Sunday, January 30, 2011

Clinton United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Clinton United Presbyterian Church, 197 Glade Mill Road, Saxonburg, PA 16056, 724.352.3855,, Rev. Jason M. Sinagra, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This is a rather small church, but it could benefit from some signage as I didn’t see any.
We were warmly greeted and welcomed, but more, we were treated like family.

We were told of an upcoming event, “Bring a Friend Sunday,” and I would think this will get a good response.

I was happy to see mission was above 10% of budget…God will bless these efforts.

I really enjoyed the Anthem: that was a lot of harmony from four people.

I read in an advice column today about a woman who asked for prayer for her husband and the pastor refused because he was a member of a different church. Hearing this pastor open prayer requests to those outside the church (“the people you meet this week”) was an uplifting Christian concept.

The sermon started with the question, “Who wants to be a moron?” I should have stood since being a fool for Christ is the highest calling I have ever had. God doesn’t work within man’s expectations; He colors outside the lines and is a rule breaker (ours, not His).

God works in unexpected ways…He takes a lowly, broken sinner like me, comes into the cesspool of my making, and raises me up to do His will. Absurd? Yes…thanks be unto God.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is a pretty little country church, well kept, clean, and family-oriented. In touring the upstairs we found a storage area and several classrooms; unfortunately we did not see the downstairs.

The only signage I saw was for the restroom, which was conveniently located right off the Narthex.

The bulletin was informational; the back page contained many notes geared to visitors (nursery and restroom locations, parking, members of the Board of Session and Board of Deacons, and even the meaning of the liturgical color of the season).

The people were friendly – nearly everyone within a several pew radius greeted us, introduced themselves, welcomed us, and some even invited us to return. A very welcoming church indeed.

The Prayer of Confession in the bulletin was actually confessional in nature. These prayers can sometimes move quickly from a brief confession into supplication, but when we finished reading this prayer I felt as if confession truly had taken place.

Four people sang the unlisted Anthem, but their voices sounded fantastic together.

Today was “special music Sunday” so the soft cover hymnal, “Sing the Faith” was used. This one is new to me, but I enjoyed the more up-to-date songs.

The sermon, titled “Simply Jesus,” was based on I Corinthians 1:18-31. He stated that the Greeks viewed Jesus as weak because He came to Earth as a man, and the reason He was a stumbling block for the Jews was the fact that He hung on the cross (Deuteronomy 21:23 states, “Cursed is the one who hangs on a tree.”). Both of these “reasons” have caused people to reject Jesus to this day.

The thing is, “The cross is the answer to death, and Jesus’ surrender to death is what conquered it.” My favorite line from the sermon: “God breaks all the rules except His.”

One of the things about our God that most delights me is that He, in Christ, has taken so many of our accepted assumptions and beliefs and turned them on their heads. He creates paradoxes that point to the only solution or explanation as His, and yet I still have trouble understanding Him. What I need to do is stop trying to figure Him out and simply follow in humble submission and faith. I know, I know…easier said than done. Daily reminders help, but I’m still working on it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Union Presbyterian Church of Robinson Township

Today we worshiped at Union Presbyterian Church of Robinson Township, 6165 Steubenville Pike, McKees Rocks, PA 15136, 412.787.1818,, Rev. Dr. William J. Younger, Lead Pastor, Rev. Mark A. Whitsel, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We have worshiped at Union a few times and it is always interesting to me to see how much I remember when we go back to a church. It is a pleasant Sanctuary with what I call a Methodist variation: so many of the Methodist churches I have known all had the rounded extension from one side. Union has a skylight with stained glass in the extension. It is worth a visit to Union just for the view from the hill on which the church sits, but perhaps on a warmer day.

The lack of signage seemed to confirm an inward-focused church. There was little indication of mission, though the website shows a number they support.

I appreciated the time for Silent Confession, and the Children’s Message was long for the few who came forward. The choir was a real joy, their enthusiasm shone forth and there were some smiles. They also sounded great, but that was secondary to their obvious worship.

I was impressed that there was an Order of Worship for the contemporary service…that would be a real plus for visitors.

The sermon from I Corinthians 5:1-13 dealt with immorality in the church, and was well developed and presented. I very much agree that churches can get caught up in the mistaken idea of boasting of their tolerance.

A highlight for me was a story at the end of the message of a dad who ended all his texts to his children with “I love you, Dad.” Since our son was killed, we all say a lot more I love yous, and from now on my texts will be ending the same.

Usually during the sermon I spend time in prayer for the church and the pastor(s), but today I had to change that because I didn’t want to miss any of this message.

Jan’s thoughts:

It has been more than two years since we last visited this church. Some things seem to have changed (i.e., the pastor), and many things are the same. I saw little, if any, directional signage, so we had to ask about restroom locations.

There was some information about a campaign for funds to refurbish the stained glass (I think), but it was immediately inside the door and there was not much opportunity to glean details. I’m sure the members all knew about it, though.

The building is on the older side, but is still handicapped accessible.

The people we spoke with were friendly enough; however, as is common in churches with more than one service, no one especially went out of their way to greet us.

I can’t speak to the attendance at the 8:30 a.m. contemporary service, but the 11 a.m. traditional service was well-attended.

The stained glass in the Sanctuary is striking, including some in unexpected places such as the ceiling – looking like a skylight – and all three sides of a door. The predominant color in the Sanctuary was blue (an excellent choice), and on that score I could see the reason for the blue paraments; however I was curious as I’ve never seen blue paraments included on the liturgical calendar.

The bulletin is a single 11x17” sheet folded into thirds, and is easy to follow: the headings do their job of separating the text without confusing the eye.

In most churches the silent confession time lasts only a moment, but here I appreciated that it is actually long enough to confess.

I wish the title of the Anthem had been included in the bulletin, but I’m guessing it was something like “Saved by Grace” and is possibly a Gaither tune. Most of the choir was animated as they sang and looked like they were enjoying themselves, which is always contagious.

The Message, “Dealing with Immorality in the Father’s House,” was based on I Corinthians 5:1-13 and was one of the best sermons I’ve heard in a long time. Dr. Younger started out by referring to this as a “family meeting,” and made it clear to any non-believers present that this was not about or to them. After clarifying this, he turned to the stated Scripture involving an issue of sexual immorality within the Corinthian church and Paul’s letter which indicated that the problems were the lack of action and that the people were not appalled by this sin. Instead they were boasting about their tolerance.

I agree with his statements: “Tolerance is selfish and unloving…it says ‘do anything you want as long as it doesn’t affect me.’ Tolerance does not equal love.”

He declared that the purpose of our actions is not punitive, but to reclaim the errant one. After one person speaks to an errant brother or sister, and after more speak to the errant one, if repentance is not forthcoming we are told to remove the person. This is WITHIN the church…we are not to judge those outside the church. He said “Salt must have contact with what it hopes to affect.”

These are just a few points from this sermon, and I’m hoping they make as much sense as they did to me in hearing the rest of the sermon. I thought it was a bold, challenging topic and current in its necessity. I was glad to be present to hear it preached.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Riverview United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Riverview United Presbyterian Church, 3505 Perrysville Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15214, 412.321.7300,, Rev. Kellie Weekley Mills, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We heard of a pastor who may be in need of a bone marrow transplant. I knew this church but had never worshiped there; however, I found that I’m too old and beat up to be considered.

The service was underway when we arrived at the Sanctuary, but we got to slip in via the front door during the Passing of the Peace.

The Sanctuary has grand stained glass, an ornate wood ceiling and Chancel. The Sanctuary is so large that it looked emptier than it was.

The Student Minister presented the sermon well, as the rest of the service. She seemed very comfortable, especially with the prayer requests.

I wondered if the organ was so loud because of the few people to sing, or vice versa. During “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” it was much better balanced.

I sensed an inward-focused church that would like to be more involved with the community, and noted a thrift store/food bank in the newsletter. I would encourage them to take Jesus out to the neighbors.

What I heard sung by the choir were good choices for a strong bass section. Their passion came through and sounded strong.

After last week I didn’t know what to expect from my prayer time for the church, but it was normal. I felt called to pray for their ministry to their neighbors and prayed for the pastor’s health.

We were greeted by a few people after the service and were given a welcome sheet.

There was a retired (I believe) minister there to serve Communion and the congregation came forward to partake, but I was disappointed that the elements were offered silently.

Jan’s thoughts:

At first I thought this building was confusing, as I walked in through a side door and the only option was to enter the elevator. However, the signage was very good, and the people were friendly and helpful.

The Sanctuary is beautiful, with unique stained glass windows, an elegant Chancel, comfortable pews, and an interesting ceiling.

The bulletin was arranged well, readable, and stapled in the center with no extra sheets to contend with.

The choir sounded marvelous, with plenty of volume. I was heartened to hear that this church celebrates Communion weekly. We were told this began some time ago and the Session chose to continue following the departure of that pastor.

We arrived late and walked into the Sanctuary during the Passing of the Peace, which wasn’t entirely bad since we ended up entering through a door at the front of the Sanctuary.

The pastor of this church has been diagnosed with leukemia, and today the Central Blood Bank was set up in Fellowship Hall accepting donations and applications to be tested to donate bone marrow for Rev. Mills. With no real idea of the size of the congregation, it looked like a relatively good turnout. (On a personal note, if you are inclined to give blood for this cause, or be tested as a possible bone marrow donor, I’d urge you to do so. This pastor has been through ringer and could use all the help possible.)
The Student Minister, Rebecca Siddle, led worship quite capably. Her time with the children was sweet and she seemed to have a natural affinity for them. She talked about measuring things and how impossible it is to measure God’s kindness toward us. A difficult concept, but the children seemed to grasp the point.

The sermon, “Immeasurably More,” was based on Isaiah 49:1-4 and Matthew 3:13-17. She began with a personal story about her reluctance to impose ashes during last year’s Ash Wednesday service, and her ability to relate to John the Baptist’s feeling of unworthiness when Jesus came to him to be baptized.

She stated that Matthew 3:15, when Jesus says to John “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” could be paraphrased “Suspend your rational thinking for the moment because God is doing something more than you could begin to understand.” I liked that.

“Then John consented.” He let go of his need for humility…and “we need to let go of humility that prevents us from doing what God asks.”

She pointed out that “our humility often protects us from our fears.” If, in the name of humility, we do not step out and do a thing God is asking us to do, because then we don’t have to risk failure, or change, or the judgment of others. Our “humility” has protected us.

What if we decide we don’t need to protect ourselves from these things? That we “don’t need our needs? What fills us up?” The answer, of course, is “God’s Spirit, power, and fullness,” as we allow Him to use us as He sees fit, to the extent He wishes, doing His work and will.

All I could think was, “Yes, that’s what I want.” I’ve been convicted of hiding behind my fears and needs and telling God how He can and cannot use me. Ouch. This sermon will be on my mind this week, and this pastor will be in my prayers for some time to come. Yours too, I hope.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Covenant Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 230 E. Jefferson Street, Butler, PA 16001, 724.287.7731,, Rev. Dr. James E. Swanson, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

The church is aesthetically appealing, beautiful stained glass, large cross, beam and wood panel ceiling, generous pew spacing, and curved-front balcony.

The pastor took time to explain the corporate and private confession, but I thought the silent time could have been longer.

The sermon, “A Very Proud Parent,” made me think of how proud God is of Christ, and wonder how He could be proud of us. We are called to glorify and enjoy God, and we fail miserably.

Recently I have been called to spend more time in prayer for the church and its pastor; however, today it brought a dilemma: I was able to pray for the pastor, but not the congregation. I have never felt that my prayers were not wanted or in vain, but today they were not received. Even in an inward-focused church I would expect some excitement, and today felt nothing.

I did find some mission involvement by the church, although a small percentage of income. I sense some real turmoil at this church, something I hope will be clarified in further prayer.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is a stately old building, well tended and nicely decorated. The stained glass was beautiful and the Sanctuary was well coordinated and lovely, although chilly.

Lots of folks greeted us before, during, and after the service. The bulletin for this very traditional service was well done, with tons of information. The choir, though only nine in number, had the vocal power to reach the back row where we sat.

I cannot recall the last time I witnessed an actual Processional and/or Recessional, but this church did them both. They also turned off the Sanctuary lights (except the Chancel) for the sermon.

I appreciated the pastor’s message to the children that the church is both a place of refuge in the rough times and a place to share the joys of life.

Being Baptism of the Lord Sunday, the sermon, entitled “A Very Proud Parent,” was based on Matthew 3:11-17. He spoke about the desire of a child to please his/her parents, and quoted various Scripture passages about what it takes to please God. He held that although he is in favor of using inclusive language, he did not feel it helpful or right to be gender neutral in referring to God. He reminded everyone that “we are here to please God, not people.” I couldn’t agree more.

I had hoped to meet the Spirit in worship this morning, but that was not the case. I have been unable to put my finger on any particular reason for it, it just is.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Our Savior's Lutheran Church

Today we worshiped at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 2147 Ridge Road Ext., Ambridge, PA 15003, 724.266.1169,, Rev. Jill E. McGregor, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

It is interesting when we get to revisit a church. On a first visit I try to remember to note the atmosphere and surroundings of the church and make note of unusual features, and while this church has great woodwork and stained glass, today I was free to just absorb the atmosphere. The other aspect of revisiting: it leaves me more time to pray for the church and pastor.

I am not well versed in Lutheran worship, but there was a lot of liturgy and, pleasantly, Scripture. Today’s sermon wove the Nicene Creed with John 1, how the Creed amplified the words of John’s Gospel of Christ.

We were warmly welcomed and greeted, and the congregation seemed to interact well, but I didn’t sense much passion. The service seemed rushed to include all the required elements. After hearing several sermons from this pastor I believe there would be great benefit to restructuring the service to allow a longer sermon and ignite the passion.

Jan’s thoughts:

This past week I was hit hard with the stomach bug that was circulating so, for my first trip outdoors since last Tuesday we opted for a repeat visit to a church that is close to home.

This is a lovely little rural church, very friendly and welcoming, and still decorated so charmingly for Christmas. The Sanctuary boasts a circular stained glass window on the rear Chancel wall and lighter-colored stained glass throughout.

The liturgy still seems strange to me (a lifelong Presbyterian), but after three visits to Lutheran churches, I’m beginning to catch on.

Although there were plenty of Scripture readings – a good thing. The untitled sermon was mostly centered on the first 18 verses of the Gospel of John, my favorite. After referring to Joseph as Jesus’ adoptive father, the pastor noted that this Gospel mentioned nothing about shepherds, a manger, swaddling cloths, or wise men. It only speaks of Jesus’ identity, unity with the Father, and His purpose, i.e., for us to receive grace and be transformed.

This being a Lutheran Church, Martin Luther figured prominently in the teaching, and I learned that Luther believed that, even with everything else he believed was wrong with the church in his time, the creeds were something that was right and should be kept. She then proceeded to read portions of the Apostle’s Creed and identify the Scripture backing up those statements. Luther said that “The Bible is the cradle that holds the Christ.” I like that, but I think I’m still Presbyterian at heart.