Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ohio United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Ohio United Presbyterian Church, 1236 Longvue Avenue, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.378.3690,

Bob’s thoughts:

I recently came to the realization that something common to internally-focused churches is that there is seldom any signage. Today this observation was confirmed by a Deacon who complained that their former pastor of 12 years encouraged them to do outreach and they resisted. There seemed to be no sadness that a pastor with this much time invested in this church was gone.

This church possesses a very interesting exposed wood beam ceiling and a large cross on the rear wall of the Chancel. There seemed to be a problem with the microphone volume or placement: a strong solo was mostly lost in the piano and spoken parts from the lectern were in and out.

The sermon was presented by Jason Smith of Young Life, an organization founded in Ambridge to bring teens to Christ. His message was based on Luke’s account of a paraplegic being lowered down through the roof to Jesus, and the question of where do you draw the line? How far will you go for Christ? I thought this was a great question to be raised in this church. Why do we as followers of Christ seem to have such a problem when His power is discussed? We are free to call upon this power, but our faith is so dismal that we don’t.

I hope the interim coming is a strong leader who can awaken this church to Christ’s call for them.

I was disappointed that there was no mention of Memorial Day. Perhaps they are more internal than I thought.

Jan’s thoughts:

Very pretty church with a large parking lot across a small street. The facility is well cared for except for a noticeable lack of signage. The Sanctuary ceiling is intricate and impressive. The bulletin is user-friendly and informative.

The people were friendly both before and during worship. One Deacon took the time to talk with us, but after asking us a couple of questions proceeded to tell us details that, I thought, would have been better left unsaid.

It was nice to see a board with pictures and information honoring service people, but even on Memorial Day Sunday nothing was mentioned of the holiday.

Ohio Church has recently begun an interim period, and their new Interim Pastor, Rev. Eric Powell, is scheduled to begin his ministry here July 1.

The message was given by Jason Smith, and much of it revolved around his work with Young Life. The Scripture was Luke 5:17-26, the story of the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him through the ceiling so he could see Jesus. Jason tied it in with a young man, Shane, whom the congregation knew and for whom they had prayed following an accident that left him with severe burns over much of his body. Shane was a new Christian who, following much healing, went to Young Life camp with his friends. However his inability to walk (much less run) with his friends interfered with the joy of this experience, so his friends took turns carrying Shane on their backs as they ran. Obviously an easy leap to the story in the Scripture.

Neither set of friends “drew lines” in their willingness to help the paralytic or Shane experience life, and Jesus doesn’t draw lines either. He simply asks for our child-like faith.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Centreville Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Centreville Presbyterian Church, 15450 Lee Highway, Centreville, VA 20120, 703.830.0098,, Rev. Rob Bromhead, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We always enjoy visiting Centreville in Virginia, and I will admit up front being distracted by my children and grandchildren.

The sermon was well presented; it was based on the parable of the tares growing among the wheat planted by the farmer. I have realized there is another thing lacking in not having an Order of Worship – no record of the Scripture that was used.

A major improvement in the praise worship was some younger female voices. I found with the additional worship service fewer people realized we were visitors, or they have seen us enough to think we were members. I was surprised that Jan and I were about the only ones wearing red to celebrate Pentecost.

I was very pleased to learn from the newsletter that the pastor will be taking a sabbatical after 30 years of ordained ministry.

Jan’s thoughts:

We often have visited Centreville since we began traveling to Manassas to see our daughter and son-in-law, Jill and Scott, seven years ago, so we’ve been privileged to watch from a distance, so to speak, as this church evolved over that period. We got to know the Senior Pastor, Rob, and the Associate Pastor, Neil, who has since moved on. Our entire family worshiped here with our late son Dan on our way back from Parris Island just over four years ago, another daughter did her internship here, and now all three of Jill and Scott’s children have been baptized here.

Centreville has grown a great deal and recently established a third worship service. Yesterday we arrived early for the middle (9:45) service, and a woman approached me to chat. In the course of the conversation she explained that her way of making sure she sees her friends from all three services is to attend the middle service so she can see her friends who attend the first service on her way in and their way out and see her friends from the third service on her way out and their way in. I couldn’t help admiring her thought process and her commitment to not allowing change to cause distance between her and her friends.

Obviously, with this sort of history, I can’t comment on Centreville as a first-time visitor. However, I can comment as a long-term repeat visitor, and I like this church very much. It has a lot going for it in terms of the people who worship there, their local, national, and international mission outreach efforts, and their pastor.

Pastor Rob’s sermon was entitled “Future Realities of the Kingdom” and it is part of a series on “The Kingdom of God.” (By the way, you can listen to this or many other sermons on the church website or, like me, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.) Rob is an enthusiastic, passionate preacher. Usually I focus more on the theology of a sermon than on any stories that are told, but this time what I heard most loudly was a story which was credited to Rev. Bruce Thielemann, who served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.

The story (to the best of my recollection) centered around a grub that lived on the ocean floor, who noticed that some of his friends would climb a leaf to the surface, but they never returned. So he and his other friends made a pact that if one of them climbed the leaf, they would return and tell the others all about where it led. Soon it came time for this grub to climb the leaf, and when he emerged from the water he morphed into a beautiful dragonfly (an oxymoron, in my opinion). He briefly considered going back to honor his pact, but knew that in this new form his friends would not recognize him, and besides it was so beautiful in this new world, and he could now fly, so he decided to wait for his friends to join him.

Although I still don’t love dragonflies, I do love this story. It depicts the transition as such an easy thing, and somehow visualizing the difference between a grub and a dragonfly is easier than visualizing the difference between my son as I knew him in this world and as he is now. It’s a story of hope, and sometimes that’s the best thing there is.

Sunday, May 16, 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:

When we visited Steffin Hill we promised we would come back to hear their pastor preach; we will have to honor that promise in the future. Had I spent time at the church’s website I would probably have known that the pastor would not be there today. There was a time I would have believed it was our poor planning, but I know that God leads us.

This is a small, comfortable Sanctuary and a very welcoming congregation. They could still use some signage, but today the organ volume was more appropriate to the volume of the choir.

The children’s sermon on echoing Christ was very well done. While longer than a children’s message should be, the pastor’s enthusiasm and children’s reactions made it work well.

The Prayer for Illumination called for Christ’s presence, which is often overlooked.

The sermon was also on echoing Christ, based on Acts 16:16-24 +. The female seer was referred to in Greek as prophesying in the spirit of the snake. With our demonic connection of snakes, I thought that interesting.

This group in the text was a Who’s Who of Bible lore: Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy, so we read with maybe an expectation of the good stuff. I am glad that he preached a little beyond the referenced Scripture to a Paul Harvey-type “rest of the story.” To have our heroes beaten, flogged, and thrown into prison is certainly a downer without the knowledge that they were praising God in prison and the ensuing good that transpired for the Kingdom.

I thought the sermon also went long, but that was overshadowed by the pastor’s enthusiasm. It was great to hear a pastor used by Christ present a message with passion and joy.

Jan’s thoughts:

So, today we returned to Steffin Hill to meet the pastor, as she was away the first time we visited (January 31, 2010). Soon after arriving we learned she was away again this Sunday also! Such a strange circumstance: perhaps it means something, perhaps nothing at all, but odd nonetheless.

Again the members of this church were extraordinarily friendly – nearly everyone we saw spoke to us.

The guest preacher today was Rev. Dr. Don Opitz, who apparently was known to the congregation. I appreciated when, following a strong anthem by the Chancel Choir (“Lift Up Your Songs of Praises”), Dr. Opitz approached the pulpit and said simply, “Hallelujah!” That was immediately followed by the Prayer for Illumination during which he stated that we were “trusting You (God) to attend to these words and use them to form us.” Wow.

The message, entitled “Echo Life,” was based on Psalm 115:1-8 and Acts 16:16-24 and included thoughtful notions I had never heard expressed this way before:
Our lives become an echo of what we worship – you echo your God;
You can truly hear, see, and speak when you are connected to the true Source;
The Christian life is not about trying harder – grace is the only hope.

The sermon seemed slightly long, but well worth hearing. I suppose we’ll go back again to hear Dr. Angleberger, but we’ll check first to be certain she’ll be there!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Church, 846 State Route 18, Raccoon Twp., PA 15001, 724.495.6462,, Rev. Richard Herbster, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We have been surprised a few times lately, finding more than the small country church we expected. This church has good signage, five family restrooms off the narthex, and probably the most comfortable and aesthetically pleasing Sanctuary I have seen.

We were welcomed by a few people who seemed to realize that we might be visitors; one requested that we fill in the visitor pad.

There was a good age mix to the large congregation, and I saw the ushers actually usher people to seats after the service started. The large stained glass panel at the Chancel was framed by two large banners/curtains that I thought must have some special meaning to this congregation. There was a cross on the Communion table, but I thought the wall space to the side of the Chancel would be a great place for a large cross.

It was great to hear some female voices singing as part of the praise worship, and the presentation of the children’s choir using sign language was sweet.

The sermon was based on Romans 3:1-8, and I enjoyed the impassioned message.

The prime job of all believers is telling others of Jesus Christ. We need to be prepared to argue our faith. We need to be a lot more like Paul and willing to defend our beliefs. Our feeble works merit no intercession of God, but He keeps forgiving our failures, seeing only the purity of Christ. Can we defend our belief simply out of gratitude? This pastor is leading a church passionate for Christ, and I was pleased to worship Him there. I think this church is on guard against becoming a Sunday morning club.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is a well-kept facility and premises, very modern, with some excellent touches that indicate a great deal of thinking and planning. The parking lot is large, paved, and parking spots marked out. Someone was at the door to open it for us and someone else greeted us when we entered. We stopped at a small table to one side advertising visitor information, and nearby noticed a computer screen built into the wall to show photo slideshows.

The narthex area was a bustle of activity, including a table with small flowers in cups for the moms. Off to the side in an alcove are five family-style restrooms, enabling parents to help small children. Very well done.

In spite of the fact that this church has a Sunday evening service as well, several people stopped us along the way to introduce themselves and ask if we were visiting. (Oftentimes when a church has more than one service, members do not recognize visitors – they simply assume they don’t know the person/people because they usually attend the other service, so they fail to say anything.)

The Sanctuary is large and very nicely decorated with purple padding on the seats, a slightly different shade of purple cloth covering the back of the pews (which I’ve never seen before but is a lovely touch), with both shades of purple bringing out the flecks of color in the turquoise carpet. A gorgeous, intricate stained glass window decorates the rear wall of the Chancel, and numerous banners adorn the walls.

As we entered we heard praise music (a treat, as it’s been a while). The singers sounded wonderful, and were even accompanied by a trumpet and trombone.

The children’s time was uplifting – many of the children used the mic to announce that “My mom is special because…” and finished the sentence with things like “she loves me,” “she makes great cookies,” and many other tender thoughts, after which they each delivered one rose to their mother in the congregation. Very touching stuff.

The bulletin is one 11 x 17 sheet folded lengthwise into thirds and printed with the Order of Worship to fit on the one panel, along with two 1/3 panel-sized inserts. It was user-friendly, as it was easy to fit the two inserts into the folded sheet. The bulletin was well laid out and very informative.

With many of the churches we visit, we are often able to pick up on much of what is going on such as programs and special events. This church seems to have an awful lot going on, and the Elders and Deacons seem to take a large leadership role within the congregation. That is just a personal impression; I don’t know that for sure.

The sermon was entitled “Good News: Trusting in God’s Faithfulness” and was based on Romans 3:1-8. If I understood correctly, the pastor is preaching through the book of Romans. He was enthusiastic and passionate, beginning his message with an invitation encouraging anyone who wished to take issue with anything he said to speak with him and they could talk it out. It seemed like an honest appeal, he wasn’t looking for an argument or picking a fight, and I admired his desire to “talk theology” as that is something I enjoy also.

I very much appreciated his point that the Bible, “the very words of God” (Romans 3:2) sit “despised and ignored” by so many as they search everywhere else for answers to the questions of life. He urged the congregation not to be “sloppy, inconsistent, and incoherent in (their) faith,” to read and study the Bible and attend worship regularly, so they know how to respond to questions from not-yet-believers.

It was good stuff, presented with urgency. I’d like to hear him preach on life issues.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Plains Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Plains Presbyterian Church, 326 Plains Church Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.538.8785,, Rev. Ed Heller, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

The church was warmer, brighter, and more modern-looking than I expected.

I don’t know about their normal attendance, but a few people asked if we were there for the Baptism attendance was probably boosted somewhat because of that. I told them that we of course were there for the Baptism, we just didn’t know anything about it beforehand. We were invited as visiting Elders (along with all other Elders in attendance) to come forward to welcome their newest member.

Each side of the Chancel has an offset with indirect lighting, adding a lot of depth around a large cross over a round window.

I felt the instrumentals were a little too loud, but the small choir was excellent.

I would suggest projecting the words from the red hymnal as they were somewhat hard to read in the Sanctuary light level.

The sermon dealt with some historical meanings of Baptism from Old Testament forward, Baptism and Communion being the two sacraments recognized by the Presbyterian Church, and how the rules added almost overwhelm Christ’s calling for Baptism.

There were some points I’m not sure belonged. The presentation was detached and I suspect something much deeper is going on in this church to warrant such an unimpassioned presentation.

Jan’s thoughts:

I’m not sure how old this church is, but I knew it was older the moment I saw the headstones in the front lawn. The building is clean, well cared for, and there is signage (to restrooms, at least) to aid visitors.

Several people greeted us, and since the Sacrament of Baptism was celebrated today there were plenty of children around, including one right in front of us who was enthralled with my polished fingernails.

When I was a young mother taking the children to church I was always afraid someone sitting nearby would be bothered by my kids’ friendliness. Now that I’m a grandma, I’ve seen that children can be ministers just like adults, sometimes better. They’re often unafraid to approach someone new – an understandably scary thing to Mom, but something that can help a visitor feel a little more a part of the Church.

The Sanctuary boasted some very vibrant stained glass and a large wooden Celtic cross in the Chancel. The circle in the center of the cross was opaque glass, giving it an attractive and different feel. The bulletin was informative and user friendly.

As I said, we enjoyed the privilege of witnessing a Baptism today. Just as the sacrament ended and while the parents were still in front of the congregation, the pastor invited all ordained Elders, whether members or visitors, to come forward and greet the parents, so we accepted the kind invitation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this done before, but it was a strong visual reminder that, even though we were visitors at this church, we are still part of the Church. (Seems like the theme of the day!)

The message was entitled, “Baptism by water and Holy Spirit is for everyone.” One topic he touched on was that in the Presbyterian Church Baptism is one of only two sacraments (Communion being the other), and suggested that there should be a third sacrament. I’ve heard this stated by other pastors who usually advocated foot washing. However, this time the activity being put forward was Teaching. An interesting idea, to say the
least, and perhaps not that far out of line. I’ll need to think about that.