Sunday, June 27, 2010

First Presbyterian Church of Castle Shannon

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church of Castle Shannon, 3636 Poplar Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15234, 412.561.0401,, Mr. Scott Shetter, Temporary Supply Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We revisited First Presbyterian of Castle Shannon and were pleasantly surprised. There is a real presence of Christ in this church. It is, as I remembed, a very pleasant church. I recall thinking that they were poised to bring a relevance of Christ to the community, and it feels like that is starting to happen. I think God is leading them to a youth ministry: it seems there are enough children to start devoting some time to them. The Praise Team choir looked like they were praising Christ, there were smiles and joy showing.

The sermon was on the meaning of baptism, the responsibilities of the church, and the reminder to us all of being washed in the blood of our Savior. I thought the sermon was well delivered and received.

The restroom locations were identified in the bulletin, along with good signage. There was a church pen in the pew that read “Come Pray With Us” – a great evangelistic tool.

There were about 50 faithful souls who braved the heat and humidity to worship together.

I watched an older man offer a young child some hard candy (a favorite ministry of mine in the past) and the same child proceeded to perform an interpretive dance during the praise songs. There was a time of personal prayer offered during the singing of the last hymn. I had felt called to go forward to pray for the church leader, but there was a woman with whom he and the liturgist were praying. The hymn ended before the need for prayer was completed and prayer was continued (as it should be) with no awkwardness.

There is a banner on the wall proclaiming the overflowing riches poured out. It should be a sign for this church that God has poured out His blessings upon this congregation and that they now need to share with the community. There is a vibrant resurrection in this church…may God continue to bless them.

Jan’s thoughts:

We worshiped here once before, but unlike the snow covered ground that greeted us that day, today we were welcomed by the charming flowers – it was gorgeous. This is an attractive, well maintained church situated on a quiet street. The sign in front looked new, and it turns out all it took was a couple of coats of paint.

At our previous visit we noted there was little if any signage, but that has been remedied – and actually taken a step beyond. Today we noticed plenty of signage, including signs that state the areas accessible via particular stairs. Good for … whoever is responsible for this! It’s a matter of hospitality – visitors can’t help but feel welcome when they don’t have to guess the location of the restrooms, etc.

The people were extremely warm and friendly; many introduced themselves and a couple even remembered us from our previous visit.

The nicely-decorated Sanctuary looked even more inviting with the sun streaming in through the beautiful stained glass windows.

Some contemporary praise songs have been added to the line-up, and it was a delight to see people with their hands raised and children dancing while praising God with their music. The animation and smiles on the faces of the Praise Team showed their joy clearly.

As I’ve been known to do, I would humbly offer my 2 cents regarding bulletin design. I always 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.

Mr. Shetter is a student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, although I do not know what year, and for all intents and purposes is serving as an intentional interim. He has made some changes that seem to fit well, especially the instituting of Fellowship Time following worship. This time was well attended and everyone seemed enthusiastic about the opportunity to spend time together.

The sermon was based on Romans 6:1-14, and was titled “All Wet.” According to Mr. Shetter, the sermon title not only indicates what takes place during baptism, but also described the state of most of the Church in the view of the meaning of and what takes place during baptism. He did make some excellent points, such as “Jesus put death to death,” and “In our baptisms we are identified with Jesus and His death.” The message was deeply theological and given with passion and conviction.

I believe Mr. Shetter will continue to have a good influence on this church, and vice versa.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church, 183 New Bethlehem Church Road, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.378.3751,, Rev. Randall K. Clow, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

I didn’t notice much signage, but with the pew pad there was a “Welcome, Visitor!” card containing the basic layout of the church and other information.

The rear wall of the Chancel has a charming cross (more on that later). The side walls are done with a raised panel design that is repeated as a wainscot, and although the pews are stained darker it all ties together quite well. The windows are large and plain with a dried wreath.

There is an exceptional pressed tin ceiling and comfortable pew pads. I don’t believe the church is air conditioned, but comfortable nonetheless. Overall a very pleasant worship experience.

We were warmly greeted by the pastor’s wife (with whom I had enjoyed a pleasant conversation at the Presbytery office). I was surprised that she remembered me. We were greeted by some others, including a Session member who gave us the pastor’s card with her greeting. Seemed to be a very healthy age mix and some very cute children.

There were two points from the sermon that really spoke to me. One: the reverence in the Jewish faith toward God’s Name, that it would not be spoken or written, being too holy to speak. It reminded me of when our late son was given an assignment in school to write a paper on mythological gods, he handed it back and said he believed in Jesus Christ and none of these “gods.” That was a faith lesson to me.

The second point was how our children are influenced. Thirty years ago, the two strongest influences in children’s’ lives were family and church, and now they are culture and school. This brought to mind how, when I grew up, everyone I knew lived with both birth parents, and one generation later, when our five children were in school, they had no friends living with both birth parents until one of them met someone in college for whom that was the case.

The devil is always on the prowl to steal the faith of any child.

The choir’s anthem was a song my wife had learned in Africa, and we were pleased that the African words were sung also. Some of the choir smiled while singing, which makes it seem a lot more like worship and less of a performance. How can you praise God and not smile?

The male quartet sang, “Leave Your Heavy Burden at the Cross.” While the song spoke to me, the shadow of the cross looked like a heavy box hanging from the cross. Maybe it was only meant for me, but it was powerful.

I had a very good feeling about this church and its leadership. They seem ready to go where Christ leads them. I pray I am so ready.

Jan’s thoughts:

New Bethlehem is an attractive, well-kept church; however, the only signage I noticed was on the fronts of doors. The people were exceptionally friendly and seemed very comfortable with each other. The atmosphere was full of joy, and the service was well attended by people of all ages.

One kindly lady (who seemed genuinely comfortable greeting visitors) took the time to speak with us and gave us the pastor’s card. Many other people greeted us warmly.

The Sanctuary is beautiful, with some unique woodwork designs on the rear wall of the Chancel and the design and scheme carried throughout the entire Sanctuary. Even with no stained glass, the windows were striking, with a wreath decorating each one.

Parts of the bulletin were in large print; the older I get the more I appreciate such things.

The sermon was based on Deuteronomy 6:1-4 and Ephesians 6:1-4 and emphasized the importance of fathers’ (i.e., parents’) Biblical duty to teach children faith and moral values. The significance of this responsibility becomes too great to be underestimated in light of the statement by Martin Luther (quoted by the pastor) that “Satan has a plan to steal the heart of every child.” If we don’t believe that, we are not only fooling ourselves but playing with fire in terms of the everlasting destiny of our children and future generations.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Saxonburg Memorial Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Saxonburg Memorial Presbyterian Church, 100 Main Street, Saxonburg, PA 16056, 724.352.2888,, Rev. Dr. Dave Brewer, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This was a contemporary worship service held in the lower level fellowship hall. Aside from the restroom signs above the respective doorways I saw no signage and was disappointed not to see a cross.

There was a generous table of donuts and fruit offered with the coffee. There seemed to be some problem with the audio early on; the voices of two young women overcame the others with a very tinny sound. It seemed much better during the very well-done offertory. Late in the service there was an annoying mechanical bass noise on the right speaker. Even with the audio problems, the contemporary worship songs were good and two that I hadn’t heard before.

The sermon was on Galatians 6:7, that God is not mocked, that what man sows, so shall he reap. It was presented as a series of stories, but I realized that the congregation really got the message from this presentation. This minister seems an excellent fit for this congregation.

Had I not read the reports from Session I would not have known that there was any mission activity beyond a mission trip. I enjoyed this insight of the church.

We were warmly greeted by some of the church officers, and probably the first time that someone had heard of our blog and came to meet us. There was a healthy mix of young children and “gray hairs” along with quite a few young adults. I thought this service was well attended till the pastor mentioned that the attendance was off a bit. Don’t know if the other services were affected.

After the service we looked upstairs at the main Sanctuary and were impressed. The Narthex area is open and bright and is unrestricted into the Sanctuary. There is a large cross over a round window with a butterfly. May need to go back just to experience worship there.

Jan’s thoughts:

This church has a traditional service at 8 in the “Little Church” across the street, a contemporary service at 9 in the fellowship hall of the main building, and another traditional service at 10:30 in the main Sanctuary of the main building; a unique solution to several issues they must have faced when planning for three services each Sunday.

We attended the contemporary service, so the atmosphere was almost boisterous as we entered. We were grateful for the well-placed signage which allowed us to locate the restrooms quickly.

Seating was plentiful, but it definitely filled up. I particularly enjoyed the icicle lights hanging from the ceiling, giving such a pretty, festive look. The bulletins for this service did not include an Order of Worship (which is standard for a contemporary service) but did contain a plethora of information, as well as a full page insert (front and back) of “Session News.”

The people were quite friendly, several greeting us even before worship began, and even more during the service. The general feel was relaxed, comfortable, friendly, enthusiastic, and very welcoming. We were given a gift bag with a folder full of information about the church along some small gifts.

There were lots of children and an encouraging mix of ages in the congregation. We observed to the pastor that most of the seats were filled and some folks stood in back. He stated that this service is only about 16 months old, and attendance was light this morning.

After the service we wandered up to the Sanctuary and were stunned to find a most beautiful worship space. The colors and designs were light, spacious, and well coordinated. On the rear wall of the Chancel is a large cross in front of a circular window, and painted on the window is a butterfly, one of my favorite symbols of new life. We may return to experience worship in this space in a traditional format.

This morning’s message centered on Galatians 6:7 in which we’re told that we reap what we sow. He spoke of how we remember others and how they remember us, of our internal scars about which others may have no clue, and of God’s intention for us to build others up.

He contrasted the stories of two very different men: John Wooden, whom even those of us who don’t follow basketball have gotten to know some since his recent death, and Reinhard Heydrich, second in command in the Nazi SS organization and nicknamed “The Blond Beast.” These stories included the childhoods of these men and the events and influences that made them the adults they became, but especially the personal choices that affected the outcome of their lives and legacies. I found it quite fascinating and educational, and it reinforced some things God has recently taught me.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Mount Olivet Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Mount Olivet Presbyterian Church, 4128 Route 151, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.375.5630,, Rev. Kevin A. Neal, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Olivet impressed me as a very pleasant, comfortable church. We seem to visit some churches when the pastor is away; perhaps this is God’s way of having us visit more than once. This church seemed to again prove my theory that internally-focused churches lack signage.

There is a great stained glass panel at the Chancel, uniquely framed by vertical woodwork the top of which is curved outward towards the Sanctuary. It gives the effect of the ceiling being curved.

At first I thought the organ was too strong, that it was drowning out the congregation, but then realized the people were hardly making any sound whether singing or reciting from the bulletin. There was zero passion and almost no volume. An exception was the worship of a small choir that came forward for the anthem.

The sermon was based on the Acts 16 account of Paul being freed of his bonds in prison by an earthquake and the effect on the jailer. I thought this was an interesting perspective on this story, however the speaker’s voice trailed in and out and I lost a lot of the message.

Often think there should be someone designated to signal the person doing the children’s sermon when they have gone too long. Don’t know anything about the speaker and look forward to meeting the pastor.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is a very attractive rural church that sits across the street from what looks to be a sprawling cemetery. The interior is nicely decorated and obviously well cared for.

The Sanctuary has lovely, bold stained glass windows with a matching designed window on the rear Chancel wall. I noticed no signage except on the front of the restrooms.

One of the Deacons spoke with us at length prior to worship and another woman greeted us afterward, but that was it.

We’ll have to go back sometime, as the installed pastor was away this week. The name was the only information given about the young man who filled the pulpit, so I can only suppose he was already known by the congregation. I was able to hear him just fine, but had difficulty understanding him due to the speed with which he spoke.

The message was based on Acts 16:16-40 and was entitled “The Prison Keeper’s Dilemma.” It’s an exciting portion of Scripture which “includes conversions, miracles, and earthquakes.” However the point was that none of these brought the prison keeper to faith in Christ…that only occurred as the result of an act of grace on the part of Paul and the other prisoners – that of staying in the prison and not taking advantage of the opportunity to escape, which would have cost the prison keeper his life. Of course, like the prison keeper, we are all saved strictly by grace.

It was a point that was worthy of note.