Saturday, March 31, 2012

Shoresh David Messianic Congregation

Today we worshiped at Shoresh David Messianic Congregation, 105 North Park Street, Monroeville, PA 15146, 412.751.2696, www.shoreshdavid.com, Rabbi Nathan (Ned) Puro, Congregational Leader.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were invited to visit Shoresh David, and it was an interesting worship experience. It is a rather small building and, even in the business area of Monroeville, has the feel of a little country church.

One of the greeters gave us an oral synopsis of the service so we would be more comfortable. I didn’t get a bulletin, but I don’t think there was an order of worship. A few of those who greeted us were sure we had visited before. We were warmly welcomed by most of the people there, I think, and then they invited us to break bread with them after the service.

We found the restrooms and I guessed the nursery would be in the same area but I didn’t see any signage.

There was some interpretive dance with both the praise and traditional music at the end of the service. The cross is understandably de-emphasized, but I wonder if this might be re-thought, since Christ forgave from the cross.

The music was easy to hear and understand, and enjoyable. Most of those who spoke were hard to hear from the back, sounded like perhaps a lack of amplification.

There was a lot of Scripture quoted and a heartfelt devotional/testimony from one woman. The praise was spoken in Hebrew and then again in English. We were able to follow along, but I think if I was a little prepared I could have intoned the Jewish words. It made me think of speaking in tongues.

There was a point where the service seemed to come to an end and another man got up and delivered a sermon. There were a number of people who had a part in the service besides the Rabbi.

We were able to talk to numerous people after the service and got answers to some long-standing questions.


Jan’s thoughts:

I still do not know the author of the email inviting us to attend worship at this Messianic Jewish Congregation, but it was a worship experience unlike any other we have had. We went with open minds and no idea of what to expect except that Christ would be the center of worship, which He was.

The congregation is extremely open and friendly…we were greeted by another visitor even before we walked in the door, and then after we did enter, we were greeted by two more people and immediately handed information. Many people welcomed us warmly and I sensed much joy among this group.

I noticed almost no directional signage, but it would have been difficult to get lost.

Some things were neither better nor worse, just different: no order of worship was distributed and there was no collection of tithes and offerings – instead it’s the honor system where those who wish to support the congregational ministries place their offering in a box on the back wall. An offering was accepted for the benevolence fund, however.

The pew racks held booklets containing the words of the liturgy. The pages were numbered from back to front and contained the Hebrew characters along with the phonetic pronunciation and the English words, and each part of the liturgy was spoken in both languages.

The Torah was brought out, taken around for everyone to see and touch, and then read aloud. This and so many other portions of this service were incredibly moving.

I had wondered what type of music we would find here but did not expect to find the equivalent of a praise band, albeit with a definite Jewish flavor, which I have always appreciated. The music was beautiful, touching, and well done, and one of the songs was very familiar, but for the life of me I can’t recall the name. Members of the congregation of all ages went forward to the chancel area (I don’t know if that’s what it’s called…) and danced in a circle during two of the songs.

The personal and congregational greeting was lovely…in lieu of “Good morning” it was “Shabbat Shalom” (i.e., Sabbath Peace).

A member-couple who are moving out of state said their goodbyes to the congregation this morning, for which I felt privileged to be present.

This was my first time participating in any Jewish worship service, and I must confess my ignorance of Jewish history or tradition outside of the Bible. The message was wound around the end times and the Book of the Revelation, and it was significant to me that it was full of references to both Old and New Testament Scriptures. However I do not feel qualified to comment on the message.

I do feel qualified to say that today I worshiped Jesus Christ in the presence of other believers, and that is the important thing.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

CUP Evangelical Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at CUP Evangelical Presbyterian Church, 530 Blackhawk Road, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.843.1594, www.cupchurch.net, Rev. Scott Graham, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

More than three years ago, when we gave in to visiting churches and writing about our experiences as first-time visitors, this was the first church we wrote about.

I remember feeling a bit lost at our last visit, but today one of the numerous people who greeted us (and then sat with us in worship) pointed out the rest rooms, where to get coffee, etc. We were warmly greeted, and also appreciated the sign from the parking area as to the location of the Sanctuary.

It is a great Sanctuary with an open layout and an outstanding cross. I couldn’t help but wonder if it could be backlit. The pastor joined the praise team as lead guitar and vocalist and then joined with the choir. Made it feel to me like a good country church.

As soon as I heard the violin I knew I had enjoyed it before, and it was a pleasant addition to worship. I noticed most of the choir turned to face the screen to sing, and was impressed as this is a sticking point within many choirs. The enthusiasm of the praise team and choir came across well.

It was encouraging to hear the emphasis of prayer in worship and the offer of personal prayer sessions. The church seems to have a high level of mission involvement, including an incremental introduction to mission for youth.

The sermon, “True Imitators,” was developed from Ephesians 5:1-14. The message was presented well with reference back to the Scripture and using local news of Hines Ward’s reason for retirement.

It must be difficult to rebuild the membership after a change of affiliation, but it seems like the tools are in place and I believe God will honor a church that has a heart for mission and encourages prayer.


Jan’s thoughts:

We visited this church once before, and as we pulled in to park some of the memories returned.

Everything is very well-kept inside and out and we were greeted by several people within a few steps of entering. The moment I saw it I certainly recalled the spectacular wall tapestry hanging immediately inside.

The entry into the Sanctuary is open and spacious and the chairs are arranged to provide ample leg room. The Sanctuary architecture is striking, especially the gorgeous, huge cross in front: it boasts a wooden frame and cut glass and is truly stunning.

One of the women who greeted us sat with us as well, just so we would feel welcome.

This is truly a blended service, with praise and traditional music as well as liturgical elements from both worship styles. The choir and praise band both sounded excellent, and the pastor participated in both and was actually the lead vocalist in the praise band.

I recalled prayer being an important part of the life of this congregation, and apparently it has only become more so as several opportunities and events were advertised and offered that centered on prayer. Mission also seemed predominant, and we got to hear a Minute for Mission by a couple whose Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) work is supported by this congregation.

The Scripture Lesson was Ephesians 5:1-14 which was the basis for the Sermon, “True Imitators,” part of a series on Ephesians entitled “Fully Alive in Christ.”

He pointed out that if all we are attempting to do is “manage sin,” external motivators do not work. In order to imitate Christ, the change must come from within…we need the “expulsive power of a new affection.” He used a perfect analogy for this idea: Hines Wards’ decision to retire as a Steeler because his love for Steeler Nation was stronger than his love of playing football.

God’s love is personal and passionate, generous, and true; and because of this, we are called to give what we have, and we can offer ourselves because of what God gave us, i.e., Himself.

The pastor’s points were all well put.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Element Church

Today we worshiped at Element Church, P.O. Box 5863, 400 Lincoln Avenue, Millvale, PA 15209, 412.736.9006, www.theelementchurch.com, Pastor Rich & Jodi Jones, Lead Pastors.

Bob’s thoughts:

There is an old joke about going to a fight and a hockey game broke out…well in a way, we went to a bar and a church broke out. The bar is in an old church building and the church sets up to worship there.

We were warmly welcomed by a number of people. Signage is pretty well non-existent, but they are using someone else’s space. The music would have been too loud for me without earplugs and sitting in the back.

The bar was set with coffee and water, which was much appreciated when my cough returned. I heard talk of property they were working on and was pleased that it is for their outreach programs and worship will remain where it is. A man in a wheelchair distributed some handouts, so there is handicapped access somewhere.

There was a girl of about 2½ whose dance below the stage was a real treat. There was a healthy mix of age groups present.

My only worship disappointment was in being unable to find a cross anywhere.

The sermon was about how God calls us to take an uncomfortable step before He does the impossible in our lives. I think that has been true in my life. When we had to move from Crafton and had no idea where we would go or how we would find the resources, God called me to get ready to move and I started giving things away. When I cleaned out, a cousin gave me a house at South Hills Country Club with the statement “I don’t know why, but I would like to give you the house.”

I still resist obeying God sometimes, but He still amazes me when I act as He requests.


Jan’s thoughts:

Never having been to Mr. Small’s Theater before, I was unfamiliar with the place. Today I learned that it had been a Catholic church, was then transformed into a theater (a non-traditional type, obviously), and now on Sunday mornings is used for worship by The Element Church.

The atmosphere was casual and the people friendly in a comfortable way. Prior to worship we had extended conversations with a few people including a Marine who seemed to keep a watchful, helpful eye on us the remainder of the morning, which was appreciated.

Needless to say, this worship experience was different than…all the others, actually, but there were many remarkable points: the mix of ages was surprising, from very young to much older; they understood and brought us chairs when we said we might have a problem with the volume and wanted to stay toward the back; a number of people simply came up and welcomed us…it was simple, the way it’s supposed to be; several took the time to have a longer conversation and answer our questions. It just felt unpretentious and relaxed.

We were glad we stayed toward the back for the first couple of songs (after all it is a rock service) but I freely admit that many wouldn’t have an issue with the volume…it’s our ear conditions that make it an issue for us. The last couple of songs were quieter, and the band had a terrific sound all the way through the service.

Once a month they recognize a volunteer with a “Foam Finger of Awesomeness” and today it was presented to our new Marine friend, which was awesome in itself.

The sermon is part of a series based on a book called “Sun Stand Still: What Happens When You Dare to Ask God for the Impossible” by Steven Furtick. Pastor Furtick is the founder and lead pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC, which in its four years has grown to more than 6,000 people in regular attendance at three locations, according to Amazon.com.

The sermon, like the book, challenges one to contemplate audacious faith, noting that when we ask God to do the impossible, He usually asks us to do something uncomfortable. He read Joshua 10:12-14 in which Joshua prayed boldly that the sun would not advance – and it did not for an entire day.

Many inspiring points came from his message, which became a tag-team event when it was completed by an Associate Pastor. She listed the three Steps of Preparation:

1 – Trade off to trade up (you must give up the old in order to receive the new);

2 – Setbacks can be set-ups (what looks like a failure often is an opportunity for God to show up and show off);

3 – Divine vision creates tough decisions (God’s plans require something substantial of us, usually in terms of giving up something and/or changing our thinking).

The final reminder of the morning was that “testimonies don’t come without a test” (which I liked), and the question we all need to ask ourselves: “What uncomfortable thing is God asking me to do in order to see Him do the impossible?”

The book sounds intriguing and challenging, and that’s how I felt about the message. It’s the sort of thing that makes me nervous that God is forewarning me that He plans to ask me to recklessly abandon control over my world. If He does, I will surely be recalling this message.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Conway Alliance Church

Today we worshiped at Conway Alliance Church, 1100 Highland Avenue, Conway, PA 15027, 724.869.4500, www.conwayalliance.org, Rev. Rich Grassel, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

When I was praying about where to worship it was clear that we would know when it was time, so I was very comfortable waiting till our daughter called. We went to worship with our daughter today with the excuse to help with her children…or to help ourselves to her children. Either way I got to hold my grandson through the service, so it worked out well.

What we saw of the building was modern construction. At one end of the sanctuary was a stained glass panel, perhaps saved from an earlier building. The service was set up crosswise and worked well. I meant crosswise as in directional, but it is an apt description as there was more than one cross in addition to a large wooden one. There are two large monitors and two screens, so everyone can see what is projected.

I didn’t notice any directional signage, but my daughter had worshiped here before and knew where the nursery was and I found the rest room without difficulty. We got to church just in time for the service, so there was little time for greetings, although the pastor stopped to introduce himself. I was impressed with those who came by after the service since when you are greeted afterward it is on their time and they are saying hello when they would perhaps like to hurry home instead.

The sermon wove around the parallels between Moses and Jesus, how they both interceded as mediators for the people. The message was well-developed with plenty of Scriptural references throughout.

I sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit in worship and appreciated that the pastor let himself be used by Christ.

I was grateful to take Communion, though the elements were presented silently.

I was encouraged that the church is moving to be more missional. Mission giving is dear to my heart, so I am pleased that Christ is leading the church in this direction.


Jan’s thoughts:

We had a time this morning trying to hear God’s direction as far as where to worship, and when we finally became quiet, He let us know. Unfortunately our son-in-law stayed home due to illness, so we had the joy of helping our daughter with the grandtwins.

This church is tucked back off of a side road near us, and in the four years we’ve lived here I was unaware of it before today. It has a terrific parking lot, and is pleasantly decorated inside. We did not have an opportunity to look around much, but I did not notice signage.

The sanctuary is longer than it is deep with comfortably-spaced chairs and pretty stained glass. It has a modern feel to it, probably because of screens at either side and flat screen TVs facing front and back. At the same time, all the wood trim and the beautiful wooden cross give it a homier feel. The chancel is inviting, and everything definitely works.

We arrived just prior to the start of worship and were greeted by the pastor, and then afterward by more than a few parishioners, so it was a friendly experience.

I was pleasantly surprised to worship with contemporary music, effectively presented with a guitar and drums. And I was glad for the opportunity to participate in Communion.

The message was powerful and thought-provoking, with lessons I needed and mental images that spoke to me. With few written materials, I am unsure of the exact title of the Lenten sermon series or of this message, but it was a search for Jesus in the Book of Exodus and a parallel between the Red Sea and the red blood of Christ.

He pointed out that the Red Sea and the red blood both represented freedom from bondage, that the Red Sea separated the Egyptians and the Israelites and Christ’s blood separates us from sin, Satan, and death.

He spoke of the ways in which Moses and Jesus were both mediators, that Moses was a type of Jesus as a mediator, especially when he prayed that if God would not forgive His people for the golden calf episode that He would block Moses out of His Book. Moses was willing to give up his everlasting destiny for the people.

The part of this message that got my attention had to do with Jesus as mediator between man and Satan. When Jesus told Peter that Satan had “demanded him to sift him as wheat,” the pastor explained that the word translated as “demanded” means that Satan was begging for Peter for the purpose of torture or punishment, and the term “sift” means “by inward agitation.” Boy, do I know that feeling.

And Satan has the same desire for us.

I now have this mental image of Satan, in all his horrendous ugliness, drooling and wringing his hands while begging Christ to let him torture and punish Peter…and me.

But Jesus, in His role as mediator, has plucked me from the fire and protected me and every other believer. I am accused and I am guilty, the punishment would be entirely deserved, but Jesus will not let Satan inflict the punishment on me because He has already paid the price and given His life to protect me.

I don’t mind saying that today’s reminder of this truth has increased my faith in the midst of a difficult situation, so all I can say is, “Praise God!”

Sunday, March 4, 2012

St. Matthews A.M.E. Zion Church

Today we worshiped at St. Matthews A.M.E. Zion Church, Thorn and Walnut Street, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.741.4239, Rev. Robert S. Hickey, Sr., Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We had the opportunity to reunite with dear friends, the pastor and his wife, whom we haven’t seen for – at our best reckoning – 16 years.

We were warmly welcomed by many in the congregation. There is some signage, but with a major remodeling project going on it is understandable that directional signs might be missing. We asked where the restrooms were and someone quickly volunteered to show us.

The sanctuary is pretty and welcoming. The knotty pine paneling of the ceiling is accented well with dark wood beams. Besides the brass cross on the Communion table, there is a lighted one suspended.

We were acknowledged as visitors and humbled when the congregation sang their welcome to us.

There is a wall in the social room which I wish I had more time to peruse as it was devoted to honoring veterans from the church.

The sermon tied easily to the Scriptures and prayers of the day.

I have always felt special that Jesus’ birth was not first told to the intellectuals of the time, but to the shepherds. Considered an unreliable low-life group, these men were chosen by God to witness the birth of man’s salvation much as He continues today to use someone such as me to continue the witness.

I was pleased that the church is so quick to offer prayer and praise. The prayer was impassioned and the congregation seemed very much in sync. Even during what seemed to me to be a litany of devotional readings, the church was not just reciting, but worshiping.


Jan’s thoughts:

Just last week we learned that an old friend is now pastoring this church, so we followed the leading of the Spirit and renewed acquaintances with Bob and his wife Rita. It’s been a long time since we worshiped at an A.M.E. Zion Church.

This church is in the heart of Sewickley, and is just as warm and welcoming as can be. Because of the interior layout, when we entered the building we were unable to avoid interrupting the adult Sunday School. However they were entirely gracious and even escorted us to the restrooms.

We were thoroughly greeted before, during, and after the service. As we have experienced in only a couple of other churches, we were asked to stand and introduce ourselves, after which the congregation welcomed their visitors in song.

Coming as we do from the Presbyterian tradition there are many things about worship in an A.M.E. Zion Church that are strikingly different, and one is the enthusiasm exhibited in prayer. For instance, during one of the early prayers I heard, “We are excited to be here, and we officially invite You to be with us,” and “We praise You for the opportunity to bow before You.” The passion is genuine, and it ricocheted off the wall and landed in my heart.

Twice in the course of worship we were to read from different sections in the back of the hymnal, and I was having trouble locating the correct page. Each time a different woman noticed and traded books with me, giving me one open to the proper page, for which I was very grateful!

The message came from 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (especially verses 24, 26, and 30) and was entitled “I am In and I am Grateful!” He spoke of the “in-ness” between us and Jesus, as in believers are “in” Him and He is “in” us.

After defining wisdom as “the ability to use knowledge for correct behavior,” he went on to contrast Godly wisdom and worldly wisdom. In order to be truly wise we must know Him first, and he stated that “Wisdom is in us if He is in us.”

The pastor concluded the message with two glasses of plain water (each representing a person) and a clear goblet of grape juice between them (representing Jesus). As he placed droppers of juice into the one glass, he likened it to the person gradually gaining more and more of Jesus and changing little by little to become more like Him. The hope, of course, is that eventually we are more and more like Jesus until there is almost no distinction.

We were blessed to participate in Holy Communion today and to participate in other ministries of this congregation.

When we left this church I was grateful for the presence of the Holy Spirit during worship as well as grateful to God for reconnecting us with these two old friends. I was truly blessed today.