Sunday, March 28, 2010

Summit Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Summit Presbyterian Church, 181 Caldwell Drive, Butler, PA 16002, 724.287.2378,, Rev. Jonathan Evans, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

I deal frequently with preconceived notions. Our trip to church took us down some very country roads and with that came my “expectations” of a small country church. What we found was a vibrant church alive for Jesus.

It was nice to open the door and be confronted right off with directional signage. As we wandered around I did notice a need for additional signage and there was evidence that it was in the works.

My expectations were again exceeded when we walked into the Sanctuary, a cheerful bright area with large colorful stained glass. There is a large, backlit cross, which I saw on the website and which enticed us to visit.

Really enjoyed the choir – they are blessed with terrific harmony.

The Children’s Sermon was well done, correlating the palm branches used in celebrating Jesus to our palms raised to celebrate Him. There were a number of children, which was therapeutic for me as I was missing our grandchildren.

The sermon was based on Mark 10, how the disciples stepped over Christ’s explanation of what was to become of Him that week to ask for positions in Jesus’ kingdom. It made me think how often we try to step over God’s plan with our expectations. Christ’s impending death must have seemed like failure to the disciples; this was their King. We constantly try to side-step God with our expectations and ask Him to fill in the blanks from there.

Sometimes we get to see the God thing happen. I certainly did not expect to witness for Christ in a Giant Eagle parking lot, but came out of the store to find a woman standing by my truck who explained that she had to meet whoever had this bumper sticker. (It said “Go ahead and try Jesus. If you don’t like Him the Devil will always take you back.”) She was so moved by God to do this that she sent her husband in to do the shopping by himself (he was uncomfortable). She told of a family problem she was having and I and those with me held hands in a circle and prayed for her. It was a God moment that exceeded my expectations. He consistently does that.

I was pleased that the offering was taken in response to the Word and impressed with the mission involvement of this church. There were many signs of a good, healthy, well-led church.

There was also an impressive list of military on the prayer list. I was wearing a shirt with a Marine emblem and before we left a parishioner behind me thanked me for my service.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is a pleasant, rural little church. The first thing we saw when we entered was a directional sign downstairs to the restrooms. While in the area we were able to look around a bit, but most of the activity seemed confined to the main floor.

A few people greeted us on our way to the Sanctuary and more folks introduced themselves afterwards, inviting us to stay for Sunday School as well.

The focus of the Sanctuary is the outsized stained glass windows. A plain back-lit cross hangs on the rear wall of the Chancel, beautiful in its simplicity. The carpet is a rose color with a delicate gray pattern brought out by a similarly-colored pew cushion.

The bulletin is one of the best I’ve seen: the information is well-organized and the format is user-friendly. During the announcements and the Morning Prayer the congregation seemed friendly and responsive.

The sermon was entitled “Great Expectations” and was based on Mark 10:32-40, beginning with Jesus’ outline for the disciples of the events that would occur during the final week of His life – “Cliff Notes in a nutshell for dummies” as the pastor called it. And immediately (one of Mark’s favorite words) John and James “requested a celestial eternal promotion on the heavenly org chart” in terms of promised positions at Jesus’ right and left. Such a glaring example of the huge gulf between human ways and God’s ways. The disciples (or any other humans) did not expect God to act as He did to save humankind, and when their expectations were not met they became disillusioned and it looked like failure to them. The pastor pointed out, however, that the Holy Spirit opens our minds to new paradigms so that we can let go of pre-conceived notions and relinquish our expectations.

This compelling message has provided direction for my thoughts today as I deal with a recent disappointment. I’m very grateful to God for sending us to this church to experience the friendly congregation and hear an inspired, hope-giving message delivered with passion.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The First United Presbyterian Church of Darlington

Today we worshiped at The First United Presbyterian Church of Darlington, 3385 Old Darlington Road, Darlington, PA 16115, 724.827.2970, Rev. C.F. Hoffman, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This is a small country church. The yellow/orange center of the stained glass seemed to amplify the sunlight.

The pews were arranged in an arc, and a small chancel in the corner with an illuminated cross mounted up high. We were greeted by a few people before the service including the pastor.

I don’t know if there was any signage other than on the restroom doors, but even a small church could benefit from some directional signs.

A young woman and child brought a crown of thorns forward to drape over the cross – a very symbolic gesture.

We had a tough time with the first hymn, “As a Deer.” It was our late son’s favorite and evokes some strong emotions.

I thought the pastor’s Morning Prayer was very well done. There is a wood plaque on the side wall like the one that lists the hymns only this one is a register that shows attendance last week and now, last week’s offering, and the monthly budget need. Today’s worship attendance was listed as 55 out of a membership of 93.

The sermon was on the world’s question are you the Christ? :”Just Tell Us.” Without the personal experience of Christ we can’t answer that question and that experience is because God put it there in our hearts. Three times during the sermon I felt God calling me to pray for the pastor, so I am sure there is some spiritual warfare in the church. We tend to think God shields us from this warfare but He promises if we are doing His will we will experience the trials. Until the church is doing Christ’s will, they are the devil’s best friend. When I am called to pray for a pastor or church it tells me something good for Jesus is going on here, the pastor and church are being used by God.

Jan’s thoughts:

Sometimes I wish I knew what God was thinking. Today He sent us to a church where the first hymn was “As the Deer.” This is a beautiful song, but it was one of Dan’s favorites, and one that we sang at his memorial service. This made it very difficult to get through the first part of the service, and I was grateful Bob was there to hold me up.

This is a small rural church with a pavilion and something you don’t see every day – a very large military vehicle (a six-by) outside. This is an older building, but obviously kept with a great deal of care.

Nearly everyone we encountered greeted us warmly.

The bulletin is user-friendly with plenty of information in the inserts.

The Chancel area was decorated with daffodils – what a beautiful touch for the first Sunday in spring!

In more traditional churches we often see the board with replaceable numbers indicating which hymns will be sung that Sunday. One of these hung on the wall, but in addition a similar one hung nearby indicating the number of congregants currently on the roll, attendance last week, attendance this week, offering last Sunday, and amount needed each week to meet the budget.

Before worship began we noticed the pastor and choir off to the side in prayer.

Toward the beginning of the service it was announced that we would have the presentation. Since nothing like that was listed in the bulletin at that point, I was curious to see who was presenting what to whom. It turned out to be sort of a Lenten version of the lighting of the Advent candle. One older youth and one of the children walked down the aisle holding a crown of thorns and together they placed it over the front of a cross on the table in front joining a goblet, some coins, and another item I can’t recall that had been placed there in previous weeks. The older youth read a passage of Scripture. I’ve not seen anything like this before, but it was touching and nicely done.

The sermon was entitled “Just Tell Us” and was based on Luke 22:54-71 and focused on the demand made of Jesus that “if you are the Son of God, tell us.” The pastor asked many questions: “What did they expect?” “What do we expect?” “How would we react?” “How would we feel?” Thinking in terms of “regular” scenarios, it’s not hard to see why these people behaved as they did. Then the real question: “Do we believe Him or do we mock Him?” At this point he read Hebrews 11:1 – “Faith is being sure of of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” – and pointed out that faith defined is knowing without His having to tell us. The world, however, still wants proof.

The message was powerful.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Valencia Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Valencia Presbyterian Church, 80 Sterrett Street, Valencia, PA 16059, 724.625.2002,, Rev. Gary Weston, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

On our second try we were able to visit Valencia Presbyterian Church. It was simply a matter of a left turn as opposed to a right, but I really feel it was more than that, like when Christ would tell the disciples something and Scripture says the meaning was clouded for them at the time. I felt that sort of fog last week and was unable to follow the very simple directions.

Speaking of directions, this church has directional signs outdoors, an area often overlooked.

When we entered the smaller, colorful Sanctuary it was apparent everything else was downstairs. We had a brief look around before the service. The pew line from the Sanctuary was angled into the addition, giving the effect of focused seating and a very pleasant worship area. I especially enjoyed the pendant lights with red and blue glass.

A lot of children came forward for the Children’s Message, which was very well tied to the main message of the Prodigal Son. For the children the idea of a lost dog notice and relating how they would react to the dog returning was a great way to relate the message.

The Scouts were honored after the message and were included in prayers. There were numerous prayers throughout and of course I appreciated the large wood cross and that the offering was taken in response to the Word. Also the very professional bulletin.

The sermon, “Prodigals Welcome,” got me thinking of something I read recently about how the father running out to greet his wayward son had a benefit we wouldn’t think of: saving his son’s life. The robe, sandals, signet ring, and father’s embrace and kiss signified to the locals that the father welcomed the son home; otherwise the locals would have stoned the son for disgracing the father.

May we emulate the father’s unconditional love when we welcome our prodigals.

I sensed the strong presence of Christ in worship today.

Jan’s thoughts:

Today we arrived at the church we planned to attend last week. Immediately upon pulling in to the parking lot we noticed the outdoor directional signs and parking spaces marked and set aside especially for visitors – a very welcoming gesture.

The Sanctuary is not deep but had obviously been widened, and once the service began I could see why – it was nearly full. There were several unique touches here.
We were too early for the prelude, but music playing softly as we entered the Sanctuary seemed to quiet people’s talking.
The stained glass was intricate and colorful.
The overhead lights hanging down had some color in them.
As I mentioned the Sanctuary is very wide, so some of the pews were angled effectively.
The signage was excellent, including restroom signs protruding into the hallway.
During worship the Parish Associate spoke about an upcoming mission trip via train to an Indian reservation in Montana.

The bulletin was excellently arranged and looked professionally done, with an extra flap on the right page. Usually these are for gleaning further information about visitors, but this one was used for prayer requests on one side and event sign-ups on the other.

It seemed to take a while for the people to approach us, but the greetings were friendly.

There were a surprising number of children of all ages, and the Children’s Message about a lost puppy was geared to their ages and mindsets. Also, for the second week running – in different churches yet – we were treated to a well-done ceremony acknowledging Boy and Girl Scouts present.

The music was blended, with the words to all the music as well as other parts of liturgy displayed on the screen in the Chancel.

The sermon, called “Prodigals Welcome,” was based on Luke’s telling of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Following the reading of the Scripture the pastor read “The Prodigal Son in the Key of F” – a humorous re-telling of the parable with every possible word beginning with the letter “f.”

He also mentioned C.S. Lewis’ statement that grace is what sets Christianity apart from every other world religion and tied that to what he called the “conceited” (meaning self-righteous) people who do not believe they need grace because they do not believe they’ve done anything wrong.

I tend to agree with Lewis – grace is indeed amazing, and I for one am exceedingly grateful every time I find myself on the receiving end of it.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown, 5825 Heckert Road, Bakerstown, PA 15007, 724.443.1555,, Rev. Dan Muttart, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

God has changed our plans to His plans on church visits so often I am no longer amazed by it. We frequently have a day like today, where the orchestration is so overwhelming that we just have to rejoice knowing we are where He wants us to be.

We “got lost” on our way to the church we chose and He led us to Bakerstown. I wasn’t so sure when the organ started with a terrible bass reverbing through the Sanctuary, but it was soon under control.

The church is spread out and could really benefit from signage. We received friendly greetings from many people. We were blessed that it was Scout Sunday and also blessed with an exceptionally harmonious choir. The prelude with the organ and piano was very well done.

On the rear wall of the Chancel is a large cross framed and offset to the right side (and a large screen on the left). The cross has wooden panels behind that look like rays projecting outward.

Some people mentioned that the earlier service is in a contemporary format, but I saw no reference in any printed material to that effect.

I thought the early prayer was well thought out and presented. The sermon was based on Ephesians 4:1-16 and the bulletin included a note-taking/outline sheet. The sermon title, “God’s Vision for Christian Living,” was well chosen and addressed the questions of how we can strive to be what God directs us to be, how the world sees how we live, how we build up the church by using the spiritual gifts we are blessed with. I have been struggling over using a particular spiritual gift and God has bombarded me with encouragement to go and do, so this message was one more red brick to my head to get me to pay attention. (Usually it takes at least three…) We are called to speak the truth of Christ in what we know, say, and what we do.

The message included an interesting anecdote of someone working as a customer service rep that was regularly faced with outrage, and when they placed a mirror behind them and people saw how they looked when they carried on, they became more civil.

I had remembered this minister when he pastored a church where our late son worshiped several times. Dan, our son, had saved the bulletin so I sent the pastor a note when Dan was killed. Knowing how easily Dan made friends and how recently he had worshiped in that congregation, we wanted to inform them of Dan’s death. The pastor remembered my note, just as I remembered his response. We left this morning with the possibility of a future visit with the Stephen Ministers on ministering to people in grief.

Jan’s thoughts:

This morning we intentionally set out for a church in Beaver-Butler Presbytery; however, through a series of circumstances we instead found ourselves at Bakerstown in what I can only believe was a God-ordained error on the part of the navigator (me, of course – the one with NO sense of direction navigates!).

This church has quite a large campus including the Administration office (I think it is) housed in a separate building.

The people were very friendly: many stopped to introduce themselves, asking where we were from and if we were new to the area, as well as providing directions to the restrooms. We were early and took the opportunity to tour the building. I know Bob wasn’t lost, but I sure could have used some directional signage. (It doesn’t take much for me to become disoriented, but I felt vindicated when a long-time member acknowledged without prompting that the arrangement was confusing.)

I’ve often addressed the bulletin layout, but it’s an interesting situation when the church has an early (8:45 a.m.) contemporary service as well as a traditional service at 11:00 and the question becomes, “How do you do a single bulletin covering both services?” Bakerstown has addressed the issue very sensibly, I think. Many churches with a contemporary service feel an Order of Worship is superfluous and choose to forego one altogether. Often this is fine but it can be confusing to a visitor, especially if they are not used to contemporary worship. Bakerstown solved the issue by publishing a regular bulletin for the traditional service and using half of one of the insert pages for the order for the contemporary service. This was ideal for the traditional service, as I could fold the one outside sheet in half and stuff everything else inside to read later, and had we attended the contemporary service I would have simply used the single sheet. Either way it’s perfect.

The Sanctuary was large with a huge Chancel – enough room for a grand piano (I’m pretty sure), drums, a large choir, an organ, as well as the lectern and pulpit. On the rear wall of the Chancel hung a striking piece of woodwork laid out in rays behind a gold-colored cross with lighting that set it off magnificently. In general the aesthetics were quite pleasing, and the padded pews were comfortable.

In the pew rack I found a large laminated card called “Children at Worship.” I only had time to skim it but it seemed to contain instructions for parents about the various aspects of including children in a worship service and even involving them in Communion. What a great assistance for parents and a reminder for other adults of the importance of helping the little ones grow up to know Jesus. After all, that’s the oath members take every time a child is baptized. Bakerstown has worked to make it easier for everyone.

I enjoyed the prelude, “Sanctus,” which was performed as a piano/organ duet by two obviously accomplished musicians.

This being Scout Sunday, throughout the service there were many treats in the form of words and participation from the Scouts.

The sermon was entitled “God’s Vision for Christian Living” and was based on Ephesians 4:1-16. The message focused on (from the sermon outline) “striving to transfer who you are in Christ to how you live day-by-day, uniting as the church of Christ so the watching world can see it, building up the church of Christ by actively using our gifts in it, and speaking the truth of Christ by what you know, what you say, and what you do.” That’s what we struggle for, of course, and it takes our whole lives to figure out what that looks like day-by-day.

I enjoyed this church and the friendliness of the people, and we look forward to attending the 8:45 contemporary service at some point.