Sunday, July 31, 2011

Westminster United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Westminster United Presbyterian Church, 210 Westminster Road, Sarver, PA 16056, 724.352.1376, www.westminster, Rev. Deborah Huffmyer, Pastor.

Bob's thoughts:
With the rural setting of this church I expected an older facility, but beyond the Sanctuary, the restrooms, and Social Hall were modern. I appreciated the signage outside, and at the Sanctuary level little was needed as restrooms were in view and identified. Not sure where the nursery might be, and I noticed no signage in the short look we had downstairs.
We were welcomed as we looked around downstairs and invited to stay for a 90th birthday celebration. What a way to greet visitors, as three cakes were paraded by!
The Sanctuary is nicely trimmed and has a pressed tin ceiling.
The birthday honoree got to enjoy a number of her favorite hymns accompanied by two relatives on piano and viola. The music was enjoyable, but the program was a little confusing and took a half hour from the worship service.
The sermon, "More Than Enough," was woven around the question: what do you do when you are up against it? The answer: retreat, regroup, and reconnect. The message was that when we take it to Christ He always provides more than enough.
I noticed that the prayer requests were for those serving as Marines, and this message reminded me of the Marine Corps adage, "improvise, adapt, and overcome."
Jan's thoughts:
Today we found ourselves in the midst of a 90th birthday celebration! It was obviously a very happy occasion for the church family and for the many other (family) visitors attending today.
The church is situated in a beautiful rural area, a perfect, peaceful setting for this surprisingly mostly-new facility. The outdoor signage especially was helpful. We were early enough to have time to conduct a self-guided tour, during which we encountered some folks carrying three cakes to the new Social Hall for the luncheon following worship. They were very friendly and invited us to join the celebration following the service. (We had to decline because our grandchildren were expecting us...they understood.)
The bulletin was user friendly with nice large print. The words to some of the songs were included in a handout, also in large print. The first half hour of the service was dedicated to singing some of the favorites of the birthday girl, with a piano and a viola leading the music then as they did during worship. The joy of these two ladies (mother and daughter) was apparent, and they were excellent.
From what we saw on display all around, there seems to be a fair amount of mission going on here.
The sermon, "More Than Enough," was wound around Genesis 32:22-32 and Matthew 14:13-21. The Pastor began by asking what we do with the grief, pain, fear, stress, and guilt in our lives, and stated that 2/3 of the conditions currently being treated medically are caused by stress which, of course, can also lead to burnout. She pointed out that Jesus felt all these human emotions too and dealt with them by retreating, regrouping, and reconnecting with His Father...good advice for us as well. A spiritual retreat, even if brief, can reconnect us with our Heavenly Father and help us regroup and prepare to face whatever is next.
She pointed out that in the Genesis passage, Jacob could have run, or refused to face the truth, but he didn't. Instead he faced God and wrestled with his situation, and when the One with Whom Jacob wrestled asked who he was, Jacob owned up to who he was, as his name means "schemer." God then gave Jacob a new name - Israel, which means "prince of God."
When Jesus fed the 5,000 He began with little, but in His hands it was more than enough, and Jesus will give us more than enough too. Like Jacob, we must meet Him, tell Him honestly who we are, and hold on until He blesses us.
This sermon touched me for many reasons, not the least of which is that it has caused me to consider the idea of a spiritual retreat. Reconnecting with my Heavenly Father is always an appealing idea.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Glenshaw Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Glenshaw Presbyterian Church, 300 Glenn Avenue, Glenshaw, PA 15116, 412.486.8400,, Rev. Dr. Michael Hoyt, Pastor.

Bob's thoughts:

We were led back to Glenshaw today for the second service and this time we had the pleasure of experiencing the simple beauty of the Sanctuary. With little natural woodwork, the white and shades of blue work well. The soft shades of the stained glass work together to create a peaceful worship area. The large surrounding balcony has a solid rail with the face covered with split (original?) pickets. I couldn't help but wonder how they would have looked with contrasting color.

The bulletin carries what looks like a watermark of the church buildings and Sanctuary cross.

Handicapped needs have been attended to well, including a brand new ramp outside. I enjoyed the audio was easy to hear and the speakers, though visible, were unobtrusive.

When we entered the building there was a loud blower noise but it did not carry to the Sanctuary. I understand there had been some problem with the A/C - perhaps the balcony seating might have been a better choice with a high velocity ceiling HVAC system.

This was the first church I have ever been in with straight back pews. There was a seat pad, but the backs would take some getting used to.

The children's message went well without being too long.

The sermon was part of a series on keeping the Sabbath. He explained how it changed from the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday to Saturday and Sunday, and with the Gentile influence to Sunday Sabbath. The best part was to begin with the end in mind...may we start every day, every week, every endeavor with this premise in mind. I also liked "A Christian is an eternal beginner."

Jan's thoughts:

We attended the contemporary service here in February of this year; however, the pastor was away that week. This week we opted for the traditional service in the Sanctuary, and the pastor had just returned from two weeks away. I claim no credit for it, but timing is everything!

Outside we found an impressive and, it turns out, recently completed wheelchair ramp. The signage both outside and inside was very helpful. The building is well kept and pleasantly decorated. The Sanctuary walls show three similar shades of blue with white trim, and I enjoyed the watercolor stained glass. There were interesting architectural nuances such as the use of white trim and cross on the blue wall of the Chancel, and several other items. It was all tied together well and made for a pleasing atmosphere.

I don't believe I've ever seen pews with totally straight backs...they were less comfortable than I would have expected.

The bulletin colors followed the pattern and colors of the Sanctuary - I've never seen this done before, but the effect is outstanding. The three pages are stapled and folded, and includes a page for sermon notes and guided-thought questions.

Following the Time with the Younger Church, the Pastor stood with the children, they all held hands, and the kids repeated his prayer. It was touching.

The message was part three of a series about keeping the Sabbath entitled "First Things First" and was founded on Exodus 20:8-11 and Matthew 28:1-10. The major point was that we celebrate Christ's resurrection every Sunday. I appreciated the observation that "the Sabbath is the hill of Light and Presence and the weekdays are valleys of care - we must put Christ first." Amen.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Oakdale United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Oakdale United Presbyterian Church, 62 Hastings Avenue, Oakdale, PA 15071, 724.693.8950, Rev. Mark Simonds, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Today I experienced Christ in an interesting Sanctuary: the ceiling is wood paneled with an interior dormer effect to the side windows. There are a number of woods/finishes that work well together.

Signage at the entry stair identified the ladies room downstairs, but the men’s was much more of an adventure.

The cross on the Communion table was the standard brass cross but was partially blocked from my vision and seemed diminutive in its surroundings.

The whole rear wall of the Sanctuary is stained glass, which I didn’t see until we turned to leave.

To me, the most impressive thing about the facility was the audio system. The amplification was excellent, with the most unobtrusive speakers I’ve never seen. I don’t know where they were located, but the voice seemed to come directly from the Pastor, and without echo.

We were welcomed by a few people before the service, and during the Passing of Christ’s Peace the Pastor even made his way to the back to greet us.

I was impressed by the Pastor’s unstructured, comfortable prayers, like son to father, Abba.

The sermon developed around the promises of God’s truth then, as for us now. The church struggles to be welcoming and share God’s truth, but our stories need to be shared as much as we need to share them. I thought the message was well presented by this Teaching Elder.

The church was encouraged to write their stories of faith to share, and I pray they will share beyond their walls.

It was a joy to lift this Pastor and congregation in prayer. I look forward to hearing of their impact for Christ in this community.

Jan’s thoughts:

The Sanctuary walls are yellow with a dark wooden ceiling and lots of woodwork all around. The stained glass windows are exceptionally intricate in beautiful jewel tones.

Many people greeted us prior to worship as well as during the service.

The bulletin was user-friendly, by which I mean I could fold it in half to hold non-worship-related materials, making it easy to follow the Order of Worship.

I was not expecting a praise team or contemporary music, but found both here. The music was sung with enthusiasm and an unexpected volume from the congregation, making it truly uplifting. The Pastor is part of the praise team and has an excellent voice.

There was also passion from the pulpit. I appreciated hearing so much Scripture read, which is always a wonderful thing in my opinion. Today we read Genesis 28:10-22, John 18:33-37, and 3 John (although it was supposed to be the first four verses, he read the whole book). The Sermon was the first part of a series: “True Fellowship: 1. Connected by Truth.”

He pointed out that in the passage from Genesis God used the vision to get Jacob’s attention, and in His message to Jacob he reaffirmed His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and made it clear that His promises also applied to Jacob. The promise of God is the truth, and in the John passage Jesus stated that His purpose was to testify to the truth. Through faith in Christ we belong to God and each other (which is a point that is new to me), and because of our faith in Christ we set aside our differences. This common faith in our Savior overrides any differences we may have.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bethany Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Bethany Presbyterian Church, 740 Washington Avenue, Bridgeville, PA 15017, 412.221.5132,, Rev. Dr. John G. Hamilton, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

After nearly an hour’s drive, the church we planned to visit had a sign on the locked doors: “Worship and Picnic in the Park.” So we let God lead us and ended up at Bethany.

I did not notice anything on the directional signage indicating where restrooms might be found, but we were familiar with the building so it was not an issue. The Sanctuary is a complementary mix of brick and woodwork, with a large cross suspended above the Chancel.

We were greeted by the usher and some others during the Passing of the Peace. While the soloist did a fine rendition of “Word of God, Speak,” the Pastor provided the accompaniment since the organist was on vacation.

The Sermon, “Our Sin is Condemned, We are Not!” was an important message for me in an area with which I struggle. The message was a series of stories with little need for anything else.

I was glad we were there to witness some youth being commissioned for a mission trip as similar trips had a large impact on my family. I was pleased that mission is important to Bethany.

Jan’s thoughts:

Today was another adventure. We drove to the church I thought we were to attend, but there was no one home as they were having a church picnic. We would likely have gone had the sign on the door indicated which park, but since it didn’t we had to assume we were being divinely re-directed and drove until we concluded where we were to go. One of the blessings at Bethany was the opportunity to worship with a good friend whom we seldom see.

The Sanctuary started out on the empty side but filled up quickly. The bulletin is user-friendly and contains LOTS of information.

This is a very mission-oriented church: the Senior Pastor is away with some members on one mission trip, another group was commissioned today for a different trip, and someone from this congregation is taking part in the current trip to Malawi. Youth who just returned from yet another trip acted as liturgists today. All this on top of local and other mission efforts. It’s a lot, especially for the summer.

The Sermon was titled “Our Sin is Condemned, We are Not!” and was based on Psalm 119:105-112 and Romans 8:1-88. He began with a story, really about the house next to the building the story was about. The house was condemned, and he spoke of “living in a house of fear” of condemnation. His final question to the congregation was: “What if we lived in the joyous reality that we are not condemned but that the sin that drives us nuts IS condemned?”

Indeed, the very question I’ve been asking myself in my devotional time the last several days: “What if I believed God for His promises?” How would that change my attitude, my mindset, my life? If I take God at His word that because of Christ’s Atonement my sins are, even now, as far as the east is from the west, then I no longer need live my life in the shadow of my guilt. If I open my heart and allow the reality of His forgiveness to penetrate my hard, human heart and change my thoughts, maybe then I will believe God’s other promises too, and I may just find my life transformed. At the very least I would no longer be living in the sin of unbelief. I continue to make progress in this direction, and I continue to learn more of God's glorious promises.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Forest Grove Community Church

Today we worshiped at Forest Grove Community Church, 20 William Drive, Coraopolis, PA 15108, 412.788.1081,, Michael R. McCamey, CLP, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Our destination was changed at the last minute again today and I was impressed right off by the signage outside identifying the Sanctuary entrance. We didn’t tour the rest of the building and there were restrooms right off the Narthex so we didn’t have need for further signage, but I felt so welcome as a visitor to know which way to come in.

We were welcomed at the door, but I felt almost if I was intruding in the three-way conversation; they seemed a little more receptive to my wife so perhaps I was interrupting.

The aesthetics of the Sanctuary were pleasing, and in addition to the cross on the Communion table there was also a large cross on the wall.

The joys and concerns were separated by prayer and it seemed easier to get the joys than the concerns.

The sermon related two Roman games of Biblical times, “wedding” and “funeral,” which may seem strange to us but in their time these were the normal celebrations at the extreme ends of the spectrum. The Scriptures read were the same extremes and maybe our lives also are a pendulum between extremes.

There was mention in the bulletin that an offering would go to support Gulda, but there was no indication what that might be.

A real highlight was the music. I enjoyed the playing and the young woman has a most delightful voice. I think more of the congregation was like me and got quieter to hear her voice.

I enjoyed lifting the pastor and this church in prayer. I got the impression that everyone is comfortable here, and God is calling them out to get their hands dirty doing mission.

I expected something more than “America, the Beautiful” for the Fourth of July weekend, but I did meet another Marine who was visiting. We can be total strangers and instantly bond…much like the Church should be, perhaps.

Jan’s thoughts:

The parking area is spacious and well-maintained. I don’t know if this facility is air conditioned, but I was grateful it was comfortable inside on such a hot, humid day. Had it been bearable outside we would have taken a gander at the labyrinth, but that will have to wait for another time.

We were inside for about 5 seconds before someone greeted us. The restrooms were immediately off the Narthex, so we didn’t even have to ask about them; I didn’t see other signage, but didn’t really look either.

The Sanctuary is decorated simply: white ceiling with arched wooden accent beams, white walls, delicate-looking stained glass, dark burgundy carpet, pews padded front and back in mauve, and stone-covered rear Chancel wall. The baptismal font was notable, as it boasted decorative stones and flowing water.

Much of the music was taize. The woman playing the piano and leading the singing was excellent.

The bulletin looked to be large type with lots of white space.

The Sermon, entitled “This Generation” was woven around Song of Solomon 2:8-13, Romans 7:15-25a, and Matthew 11:16-19.