Sunday, May 29, 2011

Conway Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Conway Presbyterian Church, 305 Eleventh Street, Conway, PA 15027, 724.869.7332, Rev. Deane Lavender, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

When we parked at the church I noticed another vehicle with Marine markings, and after waking up early this morning remembering my son, I was looking forward to a Memorial Day church service, but I guess I was the only one. [Note from Jan: No, he wasn’t the only one, and for the same reason.]
I didn’t get to look around much, but noticed no signage. This is a small church, but the organ had enough reverb for two churches. Maybe the organ just had to warm up as it wasn’t as bad later in the service. There was no air movement or open window or door: I couldn’t breathe and Jan wasn’t much better.

The sermon started with a story about people crossing a desert, some intent on the destination and some on the journey. I believe too often we are so caught up in the destination that we forget to enjoy the trip and other times so intent on enjoying ourselves we forget that Christ is the destination. If we can truly live for Him, our life will be our witness.

We had to leave early as I was about to pass out when we got to the porch. I missed my time to pray for this church and pastor. I felt a bit like we were intruding at the club.

There were two women who came in at the end of the service and left after the prayer…wonder if they were seeking?

Jan’s thoughts:

Collectively our family has now visited this church three separate times, but since a few years have passed since our most recent visit we thought today might be a good day to give it one more try.

This is a small church in the heart of a very small community about five minutes from our house.

One person greeted us from her pew when we first arrived and another as she made her way across in front of us. We had hoped for an opportunity to speak with some of the folks following worship, but today, on this nearly 90-degree day, all the windows were closed and once worship began the back door was closed also. The only air circulation was provided by two ceiling fans and they simply could not make a dent in what became stifling heat. Finally I had to choose between leaving early or passing out, so we left at the beginning of the final hymn.

The bulletin contained numerous inserts, but it was user friendly so I was able to hold on to everything and still follow the Order of Worship.

There were only a few very general acknowledgements of Memorial Day: the bulletin cover (a cemetery with the words “God is not far from each one of us”) could be construed as connected to the meaning of this day; a patriotic medley was presented during the Prelude; and (again, loosely interpreted) “Let There be Peace on Earth” for the Offertory.

I have no idea why God’s provision of our freedom was not acknowledged today, but I surely felt something was missing from this service of worship.

The Sermon was entitled “Keep On Keeping On” and was based on Acts 17:22-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21. The subject was evangelism, how “sharing faith was easy for Paul but it’s hard for us.”

In a recent anonymous comment left on this blog we were accused of showing favor to Presbyterian churches while being overly critical of non-denominational ones. Well, I suppose some people find God here just as some others find Him at the church of which we were supposedly over-critical, but I found Him at neither place, so I do not plan to come back here, either.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Montours Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Montours Presbyterian Church, 3151 Montour Church Road, Oakdale, PA 15071, 412.787.1050,, Rev. James A. Evans, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We are used to churches with little signage, but this was the first time I had to step in and look around to see if I had the correct restroom.

We were warmly welcomed and were offered instruction on Communion. I was so pleased that the symbolism of the elements was stated aloud by the servers.

There were few children in attendance but a young man nearby made a point of coming back to greet us with Christ’s peace. There is a chrome cross on the Communion table, another on a banner, and a large wood cross on the opposite side.

The sermon started with an anecdote about Robert who drank and smoked, whose brother died of a heart attack at 52, a second brother died from the same cause at the same age Robert changed his ways, but when he reached 53 he slipped back to what he had been before.

I haven’t always been Bob, I was also called Robert; my father died from a heart attack at 52, his brother from a heart attack at 36, one of my brothers from a heart attack at 48. I guess 52 was a magic number to get past. I was in my 60s when I had a quadruple bypass and assessed that I had been six months from a massive heart attack. I have since celebrated three “not dead” anniversaries, but needless to say, it got my attention.

I was talking with a pastor recently who said she had not found a reason to refuse a child baptism. We talked of the vows we take in the child’s behalf and how fragile and worthless those vows are when we fail. God knows our inability to change. My guess is when we think we are pretty good is when we are at our worst for Him. The very things I try so hard not to do or be are where I slip the easiest. Our best is but a filthy rag without Christ.

I noticed in the bulletin that there was a healing ministry study group but forgot to ask about it.

I was pleased to pray for this church and pastor. I sensed God calling them to a greater mission involvement. I hope they will prayerfully consider this.

Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived with little time to spare, but a couple members of the congregation stopped to greet us prior to the service nonetheless. Numerous people greeted us during the Passing of the Peace.

The Sanctuary was larger than expected with sunshiny stained glass windows. I noticed some signage downstairs, but none on the Sanctuary floor. The bulletin was wonderfully user-friendly.

I appreciated the opportunity to partake of Communion, which was offered verbally.

The Call to Worship came prior to the Processional Hymn, so it was spoken from the rear of the Sanctuary, which was different in my experience. And as the Pastor spoke the Assurance of Pardon he dipped his hand into the Baptismal font and let some water trickle back down into the font. What a beautiful wordless reminder of the power of that Sacrament.

The choir was seated facing the congregation and sounded pleasing.

The sermon, entitled “A New Way,” was based on Genesis 6:5-8 and 8:20-22 and Romans 1:14-17 and 3:21-31. It was an interesting consideration of the parallels and differences between the Flood and the Cross. Essentially, the human heart was evil before and after the Flood; the Flood did not fix the problem of sin. I appreciated the observation that in the Flood all but one died, and on the cross One died for all.

After worship, the first woman to introduce herself continued to make us feel welcome by showing us the chapel building. It’s small-ish but beautifully constructed with stunning stained glass. It’s used for smaller worship services such as Good Friday, as well as other events. A very special place.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

North Hills United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at North Hills United Presbyterian Church, 100 Bellevue Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15229, 412.931.2788, Rev. H. William Dambach, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This church sits in an urban setting and we were a bit late after finding a parking space a few blocks down and came in just as the service was starting.

Coming in through the fellowship area there was a directional signboard identifying a number of areas, but once we had taken a few steps we were on our own.

There is some unique stained glass, and a particular round, colorful window above the large brass cross. The choir turned and faced this cross when the offering was dedicated.

I may have missed it, but when the pastor asked for prayer requests I didn’t hear him ask for joys. However, the first request for prayer included a thanksgiving for blessings. It seemed like half the congregation voiced prayer requests. I saw this as a positive sign that this congregation knows where to take their concerns and joys.

Early in the sermon the pastor told a story of sheep and their shepherd. The shepherd placed a stick across the road and stepped over it. The first sheep likewise jumped over the stick, and then the shepherd removed the stick. Although the stick was gone, the remaining sheep all jumped in the same place.

I was remembering a church where when the guest pastor called for the congregation to state what they believed in the Apostle’s Creed the whole church stood and turned to face the rear of the church to do so. When he asked a longtime Elder, he found that the words to the creed used to be painted on the rear wall.

Yes, we are dumb as sheep, but we will be okay if we can rest secure in the Shepherd, realize our significance in Him, and follow His leading.

It is always encouraging to hear Christ using a pastor, and it was a joy to lift this church and pastor in prayer today.

Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived with just enough time to use the restrooms and find a pew, so we were blessed to be able to meet a few people and chat with the pastor after worship.

The stained glass is almost never the first thing that catches my eye, but today was the exception. The Sanctuary is on the smaller side, but the stained glass windows on the side walls displayed exceptionally colorful pictures, and the one circular window on the rear wall of the Chancel was uplifting just to view.

There was also a rough-looking cross in the corner standing about 6 feet.

I appreciated the Senior’s Bible in the pew – easy to read and an uncommon, thoughtful addition.

The bulletin was user-friendly, and I enjoyed the brief devotion on the back.

Prayer time felt comfortable and familial. Instead of raising a hand and waiting to be acknowledged prior to speaking, folks just took turns speaking out.

The sermon, entitled “Don’t Count Sheep,” was based on Psalm 23, which was read responsively, and John 10:1-21.

In the sermon the pastor pointed out that “sheep are worse than pigs: they’re stupid, smelly, and lack common sense. The shepherd protects the sheep, sometimes from its own dim-witted stubbornness. Yet the Bible calls us sheep, and we’re told that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who protects His sheep, and whose sheep know His voice. The good shepherd leads his sheep to still waters because if they are in flowing water, they’ll fall over onto their backs and drown because they can’t get up. At night the shepherd lays in the doorway of the sheep pen so a predator has to climb over him to get to the sheep.”

No wonder the Good Shepherd refers to us as sheep.

How often do we blindly follow behind others and do what they’ve done with no understanding of the reasons behind their actions…just like sheep? Repeatedly we see the flowing waters, places we knew we should avoid but that looked so inviting, only to step into them and be knocked over and unable to right ourselves…just like sheep? Over and over again we stubbornly want our freedom, so we escape from the pen, refusing the protection of the One Who loves us, Who not only would but already has given His life to protect us.

The pastor’s passionate reminder that Christ calls us by name and counts every hair on our heads, and yet we still spend our lives seeking security and significance made me wonder how much more of either there could be. Is it even possible to find more security than Christ provides? Or more significance than is present in His heart for us? Rhetorical questions, obviously...

The points were: accept His acceptance, listen for His voice, and follow in His steps. It sounds almost too simple, but that’s how we acquire Christ’s peace.

And I, for one, will never look at sheep the same way again.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

First Presbyterian Church of Monaca

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church of Monaca, 1301 Indiana Avenue, Monaca, PA 1561, 724.774.3880, Rev. Beth Wierman-Lambert, Stated Supply Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

This is an older style church of the Presbyterian glory years: arched ceiling, great stained glass, and ornate woodwork. On the carved woodwork of the Chancel wall there hangs a rather plain wooden cross, which I found pleasing.

I did not notice signage, but we did locate restrooms downstairs.

I thought the Children’s Sermon was good but went beyond their attention span.

The lone male in the choir is a Marine, so he was not outnumbered. The choir exhibited a passion in their praise. During one hymn I was impressed that the choir could rise above the trumpet. The worship in music was inspiring.

The Offertory was “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” performed on a trumpet. There were notes that I didn’t believe a trumpet could make, very well done.

There was a lot of noise from the Narthex and balcony, so I couldn’t hear the entire sermon, which had something to do with veterans. I used the time to pray for the pastor and church and I sensed God calling for more of a commitment from the congregation. I believe they support each other but need to prayerfully consider how He wants them to reach out.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is an older but well-kept building with stunning stained glass, white walls and ceiling, and dark wood. There was some signage for the restrooms, but that was all I noticed.

Several people made it a point to greet us prior to worship and during the time of greeting, which lasted quite a while.

The bulletin was cumbersome so, as I’ve been known to do, I would humbly offer my two cents regarding bulletin design. I always suggest keeping the Order of Worship on the one folded outside page and including everything not worship-related (prayer lists, announcements, etc.) in the form of unfolded inserts. That way when the bulletin is folded for use during worship, the Order of Worship is visible and everything else can be inserted into the folded portion to be read later.

The point of the Children’s Time was that God possesses the attributes of both mother and father. This is an important point I have not heard before but with which I completely agree, and it was presented in a way the children could comprehend.

The remarkable trumpeter who accompanied the choir during the Anthem and performed solo during the Offertory played the instrument while seated, something I’ve never seen before.

The sermon, entitled “Faith: A Matter of the Heart,” was based on Acts 2:14a, 36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-23, and mostly Luke 24:13-35. The touching story about the combat veteran who spoke to a crowd about his personal experiences in war spoke to me in terms of the importance of helping others to understand a circumstance by relating personal experiences, for which there truly is no substitute.

The pastor’s statement, “Conviction always occurs in community,” unless I misunderstood her meaning, was not something I can agree with. I have often sensed the conviction of the Holy Spirit while outside the company of believers, and I believe – and have experienced – God’s use of many and varied means and locations to get my attention and speak to my heart. He seems to know precisely how and when best to do so to help me understand. Humans can misjudge the heart of another, but God cannot. I can run, but I can’t hide from Him.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Moon Run Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Moon Run Presbyterian Church, 2358 McKees Rocks Road, Moon Run, PA 15136, 412.787.1076,, Rev. John C.R. Silbert, Stated Supply Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

I remembered this church from when our son was dating a girl who lived nearby. I thought at the time that it would be an interesting little church to visit. I didn’t realize how many years it would be till God brought me back here.

We were directed to the restrooms via trapdoor coverable stairs at the chancel. In the Chancel, a cross resembling one often seen on a Communion table was suspended above. I felt the silent confession time could be longer. It was definitely a Presbyterian service – the front pews were empty.

The pastor related how his father was a morning person, and that has always been my favorite time to meet with God. I liked how the pastor developed the sermon and led the congregation with a good message.

There is a tendency in a small church to apologize for what they supposedly lack, but this is not a small, dying church. They seem at peace and ready for God lead them forward. I pray they will praise Him for the blessings He has poured out and prayerfully discern His call. I believe He has a use for this little church.

From the Marine brother at the door to the energetic pastor, this church is in good hands.

Jan’s thoughts:
This small church is immediately off a main road but felt like it could be out in the country. Obvious loving attention has been given as the facility is nicely cared for. The only signage I saw were the gender identifiers on the restroom doors. The atmosphere was informal and reflective of the “church family” concept.
We were greeted immediately upon entering the building as well as before and after the service, and graciously introduced by name during worship.
The bulletin was well prepared (by the pastor, it seems), nicely spaced, easy to read, and user friendly.
I understand this church has recently lost their organist so they’re using an electronic organ with a device that plays the music and allows the congregation to sing along. I thought it was an ingenious solution, and it seems to work for them while they pray for God’s providence.
The sermon, entitled “The Only Thing that Really Matters,” was based on Psalm 16 and John 20:19-31. I appreciated the points that the disciples locked their doors tight because of fear, and Jesus’ greeting to His friends was “Peace.” Prior to Jesus’ appearance, the disciples had no peace: they cowered behind locked doors. But then the Risen Christ came and offered Himself, peace, forgiveness, and a mission. Jesus is all that matters and, with any church, Christ must be at the center. (I believe this is applicable on a personal level as well.)
I thought the pastor was talking about me when he prayed that we might “Lift our eyes from the locked doors of our fears.” That particular reminder spoke loudly to me, and I was grateful for it and to be present.