, but I felt that this pastor not only got it but appreciated it, which we appreciated in turn.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Westminster United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Westminster United Presbyterian Church, 115 North Mercer Avenue, New Brighton, PA 15066, 724.846.7433, Mr. Jordan Rimmer.

Bob’s thoughts:

This church was very welcoming and some who met us before the service greeted us by name during the Passing of the Peace of Christ. Often at churches many life stories are offered but little listening is done. Coming to Christ is the best thing that ever happened to me, so I can easily understand and encourage someone to share their faith walk. However, as a stranger, being regaled with stories of sporting events and logistics was a little odd.

I don’t think I have ever been in a public place that was so devoid of signage. A gentleman offered to show us Fellowship Hall and I found a restroom nearby.

The Sanctuary has a neat appearance: a pine-paneled ceiling between manufactured arch joists and an impressive large aluminum cross in front with the design repeated on the ceiling light figures. The Chancel area is one of the largest I’ve seen, and on each window sill sits a wood carving of the Presbyterian Church emblem.

I enjoyed watching some children near us and observing their parents’ efforts to contain them brought back some now-pleasant memories of our children in church.

The message was based on the Transfiguration of Christ as related in Luke 9. Seminary students seem to have a tendency to bend slightly or state Scripture less-than-accurately, and it takes away from the message.

A common thread of the sermon that Transformers (the toys) always are cars/ trucks/ buildings or whatever and they can change into something else but are still what they were, but that God is always God. The disciples may have seen and known the human Jesus, but He was still God. We sometimes try to hang on to the high points, or mountaintop experiences, with God and forget that whether we are at a high or low point, He is there with us.

I was reminded of a low time in my life when I felt very connected with God and how much I missed that close presence later when it wasn’t as necessary. When He has brought you through something you may no longer need Him to hold your hand constantly, but you can trust He is still there watching over.

Jan’s thoughts:

This was a very friendly church: probably half the congregation greeted us, introduced themselves and chatted, and one gentleman thoughtfully took the time to give us a brief tour of the building prior to worship. This was helpful as I don’t believe I saw a directional sign anywhere. They also made a special effort to make sure we felt welcome at the fellowship time following the service.

The Sanctuary features a high wooden ceiling and only yellow stained glass. The very deep Chancel is particularly striking with its stone work, and on the rear wall a large metal cross is hung in front of a royal blue curtain. The indirect lighting was just right.

The bulletin features clip art and various fonts to create visual interest, although some items could be spaced differently to utilize white space more efficiently.

The music was mostly very traditional, such as “How Great Thou Art” (which I love and haven’t sung in a while), “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty,” and “Lead On, O King Eternal,” all good choices for Transfiguration Sunday.

From all indications, Mr. Rimmer is currently a student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but I know nothing more about how he came to be serving this church. The sermon was entitled “Jesus: More than Meets the Eye,” and was based on the report of Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36. He compared Christ’s transfiguration with the Transformers – an imaginative comparison, I thought. I agreed with many of his statements, such as, “God is not tame or predictable,” “Fear of the Lord is appropriate,” and “Life doesn’t happen on the mountaintop.” All accurate in my opinion. However, there were two points in particular with which I had a problem.

At one point he mentioned that the high places were built to supposedly bring people closer to God, but did not mention that God despised the high places and wanted them destroyed because they were created to enable idol worship. An important point, I thought.

When speaking of God’s voice heard from the cloud by Peter and John while on the mountain with Jesus during His transfiguration, he kept referring to “what the cloud says.” This bothered me since it was not the cloud speaking, it was Almighty God Himself, and I felt a respectful reminder of that would be appropriate.