Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ingomar United Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at Ingomar United Methodist Church, 1501 West Ingomar Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.364.3613,, E. David Streets and Tracy June Cox, Pastors.

Bob’s thoughts:

It is always interesting to visit a church that has multiple worship services. It is hard to guess if the people you see are visitors or long-time members who are attending a different service. We were greeted and welcomed by a number of people and invited to partake of refreshments.

There was good signage but it might help to project signage at the restrooms so they could be identified from down the hall.

When we sat down there were only a few people seated, but by the time the service was starting they were setting up extra rows of seats to accommodate the crowd.

The back wall of the stage is covered with floor-to-ceiling tinsel, a great effect with the colored lights.

I forgot my earplugs so I was not prepared for the volume, but after the first few songs it returned to a more bearable level.

The praise leader seemed like a cheerleader trying to get more out of the worshipers but I thought the congregation showed a lot of passion in worship.

My hip gave out before the prayers and I had to sit, so I am not sure if it was the praise team leader who spoke, but the prayer was well spoken.

Thought the song “Waiting Here for You” was done well, and I liked the individually spaced Advent candles.

The sermon was part of a series on the “Advent Conspiracy.” I liked that four points were presented early and the message developed nicely.

I really enjoyed the final solo, “Emmanuel.” We realized on the way out going past the beautiful Sanctuary that the soloists covered the other services as well.

I knew of some of the local mission efforts of this church, but was impressed with their more global efforts. I plan to contribute to the clean water programs.

My only disappointment was that there were a number of pretty Christmas trees on the Chancel but I couldn’t find a cross.

Jan’s thoughts:

It’s a good thing Bob was driving: being directionally challenged, I would have gotten lost in the parking lot. Parking was plentiful, including spaces marked for first-time visitors, but I would have appreciated some outdoor directional signage in order to be sure I was headed in the right direction on this cold morning.

The building is very large, and we were early enough to take a self-guided tour. We couldn’t help but notice all those thoughtful touches that make such a difference. It is clean and uncluttered with superb signage throughout.

We attended the contemporary service held in Fellowship Hall where chairs were arranged facing the stage area and sparkling with trees, lights, and lots of tinsel.

We’ve spoken in the past about how easy it is to get lost when a church has two services. This one has three, so I was surprised at the number of people who greeted us as visitors. This is an inviting, friendly church.

There was no question when worship would begin, as the music jumped by a number of decibels. Surprisingly, I was unfamiliar with every piece of music at this service, including both of the impressive solos.

There was no children’s message, but as the children were led from the worship area (presumably to children’s church), the congregation was asked to extend their hands over the children as the worship leader prayed for them.

There appears to be lots of local, national, and international mission activity at this church. During the service a video was shown for Hair Peace Charities, a local organization that provides wigs for women who have lost their hair during breast cancer chemotherapy. Check out their website at for everything they do.

I found the Advent candle lighting to be interesting as the candles seemed to be spread across the stage.

The Message was based on Matthew 25:31-40 and entitled “Advent Conspiracy IV: Saying and Doing.” It stressed the importance of Christians’ actions matching their words.

The Advent series springs from the assertion that $20 billion would solve the clean water problems around the world, and that each year Americans spend $450 billion on gifts. If we each gave one less gift and donated that money instead to organizations that work to provide clean water in other countries, wouldn’t that be a worshipful way of doing Christmas?

Having participated in three mission journeys to countries where clean water was an issue, I’m inclined to say yes. If you are too, check out the website at

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mosaic Community Church

Today we worshiped at Mosiac Community Church, 2801 North Charles Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15214, 412.321.3911, , Rev. Saleem Ghubril, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were blessed to worship at Mosaic: a dear friend was delivering the message today. We were able to catch up a bit before the service and enjoy worship in a truly mosaic church.

The message centered on the Christmas passages and the reason Christ came.

Another blessing today was to be able to hold one of my grandchildren and enjoy all the little ones of the congregation.

Jan’s thoughts:

It’s always an encouragement to worship at Mosaic, and it has been more than two years since our last visit here. The people keep it real and are not afraid to admit they are struggling, so their prayers are genuine and honest. We are always greeted warmly, and truly enjoy the uplifting and contagious enthusiasm. Also, it’s a real joy to see so many little ones.

We were sorry to miss our friend Saleem, but it was great to see another friend, Pete, who preached today.

The inspirational music was led by two ladies, one of whom played the keyboard. We sang some surprisingly traditional songs for such a contemporary service, but it was superb.

The untitled message was wound around reminders of the true meaning of Christmas and included three specific aspects: God loves us; through Christ’s sacrifice we can be reconciled to God; and no suffering is permanent. I relished the reference to “God’s reckless love” for each of us, and especially appreciated the reminder quoted from Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest” – one of my favorite devotionals – that Jesus did not come from this world, but came into this world from outside, and the same is true of  His coming into our hearts…He must come into them from outside.

For everyone I know, I pray for a personal experience of God’s reckless love this season.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Orchard Hill Church

Today we worshiped at Orchard Hill Church, 2551 Brandt School Road, Wexford, PA 15090, 724.935.5555,, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund. Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

I can tell a church with a good business manager because there is an attention to details that most people never consider.

The signage is very good and the spacious layout with lots of seating makes for a welcoming presence. I was impressed that we were recognized and welcomed as visitors, and I was thanked for my service.

There were 26 children to be baptized or dedicated today during the two services, and the handout included a card bearing a color photo of each child.

A member, Pete, gave his personal testimony of his walk: what a great way to encourage members in their faith.

For me the music was a little too loud (I remembered my earplugs), but the congregation was energized.

The message, “Not Crazy: To Live in Spiritual Community,” the last in a series on Biblical community. I felt Christ used the minister to deliver a message relevant to a discussion on the way to church, and we were given some thoughts to ponder and pray over.

I was disappointed not to find a cross in the sanctuary.

Jan’s thoughts:

I’m only guessing, but this is likely one of the largest interdenominational churches in this area. The campus is huge, and it was easy to get lost in the crowd. We were welcomed by several people but only one stopped to speak with us. This is typical at a church with a minimum of three services per week.

I suppose they had a very good idea how many people to expect, as the rear half of the auditorium seating was not available. The seats are very comfortable and even have built-in cup holders.

The music, the lights, the cameras, everything looked and sounded absolutely professional. Color was used to great effect.

We had the pleasure of witnessing approximately 14 baptisms and one dedication.

One member gave his personal story, telling how he came to Orchard Hill, and there are many others on the website that make for some heart wrenching reading.

The current series of messages is called “Not Crazy” and today’s message was “Not Crazy: To Live in Spiritual Community.” The point was, “the beauty of community: brings support…without it we are isolated (1 Corinthians 12:21,26); brings shared mission…without it we are limited (1 Corinthians 12:7); brings perspective…without it we are shallow (1 Corinthians 12:17); brings accountability…without it we are dangerous (1 Corinthians 12:14-15).” He then spoke of the layers of community, from All People of Faith, to the Worshiping Community, to the Mid-sized Community, to the Small Group, to Spiritual Friends.

He made excellent points, but the one thing he said that will stick with me was that “vulnerability invites community.” These three words affected me deeply.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Woodland Valley Church

Today we worshiped at Woodland Valley Church, 225 Crowe Avenue, PO Box 815, Mars, PA 16046, 724.625.4500,, Pastor Norb Levesque.

Bob’s thoughts:

This was a very welcoming church, from the man we met in the parking lot who directed us to the entrance, to most of those we encountered inside. We were given a welcome pack of information and led downstairs to a coffee and doughnut area.

A few people noticed that I was military and thanked me for my service, something that to this day still surprises me. The bulletin included an abbreviated order of worship, which I appreciated. There was also a sheet to keep notes on the sermon. I enjoyed the offertory music very much.

I noticed a number of people using sign language, particularly a young man facing the congregation who paused while the recipient made notes from the screen.

The sermon, on a Thanksgiving attitude of gratitude, had an opening point of how we don’t notice our blessings till we lose them. Sorry to admit I have been guilty of this. The points of the message were well developed with Scriptural backing for each highlight.

I appreciated the anecdote of an immigrant assessing his profit and loss statement. He came with not much more than his pants, so he figured everything he now possessed – less the pants – was his profit. Are we honest enough to admit that God supplied the pants too, and that everything we have is from God?

The pastor closed with a life/death personal story from his early childhood that resulted in a genuine appreciation of the blessing that Christ has poured out.

There was a good time allotted to prayer and some significant mission involvement. My only disappointment was finding some decorated trees but no cross anywhere.

Jan’s thoughts:

As we exited the truck and looked around for a door to the building, I saw one open toward the right so we headed toward it. Just then a gentleman called to us from the left side of the parking lot that the entrance was over that way, so we followed him inside.

Once indoors the excellent signage allowed us to locate the restrooms without even having to ask. Nearly everyone we saw greeted us, and someone escorted us downstairs to the coffee and donuts in a nice little café.

Back upstairs, we had already been identified as visitors and were given a great “welcome” packet full of information about the church. The worship folder is a tri-fold sheet, well laid-out with plenty of current information and even space on the front for a lovely color graphic. Inserts consisted of a sign-up sheet to purchase cookie trays and a sermon outline/note page.

We found seats in the gym-type worship area and caught the end of the praise team’s rehearsal. I noticed on the screen a timer counting down to start time, which seemed to be an effective way to handle that issue as conversation quieted at the appropriate time.

Had we sat in another section we would have missed the several people who were interpreting the songs (and the sermon) in sign language. It brought back warm memories of when our daughter did this.

The praise band consisted of an acoustic guitar, a trumpet, three vocalists who also used noisemakers (forgive me…I don’t know what they’re called!), a drummer, a bass guitar, and two keyboards. They sounded excellent, and they weren’t too loud (which I hardly ever say because an ear condition tends to increase the volume in my head).

For the offertory they performed an inspiring song called “The Stand” (which I had not heard before but have purchased on iTunes today).

The message, “Attitude of Gratitude,” began with an amusing video revolving around Thanksgiving and then the reading of the 1623 proclamation of thanksgiving. He continued by detailing three attitudes that steal our gratitude including a conceited attitude (1 Corinthians 4:7), a critical attitude (Philippians 2:14), and a careless attitude (Psalm 84:11). He then moved on to speak of three areas to be thankful for: the blessings of life (Ephesians 1:3), the burdens of life (Philippians 1:21), and the benefits of life (Psalm 118:24).

He also included three viewpoints held by the Apostle Paul that enabled him to endure the burdens he did: Paul had an eternal perspective (Romans 8:18), a practical perspective (2 Corinthians 12:10), and a sacrificial perspective (Philippians 1:12).

The message was Scripture-based and very well-constructed, then topped off with the pastor’s personal story about when he was about two years old having gotten his young hands on a bottle of prescription medication and taking them all. He was in a coma for a time and was given a 1-in-500-million chance of surviving, which he obviously did, giving him quite a powerful story to tell.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Living Water Fellowship

Today we worshiped at Living Water Fellowship, 125 Center Grange Road, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.709.8681,, Pastor Doug Dragan.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were welcomed in the ample parking lot as well as by many inside, and invited to share doughnuts and coffee in their social space. We were told of rather extensive remodel/rehab work on the facility and enjoyed the jungle motif to the halls and basement classrooms.

There was a large collection of food donated for Thanksgiving dinners for needy families. I enjoyed Nathalie’s singing and guitar and even when the congregation didn’t quiet down when she started to play, she handled the situation well. She seemed capable of leading the music and sang some of my favorites. I noted even the “gray-hairs” like me singing the contemporary praise songs with passion.

The pastor felt called to invite some forward for prayer with laying on of hands. I haven’t found many pastors who acknowledge that God blesses this.

The message was from someone else, Pastor Gary, if I heard right. He stressed through the sermon that God had a symbol, the cross. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find one in the church. There was something about how we are holy with God in us. Some of the theology seemed off; maybe Jan was able to follow better.

If God sends us back, I hope we get to hear Pastor Doug. I was glad to lift this church in prayer and pleased to see the mission involvement.

Jan’s thoughts:

The inside of this church is intriguing. The only signage was where it was necessary. It’s a new-to-them space, comfortably arranged, with tall curtains to create hallways. We took a self-guided tour downstairs where the children’s ministry takes place, and found evidence of some incredible talent here: everything was painted in a colorful, imaginative, kid-welcoming jungle décor.

The people were very friendly and more than a few invited us for coffee and donuts prior to worship.

The music leaders consisted of a drummer and the pastor’s wife on an acoustic guitar, and they definitely led the musical portion of the service. We also got to sing two of my all-time favorite songs: “Blessed Be Your Name” and “Days of Elijah.”

I couldn’t help but notice as the words to the songs were displayed on the screen that all the pronouns referring to God were capitalized. I realize those sorts of things aren’t the most important, but to me, at least, they indicate an importance ascribed to God, and that is important.

Full disclosure: This was a new worship experience for me. I believe the pastor referred to this church as Pentecostal/charismatic (or else he was saying that they weren’t, I was a bit lost there). Either way it was certainly different, and I don’t know enough about worship in this/these denomination(s) to know what the difference would be or even to know precisely what they believe. I have experienced altar calls during worship, but never more than one per service until today.

The message, given by another pastor, was called “21st Century Temple of God.” I took probably three times as many notes on this sermon as I do for most sermons I hear. I found his preaching style somewhat difficult to follow and because there were points where, if I understood him correctly, I could not agree. For example, that Israel was the light of the world but it failed and now “you” (presumably believers) are the light. I believe Scripture refers to Jesus Christ as the light of the world. And I recognize that the Bible contains many symbols and numbers, including some symbolic numbers, but I don’t think I would say that “God loves symbols and numbers” as that attributes an entirely different connotation to those references.

However, I surely agreed with the instruction, “When God speaks to you, write it down” and “God’s goal is character development” (in a broad way, as He is at work to mold us into the image of Christ).

I would be interested to hear the pastor who introduced himself as the pastor preach so I could learn more about the beliefs and teachings of this denomination, but these are some of the thoughts with which I left the church today.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chippewa Evangelical Free Church

Today we worshiped at Chippewa Evangelical Free Church, 239 Braun Road, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.843.6381,, Jeff McNicol, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were greeted and welcomed at the door. I remembered that there was good signage, but I had one problem today. We followed the directional sign near the coffee area in seeking restrooms, but could only find the women’s. When I did find other restrooms the deodorizer was so strong my eyes burned.

My memory was that I couldn’t find a cross: today there was a large wooden cross, although it was obscured.

The service started with a good prayer followed by a well-done choral presentation. We got to witness two baptisms with Statements of Faith.

A pastor once told me how he would sit in the first pew in a contemporary worship service and was always surprised how many worshipers came in after he sat down. I have noticed this at most contemporary worship services as well as today’s.

The sermon was part of an interesting series on the tenets of the church. The congregation is called to examine what they say they believe. As Christians we are encouraged to question everything about our faith. I think too often we intone our creeds without a thought as to what it is we say we believe, so I felt this was a divinely inspired series.

During this message I heard Christ question the heart of my faith walk, and I am looking forward to where He leads me next.

This seems like a good healthy church with a good mix of internal and outward mission. Personally I was pleased that the offering was taken in response to the Word.

One odd observation – out of 20-some aisle seats I noticed all but one were males. I think the men must be getting fed.

Jan’s thoughts:

We visited this church once before, almost three years ago. It is sprawling, spacious, well-cared-for, modern, welcoming, and boasts great signage and numerous thoughtful touches throughout.

The people we encountered were friendly, but with five services I tend to think it could be easy to remain anonymous. However there seems to be intentionality about connecting people and helping them get plugged into the many ministry and study opportunities.

The music was very well done, and I enjoyed the first song which was offered by five men and four women. Unfortunately I have no idea of the title of the song.

We were privileged to witness two adult baptisms by full immersion following the persons’ oral testimony.

The sermon was part of a series called “Beyond Belief – When Truth Takes Action” and this installment was entitled “We Act through Obedience.”

I believe there was more Scripture (14 references!) quoted in this sermon than in any other sermon I have ever heard. The message was important: we need to be what we say we are. If we say we are believers, we must act like believers. Our faith must extend to and through our everyday lives. And there should be accountability…a timely point this week.

This 10-part sermon series examines each of the revised statements in the newly-adopted Evangelical Free Church Statement of Faith, and this church will meet in December to consider and vote on adopting this Statement of Faith. I appreciated being able to read what the EFCA believes and found I was in agreement with every point.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Valley Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Valley Presbyterian Church, 237 Main Street, Imperial, PA 15126, 724.695.0300,, Rev. Dr. J.L. Bouterse, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Today we were back at Valley Presbyterian. I am sure I have commented on the good signage we have found there, but today I noticed how confusing the rest room signage is. The rest rooms were completely remodeled and I always try to turn in where the men’s room door was. There is a board with directional signage but a lot of extras that I found confusing.

This church has some good mission activities going on, including a new one, Watson Institute, where volunteers help care for a disabled child and provide a break for their family.

Some people were intentional in coming to welcome us.

The sermon was part of a series stressing God’s grace as opposed to our works. “Heavenly Boot Camp” dealt with what we need to do to be prepared for Heaven.

We were blessed to receive Communion and I was pleased to see the pastor was served the elements, but miss having the elements served with an oral reminder of their meaning.

Jan’s thoughts:

We have visited this church twice before, and this is such a friendly church that it’s always a joy to visit. Many people greeted us prior to the service as well as during worship.

The bulletin is one 8 ½ x 11 sheet folded into thirds, and one of those thirds contains the Order of Worship.

The music was blended, with a couple of traditional hymns and a couple of contemporary ones, including “I Can Only Imagine.” This is such a wonderful song in spite of the fact that it always brings me to tears as it was included at our son’s memorial service. All the music was well done, though.

I appreciated that Communion was served today as it seemed like it had been a while.

The sermon was part of a series about Heaven and was entitled “Heavenly Boot Camp.” It was based on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 and Colossians 1:15-20. There were several statements that caught my attention, especially that people join the church with the best of intentions but sometimes end up serving the church instead of serving Christ.

But the major point was that no one can earn their way into the Kingdom, it’s all about grace, and we must “repent of the seduction of works.” That is such an easy trap to fall into. No matter where we are on our faith journey, that is a point we all need reminded of on occasion.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Providence Presbyterian Church

Yesterday we worshiped at Providence Presbyterian Church, 9019 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax, VA 22031, 703.978.3934,, Rev. Dr. Michael P. Burns, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

I am happy when we can visit Providence. We don’t get to the area often, but it is good to visit a church that has such balance between internal and external mission.

I was looking forward to hearing the lead pastor but a granddaughter who is teething needed to walk with Grandpa. She and I got to experience the excellent choral rendition at the end of the traditional service in the main sanctuary. After hearing my granddaughter squeal, some of the choir was sure she would sing soprano.

Jan’s thoughts:

We spent the weekend attending a lovely wedding in Baltimore then visiting our family in northern Virginia.

This church is quite large, modern, and lovingly cared for. It has very good signage inside and out. The people are friendly although we are virtual strangers (until our daughter introduces us to her friends).

Traditional worship services are held at 9 and 11 and a contemporary service at 11:15.

A very hospitable touch that was added since our last visit was rocking chairs at the back of the room for those holding very little ones. They were certainly well-used while our family was there!

We have only attended the contemporary service, but the music continues to be uplifting and impressive.

The sermon was called “Walking with Grace” and was based on Matthew 23:1-12. As it turns out, Grace was the pastor’s grandmother. He remembered her with great affection because she loved him unconditionally simply because he was her grandson.

During the sermon one of my daughters passed me a note she wrote on the bulletin thanking me for loving her children unconditionally. I took that as a high compliment. Love always matters.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Concord Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Concord Presbyterian Church, 2832 Conway-Wallrose Road, Baden, PA 15005, 724.869.9135,, Rev. Jean E. Smith, Interim Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We have some friends at Concord, so the warm welcome was not a surprise.

The large screen in front seems to be used a lot more than I remembered. It is impressive when it is raised and the large suspended brass cross is revealed.

The choir did a great job with the anthem, “So Much God.” A good message.

I believe the bulletin should list it as a Prayer FOR Illumination.

The sermon was the second part of a 2-part message on prayer. I thought the pastor did a capable job of explaining some of the conditions of answered prayer and I appreciated her pointing out that it is a matter of the stewardship of God’s blessings. To me, the main point was how blessed we are when we share how God has answered prayer in our lives.

During part of the sermon I was in prayer for the pastor and church and had a strong sense that there is some resistance to something to which Christ is calling them.

Jan’s thoughts:

This church has meant much to us over the last 3 ½ years, so we were greeted warmly by many friends. Today’s visit was full of joy.

I appreciated the choir’s enthusiastic rendition of a clever song called “So Much God.” (“He was so much man that He slept in a boat, He was so much God that the wind ceased when He spoke; He was so much man that He wept when Lazarus died, He was so much God Lazarus came forth when He cried; He was so much man that He thirsted at the well, He was so much God that He saved her soul from hell; He was so much man that He died upon a tree, He was so much God that He rose in victory.)

The Scripture, John 14:1-14, was read responsively, and the sermon was entitled “Conditions for Answered Prayer (Part 2).” Numbers 1 and 2 were included in last week’s “Part 1,” but all the conditions are:

  1. An honest relationship with God (Have we confessed our sins, made His principles the basis of our life, and do we WANT to know God’s will?)
  2. A forgiving attitude (Or do we hold grudges?)
  3. A willingness to share the blessing that results from God’s answer to our prayer (Is our asking motivated by a desire to share or to hoard the blessings?)
  4. Believe God will answer the prayer (Or do we view it like playing the lottery and figure if we win we got lucky?)
  5. Pray in Jesus’ name (i.e., based on His ‘nod of approval,’ not because we are worthy, but because Jesus is worthy.)

The point is, “Why should God be willing to answer our prayers if we are unwilling to share the blessings that result from those answers?”

This is an excellent question, and I’ve begun asking God just how He might want me to share the blessings that have resulted from His answers to my prayers. I can’t wait to hear His answer to that prayer!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

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:

We were called back to Steffin Hill for a third visit, and this time we were able to worship with their pastor.

The size of the church and rounded configuration of the pews gives a warm, welcoming feel. The laughter and talk of the children before the service helped to make me feel at home and we were warmly welcomed by some people. One of the things I liked about this church is the large cross over stained glass on the rear Chancel wall.

The sermon wove around Christ’s “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s…” The message related that the coin bore the likeness of the Roman leader and we as followers of Christ are coins for Jesus in His image.

I knew the church supported world missions: from a prior visit we learned that they helped Dr. Sue Makin’s efforts in Malawi. I was pleased to learn of their efforts to collect cold weather clothing to donate to Beaver County Head Start.

I sensed a healthy prayer ministry here and was pleased to lift this pastor and church in prayer.

Jan’s thoughts:

We visited this church twice before (in January and May 2010) but both times the pastor was away. However, today she was there so we were finally able to meet her.

This church is still very friendly…some people simply said a quick greeting as they walked past and some stopped to introduce themselves, while others greeted us during the Passing of the Peace.

There seems to be much varied mission work flowing from this congregation.

Something I don’t recall noticing at either of our last visits is the lack of legroom in the pew. It made for uncomfortable seating. Perhaps it was just on this side, as we sat on the other side at our previous visits.

The sermon was entitled “Show Me the Money!” and was centered on Exodus 33:12-23 and Matthew 22:15-22. The message began with talk of taxes and how all authorities are in place because they were placed there by God and we must live under those authorities until God decides to change them.

Then she pointed out that we (believers) “are the coins of the Kingdom.” The coins used in Jesus’ time were Roman coins, stamped with the image of Caesar and bearing his title. We are stamped with God’s image and inscribed with His words – “My beloved.” I loved this stunning word-picture.

I was glad God directed us back here today.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Saint Andrews United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Saint Andrews United Presbyterian Church, 201 E. Jefferson Street, Butler, PA 16001, 724.287.4777,, Rev. Merry Hope Meloy, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This was an interesting visit to a Presbyterian church with the old-style stone and massive timbers, and what was interesting was there was life inside.

The arched beams are impressive, as is the stained glass. What was special to me was the wood work on the Chancel wall framed by the symmetry of the organ pipes and with a large central cross. After a hard week, the pew pads were appreciated.

We were warmly welcomed by a number of people. Although this seems to be an internal church, I saw reference to some local food ministries and was especially pleased to notice a reference in the newsletter to mission in Malawi.

The sermon was about the response to the invitation to the king’s wedding feast, and thankfully extended to the one who was put out for not wearing wedding clothes. It struck me then and later in prayer that if God is calling this church to minister to the neighborhood, I hope they invite those in who don’t have wedding clothes.

For me the time for silent confession was way too short. I thought the hymn “Come and Dine” was a perfect choice and may be a good hymn for Communion.

I was glad we had a few moments with the Pastor after the service.

Jan’s thoughts:

Our drive this morning was a joy as the changing colors of the leaves showcased God’s artistic handiwork.

The building exhibits lots of gorgeous stained glass. The Sanctuary was nicely decorated, the pews comfortable, and the sound system was well-moderated.

Signage appeared adequate in parts of the building, but I noticed none pointing toward restrooms.

People were very friendly: some took the initiative to introduce themselves, others waited for us to make our way to them during the Exchange of Greetings, and still others simply smiled broadly and spoke briefly before or after the service.

The bulletin was nicely done and user-friendly, which I always appreciate. I thought the usual footnote to indicate when the congregation is to stand was graciously worded. It reads “*The people will rise in body or spirit.”

The choir sounded enthusiastic and harmonious. The Message to Young Christians was on the long side but very well done, and the children appeared to follow all the way through.

The sermon was centered on Philippians 4:1-9 and Matthew 22:1-14 (Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast) and was entitled “RSVP.” The Pastor spoke of the importance of responding to an invitation (specifically God’ invitation to join His Heavenly wedding banquet for His Son), and then pointed out that responding is not enough, that even showing up is not enough…we need to wear our wedding clothes to this very special celebration. In other words, we need to be clothed in Christ Himself.

I appreciated the sermon but even more so the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

First Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights

Today we worshiped at The First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights, 50 Stratmore Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, 412.921.6153,, Rev. David Carver, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were blessed to worship again at Crafton Heights. It was special to celebrate World Communion on the 20th anniversary of the Malawi Partnership. We were warmly welcomed back and made to feel at home.

Even if our twin grandchildren had not been there, I had plenty of babies to watch.

CHUP has effected a steady progression of updating projects, and it was good to see their progress. It was also a joy to hear Dave’s sermon and have the opportunity to catch up a bit after worship.

Jan’s thoughts:

And when we left, I truly felt as if we had worshiped.

We had gotten word that CHUP would have a Malawian visitor on World Communion Sunday, and there would be a celebration of the 20 year anniversary of the Partnership between Pittsburgh Presbytery and the Synod of Blantyre. “Zikomo” (thank you) was all I had the opportunity to say to him, but it was wonderful to again sing “Amazing Grace” in Chichewa and to hear that beautiful Malawian accent.

Our family has a long-standing relationship with CHUP, and it was a treat to visit with some friends we seldom see. It was a joy to meet some of the babies in the congregation and to be able to introduce our grandtwins to them.

This church is alive in the Spirit, and the recent renovation seems to have brought out a new enthusiasm. The premises look beautiful and are set up to be useful.

The sermon was based on Luke 4:14-21 and entitled “I Wish My Eyes Were Bigger.” Dave explained that this was his first comment upon landing at the airport in Malawi for the first time. He went on to tell of one particular journey that involved much hiking up a mountain for considerably longer than he anticipated. When he arrived at the church to which he was being escorted he learned it had been three years since a pastor had been present, and consequently there were many baptisms, ordinations, installations, and, of course, Communion. It was a full day of worship and the joy of being among and serving God’s people. The story brought back many strong memories of Malawi for me, along with some tears of joy for those memories.

I am pleased to recommend Dave Carver’s blog, where you can read this or a host of his other sermons: In my humble opinion, they’re more than worth it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Grace Community Church

Today we worshiped at Grace Community Church, 216 Mystic Pine Trail, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.779.7997,, Matt Kaltenberger, Lead Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

One of the personal benefits of our blog is to jog my memory about our observations of a church and to see what may have changed. I was pleased that Christ used the same pastor to deliver to me a necessary message.

We parked in a well-marked visitor spot and noticed two people holding the doors open, expecting they were watching to see if anyone parked as a visitor, but we had to initiate the “Good morning.”

Our timing was off a bit and the service was starting as I was getting a cup of (excellent) coffee. The room was packed and there were people directing traffic and setting up extra chairs. I was standing a little too long and it became necessary to sit through the service, so I didn’t get to look for a cross. With my diminished hearing the volume was still too much for me, but the congregation seemed alive worshiping with music.

I will be interested to see the new location and the directional signage provided to enable visitors to find them.

I am used to not having an Order of Worship for a contemporary service, and remembered that the offering was taken early.

The sermon was part of a series on how God has used average Joes to accomplish great things and our almost unilateral exercise of our “spiritual gift of excuses.” God gets angry with excuses, and there will be none on Judgment Day.

Where Christ really spoke to me involved a question about my personal service. I have tended a large garden with most of the produce going to the poor. A good endeavor, feeding God’s people, but it was my idea to expand to the point that it was killing me to take care of what I had planted. I kept justifying my need to continue this good work without consulting God.

Today my focus is changing in reflecting on the question, “What do you already have to use for Christ?” I don’t know exactly what that will be, but I know what He needs me to know for now, and I know Who to ask when I am lost. He has shown me where to start Monday morning.

He has never failed to steer when I turn over the helm.

Jan’s thoughts:

It has been more than two years since we visited this church. The membership must have grown because it seemed significantly more crowded than the last time we were there, which is probably why they’re in the process of building a new facility.

This facility is still very nice, well laid out and contemporary in look and feel.

Perhaps my ear condition has exacerbated the problem, but as we entered the Sanctuary the music seemed especially loud. Since they were already setting up additional chairs, we requested two be set up against the back wall because of the volume. They were understanding and graciously accommodated our request.

The music seemed professional…it was almost like being at a concert except the music was worship-oriented.

The offering was taken noticeably early in the service.

This was the fourth and final part of a series entitled “Average Joe: What God Can Do Through Ordinary You,” and was presented by the same preacher we heard last time, Bob Zonts. He began by recapping the first three installments of the series which were about Noah (who was “available, different, obedient, and faithful”), Gideon (whose key points were “affirmation, revelation, confrontation, and transformation”), and Abraham (key words – “path, promise, plan, provision”).

Moses was an Average Joe until he encountered the Burning Bush, and when God explained what He wanted Moses to do, Moses came up with five excuses. The preacher defined an excuse as “Self-justification for something we have done or haven’t done or don’t want to do.” The excuses were detailed as follows:

Excuse #1 – “Who am I?” The question: have I used my past, or a wound from my past, as an excuse? The solution: trust Him…He’s the One doing it, not us.

Excuse #2 – “What if they ask who sent me?” The solution: it’s not about you…do what you know…tell your story.

Excuse #3 – “They won’t believe me.” The solution: God never asked Moses to use something he didn’t already have. What do I already have that He’s asking me to use? God never expects us to be someone we’re not.

Excuse #4 – “I don’t speak well.” The solution: trust God to do what He says He will do; again, it’s not us.

Excuse #5 – A weak request to “Please send someone else.” Scripture affirms that Moses was an exceedingly humble man, but God gets angry when we make excuses, and Moses was refusing to trust God’s answers.

Finally the big, bottom-line question: do we really trust God with our lives? Ouch.

This message hit me right between the eyes. I felt as if these reminders to tell my story, trust God to do what He sees fit with it, that it’s not about me, these are all things I’ve been hearing over and over from various sources. Perhaps I need to take it more personally. Still no burning bushes though…so far…

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Calvert Memorial Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Calvert Memorial Presbyterian Church, 94 Locust Street, Etna, PA 15223, 412.781.3056,, Bonnie Taylor, Student Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

When we arrive at a church with no signage we can usually find the restrooms, but today we had to ask. The only important signage was a large lit stained glass cross. The ceiling is dark wood and beams, featuring half-round stained glass dormer windows.

I thought the organ might be a little strong for maybe 20 worshipers, but it was actually quite good. The Special Music was presented by a blind couple whose music was an enjoyable addition to worship.

The sermon wove around past hardships and violence the Pastor and her family have faced and how God has used these experiences to shape them now, most importantly to fear only God.

I was excited to learn that the church has a neighborhood prayer ministry and is supportive of ministries in the Etna area.

From my time in prayer I sense that this church is changing to be about those to whom Christ is calling them to minister. As difficult as change can be for Presbyterians, I am proud that they are following Christ’s lead to be a beacon for their community, keep the lights on, and go out in faith.

Jan’s thoughts:

As we circled the building in search of a parking spot, the first thing I noticed was the wide open doors. Granted it was a beautiful day, but seeing every door wide open caused me to instantly view this as a welcoming church, an impression that turned out to be accurate once we were inside.

The building is older with lots of beautiful stained glass, including a large, unique stained glass cross on the rear wall of the Chancel. The pews and ceiling were dark wood, but the Chancel area must have been newer as it was a different shade. Signage was minimal, but almost unnecessary.

We arrived a bit on the early side, inadvertently interrupting an adult Sunday school class, but one of the women graciously came out to welcome us.

During the announcements a trip to Ohio was mentioned. The purpose of the outing must have been known to everyone else because it was not mentioned.

Prior to the Passing of the Peace it was declared from the pulpit that everyone greets everyone else, so that’s what we did. This was followed by some lovely Special Music, a tune called “I Need You More Today.” The couple who offered this contribution exhibited a beautiful harmony to their voices.

During the Doxology the liturgist stood facing the Chancel while holding the two offering plates up high, a physical reflection of the spiritual act of offering.

I appreciated the prayer prior to the reading of the New Testament Scripture for the day.

The message, “9/11 Revisited,” centered on Psalm 66:8-20 and 1 Peter 3:13-18. At first I wondered about the timing of the topic, but this was clarified when the Pastor spoke of having been on vacation the last two weeks. Her story, however, was personal and shocking.

She is a student pastor and has been a Pastor’s wife for 30 years. Her husband was serving a church in Littleton, CO at the time of the Columbine shootings, and due to some church conflict the family became the target of violence. It actually reached the point where they allowed their daughter to attend boarding school in New York, and on September 11, 2001, their daughter was at the school, 50 minutes from the World Trade Center. It seemed like this family could not escape tragedy.

She made excellent points about fearing only God, leaning into God in times of trial and persecution, sharing the truth of our hope, remembering that our strength comes from Who our God is, and going boldly, refusing to be intimidated.

I was reminded again that there is no substitute for personal experience.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hampton Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Hampton Presbyterian Church, 2942 East Hardies Road, Gibsonia, PA 15044, 724.443.3201., Rev. Ted Martin, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Upon entering we happened to encounter a friend and the pastor along with one of the interns. They led us to an outdoor service pavilion for this contemporary worship service where we sat at picnic tables aligned to face a large wooden cross.

The sermon was part of a series dissecting their mission statement, and this week the topic was being guided by the Holy Spirit. The pastor likened the Spirit guiding us to his experience guiding river rafters. The consequences are much the same: follow your guide or face possible death. He asked the question: if you have no personal peace, are you resisting the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

Communion was served with the elements offered aloud.

Had I known the second service overlapped I would have left after Communion. As it was, we stayed after to talk with a few people and missed a good part of the second service.

“Turning Point” is a contemporary rock & roll service. There was a large wooden cross there as well. I heard a lot of prayer requests for concerns, but I did not hear joys at either service. At Turning Point there was an order of worship on the table where we sat and Communion was not offered at this service.

The chairs were very sturdy and comfortable, an oddity for folding chairs. I was impressed with the voice of one of the females in the praise team.

We were greeted very warmly by someone we knew after the service, but by no one else until we left that portion of the building.

I think we were too late for the offering at Turning Point, and there was none taken at the first service.

There is good signage in places, but we could have used some help finding our way from the lower level and to locate the service.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is a beautiful facility, well cared for, thoughtfully designed and decorated, with good signage. The people were friendly, especially considering this is a three-service church.

We have worshiped here twice in the past: the first time was prior to Rev. Martin’s arrival and the second was when he was participating in a mission trip, so this was our first opportunity to hear him preach.

We came for the Pavilion service and stayed for the service called Turning Point. Both services are very casual and laid back, but the music at the Pavilion service is presented by a guitarist and three additional vocalists and at Turning Point there was a full praise band.

No offering was taken at either service so as visitors we were unsure what to do with our check and the topic never came up in conversation with the folks with whom we spoke. (We’ll mail it.)

I don’t know how large this church is, but they seem to have numerous programs and mission efforts going, and I recognize that it takes no small effort to keep things running.

The message was the same at both services and was centered on Isaiah 52: 6-7 & John 14:25-32. This was part two of a series which examined the church’s new mission statement. It was a passionate explanation of what this church believes about the Bible (it is God’s Word, holy, inspired, and authoritative), and the Holy Spirit (He comes with authority and stands beside us as an advocate, comforter, and helper). He spoke of a time when he was a river guide on the Youghiogheny River and gave a vivid example of what can happen in those circumstances when one fails to regard the guidance of someone with knowledge and experience. It was a reminder to listen to the Holy Spirit as He guides and teaches us to engage life wisely. We resist God’s guidance to our own peril.

One of the more intriguing questions (to me, at least) was: “What happens when we are where we’re not supposed to be?” I suppose we (I) should be listening, just in case.