Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Presbyterian Church of Sharon

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church of Sharon, 600 E. State Street, Sharon, PA 16146, 724.981.2211,, Rev. Dr. Glenn Hink, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

I have said that I am not surprised how Christ uses us in this ministry or how we have been re-directed, to His glory, in our efforts, but I still am amazed when the focus changes.

We chose a church that was near a hospital where we needed to make a visit. Ministering to someone who is seriously ill was how God was using us today, but I got to experience a meaningful Advent worship service.

When we arrived at the church, it was quiet and the Sanctuary was empty. I thought the website time was wrong till I found a bulletin that referred to an 8:30 worship. We heard singing and assumed it was a choir rehearsal, but when we went to investigate we found the early service underway in a small chapel area off of the main Sanctuary.

We didn’t get to look around much, but this church could use some signage. The Sanctuary has truly amazing stained glass and wood work.

The men’s room that I found had a wallpaper border strip with a wildlife motif. (I can imagine today’s hunters studying the deer, with buck season starting tomorrow.) However, there is a grade in that hallway that took me by surprise and would benefit from some stripes or anti-slip strips.

I found the bulletin a little confusing. Worship was a Chrismon Service. The intermingled message Scripture and song were effective in presenting Christ’s birth and mission. The symbolism behind partaking of the Communion bread when served and taking the cup together was explained. Although Communion was served silently, when I heard someone else in the rear also state what they were serving, it warmed my heart.

I didn’t doubt that the music dated to the 17th century, but there was an enjoyable rendition of the “Carol of the Bells” during the offertory.

The Advent candle was lit from a box of kitchen matches, and while it seems odd to notice this, those matches were a staple in my house when I was young. They were used to light the pot belly stove, our lamps, and candles. A simple thing that made me feel at home.

The Advent message was God’s focus for me this morning, and the man we went to see off is not afraid to meet his Master…he is looking forward to Christ.

Jan’s thoughts:

This building is a beautiful, very old, building, with the most impressively intricate stained glass I have seen anywhere. The windows are huge, the floor is like polished brick, and the ceiling boasts unique, detailed wood work.

For many years this church presented the “Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival” each January, which I attended once many years ago. They took a hiatus for a time, and this coming January will again present this festive, symbolic production. (If you’d like to see some photos of the Sanctuary and last year’s festival, use the link above to visit the church’s website and on the homepage click on this event as it scrolls through the box on the left. They are definitely worth the time, and you’ll see what I mean about the Sanctuary – a truly distinctive structure!)

It was dark when we arrived, and we saw no signage, so we followed the sounds of singing, which led us to a chapel immediately adjacent to the Sanctuary. In this intimate setting we found 15-20 people in worship, and we joined them. I wished we had not been late.

There was no sermon; instead it was a Chrismon Service. This was new to me, so the explanatory paragraphs in the bulletin were helpful. Communion was also celebrated, and only slightly differently than I’ve seen before. I was grateful for the pastor’s explanation prior to beginning: he indicated that the bread would be served first and the congregation should partake when they receive it to indicate the individual nature of each person’s relationship with Christ. Then the cup would be served, and this should be held until all had received it and everyone would drink together to indicate the commonality of our faith. (Some of the words may not be exactly right, but the meaning is there.)

The people were friendly, with more than a few greeting us following worship. One staff member spent a good deal of time talking with us and we learned we had a great deal in common. We have agreed to keep in touch via email, which I look forward to.

Perhaps one day God will bring us back for the 10:30 a.m. service…or maybe even the Boar’s Head Festival!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Calvary Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Calvary Presbyterian Church, 1099 Sixth Avenue, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.843.6790,, Rev. Dr. Paul Holland, Stated Supply Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

God has been busy showing me the fallacy of my misconceptions, and I am so thankful when He opens my eyes.

This is an older inner city church with great wood work ceiling, etc., the style of the old Presbyterian churches. Some of the things God brought to my attention: for those who have trouble making it up the steps to the Sanctuary, the service is broadcast to a TV at ground level. There is an internally-lit glass cross hung in front of the organ pipes. The stained glass is stained and dirty, much like us, but it shone with the morning sun.

The congregation is small in number: the pastor said about 20 in worship out of a membership of 50. I think they hope to stick it out till the end, but they are not quitting. This weekend they held a Hope Chest Ministry to give out free clothing, etc. to the needy of the neighborhood. They may be small in number, but are doing what they can to serve Christ.

We were warmly greeted by a number of people.

I think I would have thought the organ was too loud, but with the few worshipers it had the opposite effect – the people sang louder. The choir was two people. I admire a church that won’t quit…they are still serving Christ.

The sermon raised some interesting points and gave some things to think about, especially the invitation to harass God.

Something I appreciated was after the pastor laid up the basics of his sermon, he took time to pray for enlightenment.

Jan’s thoughts:

A beautiful older facility with lots of steps, nicely cared-for and lovingly kept. The building is older, but there are many points of interest: remarkable stained glass, an incredible pipe organ, arc-shaped pews, and an amazing multi-faceted wooden ceiling.

The people were quite friendly and helpful; many introduced themselves and greeted us with genuine warmth. The pastor explained that the congregation understands their mission to be that of serving the immediate neighborhood, so they carry out various projects to support their outreach efforts.

The bulletin is user-friendly and easy to read.

The sermon was based mostly on Genesis 18:22-33 but also various verses of Psalm 106, and was entitled “Grace & Gratitude.” After pointing out how Abraham spoke to God in pleading over Sodom and Gomorrah, he pointed out that we, like Abraham, approach God on the basis of our past relationship with Him. That on that basis we have a level of comfort in our relationship with God that means we don’t have to be afraid and that because we know God more we are better able to receive His blessings. He said that we have not only the right to harass God, but that when Jesus taught to “persevere in prayer” He was actually inviting us to harass God.

I understand that to some degree we approach God on the basis of our past relationship with Him, but I believe that mostly we approach Him on the basis of our faith in Christ and His atoning work on the cross. No, we do not have to be afraid (scared) of God, but we should definitely fear (respect) Him. Hopefully we experience a comfort level with God that allows us to ask and continue to ask, but we’re to ask in faith. To my mind this means our faith drives us to ask (as did Abraham’s when he said to God, “Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Genesis 18:25b) based on our faith in Who God is.

Any time I have been on the receiving end of harassment, the “request” was, without exception, something for which the “requester” had no right to ask. I believe Jesus gave us permission to ask – and to continue to ask – and if we trust Jesus’ statements about persevering in asking, the harassment question is moot.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fountain Park Church

Today we worshiped at Fountain Park Church, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.779.2003,, R. Mark Plumb, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Being at a church we are familiar with to celebrate our daughter and son-in-law becoming members afforded me a certain freedom.

We were greeted by people who thought they had seen us before and many exchanged “Hello” or “Good morning.” I noticed a number of friendly clusters of people around the Sanctuary before the service and noticed that my son sat alone at a table and no one approached him. I remembered how as a visitor the small groups could look like cliques to which you don’t belong, and how easy it is to make the visitor feel welcome.

I had the pleasure of watching a little girl who wasn’t saddled with our adult reservations and was free to dance to the praise songs; I appreciated her worship. I thought the Children’s Message was well done, a theological blending to make an Old Testament lesson current. The youth were engaged and the message was tied to the current theme.

There was a differentiation used in the sermon between “us” and “them.” As Christians we use these terms too often. We are called to change exactly this reality. You can use a Marine principle, “There are Marines and there are those who want to be.” There are many who would like to know Christ…we only need to make the introduction. We meet people every day who are searching, most times they don’t know for what or Whom.

Part of the sermon dealt with being salt and light, the uses of salt to melt ice, improve taste, etc. Salt was and is used in some unusual ways as a medicine and thought that a good analogy taking healing to those different from us. I thought the LifeSavers tossed to the congregation were the best metaphor: we have that chance to save a life by introducing the lost to Christ.

Jan’s thoughts:

Our visit to Fountain Park today was for the happy occasion of witnessing our daughter and son-in-law join this congregation with an adult baptism thrown in as well. It’s always uplifting to hear the contemporary music done so well, to hear Mark preach, and to worship with Mark and his wife, with whom we’ve been friends for years through the Pittsburgh Presbytery Partnership with the Synod of Blantyre in Malawi.

As we entered, there were a few folks who recalled our faces from past visits, which surprised me as it has been a while.

The bulletin was full of information about opportunities for service in numerous areas, stemming from the current sermon series. This week was the culmination of the sermon series and related small group studies entitled “Outflow: Loving the World!” with today’s installment called “Outward focused living in a self-focused world.”

I truly appreciate the sermon notes page that’s always included in the bulletin: it makes it so much easier to take notes and then to recall the points later. Today Mark spoke about the fact that in God’s eyes, we’re all missionaries in the particular place He has us. Like Moses, we tend to ask, “Who am I?” “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me?” or point out our shortcomings to God as Moses did: “I’m not very good with words.”

I missed the name of the author of this quote, but the quote itself is worth repeating: “To be a missionary for God, you do not have to cross the sea, but you do have to see the cross.”

God sees us as salt and light. I loved Mark’s list of the attributes of salt:
It melts ice – it may even melt the icy attitude of some people in the world;
It enhances flavor;
It acts as a preservative;
It makes one thirsty – maybe thirsty enough to seek out the Living Water; and
It doesn’t fulfill its purpose if it stays in the salt shaker. (I thought this one was
especially meaningful!)

God sees us as seed sowers. He wants us to go out into the world as a satisfied customer who wants to share a great experience. He desires that we generously sow seeds for Him to use to bring growth. The more generously we sow, the more God has to work with.

For me, this is another reminder that “It’s not about me.” It’s about Jesus, and the fact that we are permitted to help in any small way is a wonder in itself. Our hearts should be filled to overflowing at the knowledge that God can and does use us, even when we don’t notice…perhaps especially then.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mount Lebanon United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Mount Lebanon United Presbyterian Church, 255 Washington Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15216, 412.531.3387,, Rev. Dr. Timothy A. Janiszewski, Lead Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Seems almost like a conflict of interest when there is contemporary worship at an old Presbyterian church. It is impressive to see the stone and wood work, the stained glass from an era of pride in workmanship. It seems a somber setting for contemporary worship, but it works well here. There is great attention to detail on the upkeep of the facility.

There was a good age mix in the congregation and the praise team. We arrived while the praise band was practicing and it was so loud that we thought we might have to be elsewhere when they played, but with 200-plus in worship, the sound was dissipated significantly.

We were only welcomed by a few, perhaps thinking we were from the other service?

As with a lot of contemporary worship there was no Order of Worship, but I was so entertained by a young family in front of us that I barely noticed. There are carved crosses on the wing walls of the Chancel but I still felt the lack of a central cross. The offering was taken in response to the Word, and those who served us Communion spoke.

The sermon spoke to the converse of the fruits of the Spirit, “the works of the sinful self.” In our relationship with others, who we are is for others. We seek the power to love one another. The pastor related a Bonheoffer quote that “Jesus is the man for others.”

I thought the message was well developed, thought-provoking, and an unusual take on the familiar Fruits of the Spirit. The message was well presented and seemed to be received well by the congregation.

There was a moment for stewardship which I had some trouble discerning what was said, but sensed it was an area the congregation was striving with. I can guarantee, they can’t out-give God.

Jan’s thoughts:

I drove past this church regularly when I worked at Sunset Hills Church, and I always thought the parking lot I saw next door, on Scott Road, belonged to them. Today I learned that it doesn’t. They probably have a large parking lot somewhere, but I’m not sure where. We attended the 9:15 contemporary service, and due to the time change, we arrived early enough to wander around and meet some people prior to worship.

The facility is huge, with probably the best signage I’ve seen anywhere. The building is old and stone, and felt cool but not cold. There was an old-time feel to the building, but everyone we met introduced themselves warmly. Those we met offered to answer any questions we might have, indicating we were welcome to ask any church member we might come in contact with as well.

The bulletin was unique: a single folded 8 ½ x 14 sheet with a ½ sheet inside and two “fall outs”. The only Order of Worship was at the top of the page an indication of the Scripture Lesson and the Sermon. I don’t know if the traditional service received a different bulletin (I imagine they did), but this was enough for this service. Besides, there is so much going on here that they needed all the space they could find for the announcements.

The Sanctuary contains some magnificent stained glass, and both dark and medium-shades of wood.

When we arrived early, with virtually no one in the Sanctuary while the praise team rehearsed, I was afraid we’d have to sit downstairs to tolerate the volume. However, soon after the service began the Sanctuary was about 75% full, so the volume was not a problem. I was surprised, but grateful.

The sermon was part of the pastor’s “Back to the Basics” series and was entitled “Who You Are Is for Others.” Based on Galatians 5:13-26, he began by contrasting the works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit as outlined by Paul, then continued to look at the Scripture in the context of surrounding Scripture. He concluded these vices and virtues “must be considered in our relationships within our lives.” Therefore we are who we are in order to be “set free to love others by serving them through Christ.”

We are who we are not because we’re so great or lovable or pious or any of the other attributes we secretly want to believe about ourselves, but so that Christ can make Himself known through us for the sake of others. It’s about Christ first and then others; it’s not about us. We are His handiwork and His tools, to use as He sees fit, and which He treats with grace and mercy and love...the same way we’re to treat others.