Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cross Roads Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Cross Roads Presbyterian Church, 3281 Wexford Road, Gibsonia, PA 15044, 724.935.3636,, Rev. R. Stephen Cramer, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

I did not notice signage beyond the restroom doors, but it was not a problem on the level we were on. We did not get to see the lower level.

The church is modern-style wood arch and wood ceiling. There is a nice central cross framed by stained glass panels. It was pleasant to see the purple drape on the cross and matching paraments.

There was a good age mix in the congregation. The Children’s Message was about Christ as the Living Water and His message for the Samaritan woman at the well. The pastor seemed to have a real connection with the children for a point some adults struggle with.

A joy for me were the smiles I saw from some choir members. I enjoyed the anthem and the Ericksons’ contemporary music and was pleased with the harmony of the congregation with the two styles of music.

I was disappointed that the refrigeration equipment came on during the sermon and made it hard to hear, but I used that time to pray for the church and pastor.

I was thinking lately that it would help to give the Scripture readers some training on using inflection in their reading to emphasize the message. It would make the pastor’s job easier, too. Today’s readings were a little long but a great opportunity to influence the congregation’s understanding of the message.

This church collects coupons to send to military families overseas, a mission dear to my heart.

We were warmly welcomed by a number of people and offered some history of the church. I was pleased to see good mission numbers in the Annual Report, to see that this church seeks Christ’s direction, that they support some missions that I do, and to see a photo of a friend from Malawi on the Mission Board.

Jan’s thoughts:

We’ve driven past this church the last several weeks, and today we stopped. The outdoor sign is easily visible from the road. The grounds looked well kept and thoughtfully designed; I suspect they’ll look quite attractive when the flowers begin to bloom.

When we first entered I did not notice directional signage so it was a little confusing, but we were quickly distracted by the bulletin boards, one of which detailed a lot of mission involvement.

The people were friendly and welcoming: some stopped to chat for a moment and many smiled and said hello on their way past. Following the service a few invited us to return.

The bulletin was user-friendly, readable, and informative, including a lot of information in a relatively small amount of space.

We did not have an opportunity to see a lot of the building. The entryway led into the rear of the Sanctuary with divider walls on the left and the kitchen on the right. The only stained glass was exhibited in the rear wall of the Chancel. The light color of the wood in the arched ceiling was continued throughout the rest of the Sanctuary, and the colors were tied together nicely. There are interlocking chairs in place of pews.

This congregation seems to have found a way to mix the traditional and contemporary music without the atmosphere of contentiousness at some churches.

I loved even the title of the “Prayer of Humility” and the use of music to close the time of silent confession, allowing the congregation to ease back out of the silence.

The Children’s Message centered on Living Water, a difficult concept to communicate to young ones. However the pastor seemed to have a good rapport with the children, and I appreciated his prayer to “drown us in Your Living Water.”

Unfortunately a hum from the kitchen began just about the time the sermon did, making it difficult to both hear and concentrate.

The sermon was presented by the Student Minister. It was based on John 4:4-42, the familiar story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. To me the most striking point was that when the woman ran into town to tell the people about Jesus she left her bucket behind. She left her past and her purpose for being there, and dove headlong into this new future with which Jesus presented her. Would that we all did the same, and thus were “drowned in the Living Water.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hampton Presbyterian Church

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

Bob’s thoughts:

We hadn’t visited Hampton for a long time, and when we were last there we heard a guest preacher. But there is a third service we haven’t attended, so perhaps we may yet have an opportunity to hear the pastor. My guess is the three services are why no one greeted us.

The church has good signage, restrooms and nursery were easy to locate, and the woman in the nursery was pleasant. The Sanctuary is long with an arched wood ceiling and beautiful stained glass at the rear of the Chancel. The window is mostly dark blue with a magenta stripe around the perimeter, adding a vibrant touch. I thought the large cross in the top pane was perfectly placed. The side aisles are flat-roofed, giving the impression of exterior balconies…perhaps for angels looking in.

I thought the anthem was especially well done (as did the congregation) and from near the rear of the Sanctuary I could detect smiles from the choir.

We were blessed to hear two interns who did a remarkable job. Both were very comfortable with the congregation and did a fine job with prayers.

Mike, who preached the sermon, brought up an interesting point in his message on Exodus 2:1-10 – the incredible faith of Moses’ mother in releasing him to be raised as an Egyptian. The threat from Pharaoh was not an idle threat for the future, but a real and present danger: the male offspring were being killed.

The duo that performed the offertory, “The Power of Your Love,” was good together and appreciated.

Jan’s thoughts:

We visited this church once before, probably about five years ago when a friend was helping start up one of the new services. Today, though, we visited as virtual strangers. As anticipated at a church with three services, visitors can easily remain anonymous.

This is a particularly well cared-for facility with exceptional signage.

The bulletin consists of one 11x17” sheet and, true to the season, an insert inviting folks to order Easter flowers. The bulletin is very well done, easy to read and follow, visually interesting (i.e., enough graphics to grab one’s attention), and well organized.

The Sanctuary is long and narrow with unusual banners hanging on both sides. The arched ceiling boasted light-colored woodwork that matched the pews and the walls were white. The windows on both sides were balcony height with electric vertical blinds. The only stained glass windows were on the rear Chancel wall and in the walls between the Sanctuary and the Narthex.

The choir was outstanding. Adequate time was given for silent confession. I appreciated that the Prayer for Illumination was asked for “not because of who we are but Who You are, and not because of what we’ve done but what Christ did.” Amen to that.

I also appreciated when one congregant, during the Prayers of the People, simply stated “Unspoken request.”

The Senior Pastor was leading a mission trip to Haiti this day, and the Youth and Outreach Minister was with the youth at the Confirmation Retreat at Camp Crestfield. The gentleman who preached, Michael Haddox, was engaging, warm, honest, and natural, making me wish I knew more about him. Unfortunately there was no additional information about him in the bulletin, and according to the church’s website he does not seem to be a member of the staff.

Nevertheless, the sermon, based on Exodus 2:1-10, was entitled “Everyone Loves a Slinky.” He began by talking about accidental inventions (such as the Slinky) and moved into the importance of having plans (which I gathered was a concept he has come to appreciate more recently in his life). And I completely agreed with his observation that “Plans can become idols, and should therefore be held with an open hand.” The point, of course, was the reminder that “not even death can stop God’s plan,” – and praise God for that!

“Through Jesus, where we’ve put a period, God puts a divine comma.” These words spoke to the heart of someone who appreciates words. There are several events in my life that I will now pray for God to make into “divine commas” instead of the periods I’ve been afraid they were.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Glenshaw Valley Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Glenshaw Valley Presbyterian Church, 1520 Butler Plank Road, Glenshaw, PA 15116, 412.486.5656,, Rev. C. Leonard Pate Jr., Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were warmly welcomed and greeted by a number of people.

This is a beautiful Sanctuary with lots of stained glass and woodwork. Scripture was projected on two large screens, but I don’t know if the screens are used for anything else.

We did find a restroom sign…don’t know if there was any other signage. Seeing the wreaths off to the sides of the Chancel, I wondered if there was a special meaning to the congregation about which the visitor would not know.

I found an “I Wish” card in the pew that nicely covered a lot of requests. I had time to look at a newsletter and Annual Report, and the only reference to mission was a Moment for Mission during the service. “I wish” the personal confession time was a little longer.

The choir, though on the small side, was quite powerful in worship.

The offering was taken before the Word, but there was adequate time to prepare.

The sermon was on the temptation of Adam and Eve. I appreciated the reminder that God knew/knows that we will sin and loves us enough to send His Son to redeem us.

I have always wondered if Flip Wilson would have ever guessed how many times his line “The devil made me do it!” would be used in sermons.

Being able to see and hear a few cute children helped to ease my withdrawal from a too-short visit with some of my grandchildren.

I felt privileged to pray for this church and pastor.

Jan’s thoughts:

Even before we entered the building I noticed the large, intricate stained glass window. To say it is impressive is an understatement. Unfortunately some vandals had recently thrown a piece of asphalt through a corner of it, and the congregation is now collecting donations toward its repair.

The dark wood pews, ceiling, and Chancel with its red accents behind the woodwork, is all quite beautiful and well tied-together. The pews were arranged in something of an arc, which worked well.

From the moment we entered the Sanctuary people were introducing themselves and extending a warm welcome. There was much animated conversation prior to worship.

The Order of Worship is pretty much the same in most PC(USA) churches. For instance, the hymn is listed on a line at the left margin, in the center of that line is the title of the hymn, and at the right margin is the number of the piece in the hymnal. Pretty clear cut, and pretty much the same everywhere. Here, however, the lines containing more than the one item also contain leader dots (i.e., …………..) causing the eye to automatically follow across the line. I was astounded at how much easier it was to follow.

Also, the location of the Gloria Patri and the Apostles’ Creed were indicated as “623/Screen” and “inside back cover of hymnal/Screen”, to let a visitor know that they would be displayed. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’d be looking through the hymnal only to look up and find the words were projected on a screen or the wall. This is such a small thing, but a nice touch that made it a little easier for a visitor.

I admired the comfort exhibited by the woman who presented the Children’s Sermon.

The Scripture (which a lay reader read with great enthusiasm) was Genesis 3:1-7, and the sermon was titled “The Garden of Temptation.” I liked the pastor’s statement that “God should have told Adam & Eve not to eat the snake!” He spoke of “human nature” and how “the loss of innocence in the Garden of Eden led to a loss of intimacy with God.” Satan’s temptations continue today, of course, but we have a choice – we can choose not to act on those temptations.

In the Garden of Eden the choice was “our will be done” whereas in the Garden of Gethsemane it was “Your will be done.” Praise be to God for Christ’s choice!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

First Presbyterian Church of Gibsonia

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church of Gibsonia, 4003 Gibsonia Road, Gibsonia, PA 15044, 724.443.2092, Rev. Darcy E. Hawk, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

I noticed no signage, but perhaps what we saw was all there was. We did find restrooms downstairs.

The Chancel fits nicely in an alcove and there was a lot of stained glass including the Presbyterian Church emblem behind the cross. With about 35 worshipers I didn’t expect a choir, but they accomplished a lot with few voices.

The pastor seemed to have a good rapport with the children – though for a moment I thought they were off and running without him – and the attention span required of them seemed appropriate.

During the Passing of the Peace we were greeted by most of the congregation, including a woman who had also lost a Marine son. We were privileged to be able to pray with her later.

This was the first time I have seen all the Scripture from the lectionary used, but they were tied well to the message. The correlation was drawn between Jesus at His transfiguration removing His earthly trappings to reveal the Christ and us bringing ourselves to God unadorned and honestly.

I was especially touched by the anecdote of the little girl asking her Dad if her dress made her look pretty and his response that she made the dress look pretty. I hope my babies understand that is how I always feel about them.

The usher took the offering with humility and grace, purposely looking down and away from the plate.

We stayed through the Congregational Meeting in order to talk with the woman who was grieving. I was not surprised by the dismal forecast from the budget sheet, but disappointed that God was left out of the possible answers. I did notice only a token amount to possible mission, which may be the real issue for this church.

Jan’s thoughts:

As we walked in the front door, my first thought was that the small Narthex had been nicely remodeled. However I saw no signage anywhere except the front doors of the restrooms.

I always appreciate pretty stained glass, and this was no exception. The Chancel was lined all around with square wooden panels and in the center was a back-lit glass PC(USA) emblem.

Several people greeted us before and after the service, and many during the Passing of the Peace.

The Order of Worship was in large type and easy to read. The choir was proportionately sized to the congregation and the harmony was sweet. The Prayer for Illumination was where it belonged, i.e., prior to the reading of Scripture.

All four Lectionary references were read, but, since this is Transfiguration Sunday, the sermon centered on the Matthew 17:1-9 passage.

When the pastor began by declaring, “Without Liberace, the world would have been a duller place,” I wasn’t sure what to expect. However what he went on to say made me see some things in a different light. He pointed out that when Jesus ascended the mountain and was transfigured, He did not ‘put on’ something to make Himself shine as He did. Rather than adding something, He actually subtracted something – He "put off the distracting diversions of His physical life and showed His true self.”

I can’t help but wonder if that’s what we’re to do in order to “let our light so shine before men” (Matthew 5:16) – if we’re to put off the distracting diversions of the cares of this world – the things over which we have no control – thus allowing our true selves to show through and to shine. An illuminating notion, I think!