Sunday, February 26, 2012

Heritage Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Heritage Presbyterian Church, 2262 Rochester Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.366.1338,, Rev. Brian Janssen, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We received a warm welcome, were reunited with some friends, and joined by our daughter and husband with their twins, so we had a lot of greetings.

This church makes good use of their projection screen by displaying most of the service on the screen (very useful if you are holding infants). The screen is then raised for the sermon and the large cross is revealed.

The building is modern style with a good social area and kitchen. We don’t normally get to visit the child care areas but needed to make use of the changing table. We were familiar with the building, but noticed minimal directional signage.

The congregational meeting was scheduled for after worship and a pot luck brunch…good Presbyterian dogma – feed them and they will come. I had an opportunity to skim over the Annual Report and was encouraged with how the church is being led.

The sermon was the first in a series, “The Struggle of Faith.” Having delivered a few babies and been at my wife’s side for delivery of our five, I can attest as much as a male can that birthing is a struggle. I agree that we make being “born again” sound like less of a struggle. My coming to Christ was all God: I was completely overwhelmed and came to Christ in a whirlwind, but there were plenty of struggles that came later.

I think God puts us in those grief situations with unbelievers to stifle our smugness over being saved.

I met the pastor before his trip to Malawi, Africa, and think he is a changed man.

Jan’s thoughts:

In spite of our history with this church, it has been some time since we worshiped here.

There is an excellent parking lot; the building is handicapped-accessible, neat, and orderly. There is no stained glass: the design is simple, pretty, clean, and well kept. It also was very good to see some old friends.

Fellowship Hall used to have an echo, but the acoustics have been fixed and it is now a very pleasant space in which to carry on conversations.

The bulletin is an 11 x 17 sheet folded in thirds, clear, easy to read, and attractively laid out.

The Prayer for Illumination was just that and placed appropriately, immediately prior to the Scripture readings.

The pastor is preaching a Lenten series dubbed “Our Life of Faith.” This first entry is called “The Struggle of Faith” and is based on Isaiah 6:1-8 and John 3:1-9.

He spoke about struggle as a part of life. He commented that many people who claim the title “born again Christian” like to look and act like they have it all together. People think a born again Christian has only peace, love, and comfort in their life, but that’s just not true. When storms enter the lives of those who don’t know Jesus, those people tend to seek out people who do know Him. That’s when those who know Him sometimes pretend to have all the answers and sometimes so simplify their response that it makes no sense and is ineffective.

 He pointed out that being born physically is not easy (for the baby or the mom), so why would we think that being born again would be easy? God calls us into struggle, and we need to embrace the suffering that leads to glory.

This message spoke loudly to me. I have been in the midst of storms and I have been the one someone turned to for answers, and I don’t know which is more difficult. (And I have humiliating memories of my failures at those times, too.) I believe one really must have that foundational relationship with Christ when the storm arrives; trying to build the foundation during the storm just does not work.

I can identify with the concept of being born again as a result of a storm, and I have recently wondered how long my storm will last. This message reminded me that the storm will end and when it does I will be a different person, hopefully one molded by God.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Iron City Church

Today we worshiped at Iron City Church, 5305 Perrysville Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15229, 412.318.4254,, Pastor Barry Whitworth.

Bob’s thoughts:

We had a little difficulty finding this church as they are meeting right now in a normal-looking house. We did have an address to confirm that we were at the right place and right where God wanted us to be this morning.

We were warmly greeted and had an enjoyable conversation with some of the members. I was admiring a simple wooden cross which looked to be made from plywood, and later learned that the members had written names on the cross of those they were praying for. Prayer seems to be an important part of this church.

The sermon wove around man’s Biblical need to be respected and woman’s need to be loved. I think the message tied to a Bible study that the church is doing. It ended with the thought that when you get to the disagreement, pray together.

A high point for me was where Pastor Barry referenced how we were made to God‘s perfect plan, He made no mistakes, so how can we want to change what He created?

The church does a Prayer Walk for their neighbors on the streets nearby. They are focusing on the West View area and looking to acquire a building in the vicinity.

We have worshiped in large churches with all the trappings and many would be well served to visit this little group and learn what worship is all about.

Jan’s thoughts:

Today’s church visit was unlike any other we have made.

This is a fairly new church plant born (I believe) from the Baptist tradition and services are currently held in a house that seems to have been used for this purpose in the past. Worship is held in one of the first-floor rooms set up with chairs and space in the front for the talented guitarist and drummer.

This service felt very much like a family get-together. Everyone was extraordinarily friendly and welcoming, offering coffee before worship and cookies after. Being diabetic we passed on the cookies but stayed for the conversation, which was also sweet.

The congregation is working together through the book “Love and Respect” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. The pastor preaches about part of the book on Sunday and during weekly small group meetings the congregation works through it in more detail. Today’s message was called “Getting Beyond the Crossroads of Crazy” and was based on 1 Peter 3:1-8. It was a detailed, Biblically-based outline of God’s instructions upon creation of man and woman and marriage.

The book sounds fascinating as it speaks to the deepest needs of both genders in this most intimate of connections. It made for a powerful sermon.

The world may say this church needs some things, but this church appears to be relationally open and mutually supportive with deep prayer lives through which they seek to glorify God. They may be small, but they sure seems to be on the right track.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Presbyterian Church, Sewickley

Today we worshiped at The Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, 414 Grant Street, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.741.4550,, Rev. Kevin J. Long, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We visited for what I expected to be traditional Presbyterian worship, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was Youth Sunday. The only real greeting I got at the church was from a young lady passing out the bulletins, and the greeting included a smile.

I noticed no signage. I ended up in the choir room – and almost the boiler room – looking for a men’s room. I thought the choir might have noticed that we seemed out of place. There is some extensive remodeling in progress and I did find a restroom almost by chance.

Any aggravation in finding our way was put to rest by the youth worship. This was by far the best youth choir I have heard. Their range and harmony was fantastic. My only regret was we sat too far back to see them as they sang. I was amazed that there wasn’t applause afterwards.

The Call to Worship was clear and easy to understand; I thought the young man who did the announcements had a radio-quality voice.

The sermon consisted of two young women giving their testimonies. There was an echo/feedback with the first presenter that made her story about a move hard to understand. The second story of mission involvement was easier to follow and I was glad to hear she and others are involved with the Center for Hope in Ambridge.

The adult choir was good; I saw some smiles and could feel the passion in their worship. I still feel they were outdone by the Youth Choir today.

I had hoped that we would meet the new pastor, but perhaps we will get to visit again when the renovations are completed, and maybe get to hear the Youth Choir again.

Jan’s thoughts:

We last visited this church in January 2009. I had heard through the grapevine that two new pastors had been called, so we decided to visit again; however, I somehow missed the note on the website that today was Youth Sunday, not that that would have changed our plans.

We exchanged greetings with another couple who arrived at the outer door at the same time we did, but at the time could not have known that they were the only ones who would say anything to us this morning except for the two young ladies we greeted after worship.

Once inside we decided to look around some, so we headed down the steps at the rear of the Sanctuary. Once down there we continued walking down a narrow hallway, thinking that with so many people in this area there must be facilities. It turned out we were in a preparation area for the choir, and not only was there no signage, no one said a word to us.

The bulletins were attractive and unique: an 11 x 17 sheet folded once, and the Order of Worship contained the words to the songs sung by the choirs as well as the Old and New Testament Scripture readings. All other information was to be found on the folded insert of the same size.

The choirs were both excellent, but the Youth Choir was especially impressive. I’ve never heard one that good, actually.

I enjoyed the “Children’s Conversation” where the speaker showed the children a quilt and then had each child take a square piece of material and throw it up in the air. Supposedly they would all come back down as a quilt, and when they did not, it was explained that just as it takes planning and work for the pieces of material to form a quilt, it takes planning by the Master Designer for the pieces of our lives to come together into a beautiful work of art.

I thought this was a lovely way to explain the concept to children and a special reminder to adults like me, who need to hear it on occasion.

Being Youth Sunday, the message was presented by two young women who gave their testimonies. They were well-spoken and heartfelt, and did a very good job.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon

Today we worshiped at Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon, 7501 Church Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15202, 412.761.1233,, Rev. Dr. Donald R. Ewing, Interim Minister.

Bob’s thoughts:

One of the outstanding features of this church is the massive dark wood beams of the ceiling, but what really stuck out to me was the large suspended cross. Maybe it was because of the churches we visited where I couldn’t find a cross, but it was a big help to me.

We were warmly welcomed and met up with a few people we knew.

The choir sang the gathering song while seated and gave an indication of what the sound would be for the anthem. The Junior Choir was easy to understand and hear, and I enjoyed seeing them sing with their mouths open. The Senior Choir also sang out with passion and in worship.

The women seemed to outnumber the men 2-to-1, but there were a lot of children present.

The sermon wove around the importance of touch in ministry and related how much of Christ’s healing was via touch. Where He has used me in healing, touch has been important. Another aspect of our Christian acts for others is touching for Christ in however we help.

Communion was served silently, but I believe the pastor spoke the elements when she served the Elders, and the pastor was served by an Elder.

The best indication I saw of the health of the church was the quantity of people who stayed for the social time after worship. Some of the best ministry of the church happens during fellowship, and for that many people to stay speaks volumes.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is a lovely community church smack dab in a residential neighborhood.

Our last visit here was in May of 2009, and many changes have taken place since then. This congregation has had a difficult time but is recovering well under the capable leadership of the current interim.

We were warmly greeted even before entering the building, and since we knew some folks, I’m sure it was obvious we were not strangers. We had the opportunity visit with several friends, including someone with whom I traveled to Malawi, Africa, in 2003.

The Sanctuary boasts ornate stained glass and powerful architecture. I was a little surprised to realize that there is no projection screen, but I’m at a loss as to where they would put it and I’d hate to see the beauty of the Chancel hidden or marred in any way.

The bulletin is user-friendly, nicely laid out, and easy to read.

We got to enjoy an anthem by the Junior Choir and I was impressed that I could hear and understand the words.

We were privileged to participate in the Sacrament of Communion.

The Rev. Jean Henderson presented the sermon “Have You Heard the One About the Mother-in-Law Who…” The message was based upon Mark 1:29-39 which tells of Jesus’ healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. She pointed out that this act was performed in silence, which I had never noticed before. The point was that the miracle of healing happens by touch, that Jesus touched everyone, that Jesus still touches and heals, and that when we touch others, we give ourselves to them just as Jesus did.

So many recent news stories revolve around inappropriate touching that it was encouraging to hear a reminder of the importance of appropriate touching. Appropriate touching is truly a gift from God and can be as healing as inappropriate touching can be damaging. And the touch of Jesus can heal even those wounds.