Beer and Hymns – Fun and Successful!!!

Pastor Dan Bollerud leading and Jamie Berge playing piano at Beer and Hymns

Last Sunday night featured fellowship, conversation, tasty food, and wonderful hymn singing. Oh, and the best part, over $11,000 was raised in two hours by this cheerful crowd of Christians from multiple churches and denominations.  The proceeds of the fundraising went to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA) whose executive director, Alan Budahl, made the round of tables with an iPad collecting donations of those present.  Alan mentioned how great the need was at this time and how helpful these contributions were in meeting that need.

It was a capacity crowd in Mo’s O’Brady’s restaurant. Empty seats were in short supply as the evening progressed. Pastor Dan Bollerud led the singing using a new song-sheet compilation of hymns old and new.  Jamie kept up the tempo at the piano, while John filled in with guitar and harmonica.  I feel like a broken record when I say it just keeps getting better and better, but it’s true. Trust me, you won’t hear hymn singing like this in most churches.

Pastor Dan told me the next Beer and Hymns will likely be in the spring, and many of us can’t wait. While many local evangelicals concentrate on getting people saved and baptized, our friends the Lutherans fill our community with love, grace, and a social gospel which reaches out to the poor and those in hunger. Thank you Lutherans for this expression of love for the Other.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits.com

2017 Wieland Hunger Print Now Available!

“Lord of the Dance” 2017 Hunger Print

There are a number of exciting projects individual churches or their members sponsor. Last year, I was excited to discover the Hunger prints by Marianne Wieland, local Alaskan artist. Now in its 38th year, it has provided approximately $300,000 to help combat world hunger.

My ADN column on this project is at http://www.churchvisits.com/2016/09/for-nearly-40-years-an-anchorage-artist-with-the-help-of-her-church-has-used-her-work-to-fight-world-hunger/. Each year Marianne donates art materials, her studio’s equipment, while her volunteers, working under her direction, donate their time to help her produce copies of this limited edition print.

Marianne shared her inspiration for this years’ print. “Pastor Mark began the inspiration with the comment that in the village, there was nothing more enjoyed than to have song and dance in the worship service,” she said. “Development of the image began with the soapstone carving of a native dancer presented to me by Bishop Shelly at the Wasilla Council meeting last year,” she continued, noting “The title came when Jan Whitefield sang Lord of the Dance at our Christmas service.” Wieland gave appropriate production credit to her team by identifying them as “dedicated and talented volunteers: Margie Paulson, Linda Bender, Marilyn Martinson, JoAnne Mueller and Karen Voris.”

“The print, Lord Of the Dance, is offered with the hope,” artist Wieland concludes, “that it will bring to the viewer the joyful spirit of the village Christians.”

Inspiration for 2017 Hunger Print

Bishop Shelley Wickstrom of the Alaska Synod of the ELCA, offering additional background on the soapstone carving that provided Marianne’s inspiration of this years’ print, said “The synod gives a soapstone carving by Eric Tepton III to our honorees and keynote presenters.  In delightful serendipity, this soapstone dancer has the pose that Marianne used in a print “Women of Joy” that she made for the Alaska Synodical Women’s Organization in the 90’s.”

 

The 2017 hunger print is limited to approximately 250 individually signed and numbered prints. Each print comes shrink-wrapped on mat board and makes an ideal gift. You may order your print directly from Gloria Dei Lutheran using the attached order form.  The beauty of this project is that 100% of the price of the print goes directly to address world hunger. 2017 Hunger Print Order Form

Thank you for your vision and hard work Marianne!  It’s an inspiration to me and many others.

Ready to Sing Hymns? Beer and Hymns Coming on Sunday – 10/8/17

One of my favorite events, Beer and Hymns, is coming back, this Sunday, October 8. It benefits Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA). It’s held at Mo’s O’Brady’s Restaurant in the Carr’s Huffman Business Plaza. Google Map  Things get rolling promptly at 6 p.m. so be sure to arrive early to grab a table and seat; they go fast!

Pastor Dan Bollerud, retired pastor of Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church, leads the singing with his marvelous baritone voice. Jamie Berge, pianist extraordinaire, will tickle the ivories in a delightful manner. I hear John Klapproth will play along with guitar & harmonica. Attendees choose from over 60 hymns in a special hymnbook. It’s all about requests!

Lutheran Social Services of Alaska provides a variety of services to Alaska families including a local food pantry. Alan Budahl, LSSA executive director will be on hand to answer questions regarding their activities, and accept your donation. No fees charged for this wonderful event, and attendees end up donating a respectable sum of money between 6 and 8 p.m. Recent Beer and Hymns events have seen $7,000-$10,000 donated during this brief time.  I find it very interesting how singing praises opens the purse strings.  Meeting new friends and greeting old friends is a key part of the charm of this worthy get-together.

Pastor Dan usually asks for a roll call of the various churches represented. I’m continue to be amazed by the great diversity of faiths there. It’s common to hear Catholic, Episcopal, Pentecostal, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, to name a few, chiming in to register their faith community.

If your heart needs an uplift, I urge you give this event a try. A few people are put off by the juxtaposition of beer and hymns., Martin Luther is famously quoted as saying, “It is better to think of church in the ale-house than to think of the ale-house in church.”  Mo also has plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, and O’Brady’s tasty dinner entrees.  I’ll be there and would love to meet you if you choose to come.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

 

 

Greater Friendship Baptist – Warm & Welcoming

Greater Friendship Baptist Church – East Side View

I visited Greater Friendship Baptist Church twice in September (see greaterfriendshipbaptist.org/). This church is not hard to find in its Fairview location at 13th & Ingra. Each time, I was warmly greeted by a number of individuals upon arrival. The first time I was escorted to a pew on the side which offered a view. Several times before the start of their 11 a.m. service, members came up to me, greeting me again and extending my welcome. This is an uncommon experience in most of my church visits. Mostly I get a bulletin and greeting upon entering, and the customary “meet n’ greet” where often true guests are avoided like the plague.

Greater Friendship’s website offers important clues as to their affiliation. “Greater Friendship Baptist Church was founded in the year of our Lord, 1951, thus becoming the first Black church in the state of Alaska. In addition, Greater Friendship Baptist Church was the first Black church in America to affiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention.”  I was deeply impressed about their status and I’m glad I had an opportunity to experience these worship services.

Their pastor, Michael Bunton, previously served at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, a church destination I’m fond of visiting for their friendliness to guests and each other. Pastor Bunton and his wife, Natalie, who is known as the First Lady, is the 13th pastor of Greater Friendship. First Lady Bunton is heavily involved in their ministry as deaconess, directing their media ministry, choir director, Bible study teacher for elementary and middle school children, and in their women’s ministry.

My latest visit last Sunday, found the church a bit noisier than I remembered from my first visit. It was raucous with loud conversations, laughing, and noise I don’t associate with the commencement of a worship service. When I hear this much noise, I whip out my sound meter to measure the sound level; it was 100 db, equivalent to the sound of a power mower, power drill, blow dryer, subway, helicopter or chainsaw. My point is that’s a marked contrast to the start of a worship service. In fact, Pastor Bunton was going to be talking that day about “A New Approach to Worship”.

At my first visit, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to their choir. Yesterday the choir did not sing. I asked an associate I recognized from the choir why they were not singing. She said they are periodically encouraged to participate in the service from the member pews, which I think is a great idea. For those churches with choirs, I believe few members understand what a significant time involvement and dedication is involved with choir participation. That said, I love the choir’s contribution at this church. Prerecorded music was played during the various parts of the service yesterday, while the choir sang and a small ensemble played at the previous service I attended.

The services tend to follow a “call and response” form of worship, usually led by the pastor. “Can I hear a witness?” or “Give the Lord some praise!” us usually a prelude to a vigorous applause. This is a major theme during all aspects of the service.  The pastor was led in to the platform by a young girl usher. He started the service by leading the singing the old Baptist hymn, “We Have Come Into His House”.  It was a great prelude to his sermon on worship. The youth function as ushers in this church and were ushering people in, handing out fans, and offering tissues to the congregation.

Scripture and prayer was delivered by a woman member who wiped her eyes first because of the emotional beauty of the song just sung. I’ve rarely heard a more sincere and heartfelt prayer, in any of my local church visits, than what she prayed. She was clearly connected to her God.

Like the previous visit, there was a baptism. Baptists practice full immersion water baptism and children and members of the families of those being baptized were invited forward to the platform to witness the baptism. Nine individuals were baptized yesterday by pastor Bunton. Believe it or not, but the early church practiced full immersion baptism until 1311 when the Roman church changed from immersion to pouring.

After the baptism, people were asked to stand and identify themselves if they were visiting. A packet of information about the church was given to each of them. Personally, I think this practice keeps many people from 2nd visits, but it must work for Greater Friendship; it seems to be part of their church DNA.  A  “meet n’ greet” time was then announced, governed by a countdown clock on the monitors, roughly about five minutes. I was warmly greeted by many, although some of those heartfelt crunches were painful for my arthritic thumbs. (Next time I’ll wear a sturdy hand brace.) 

Meet n’ Greet Time – Greater Friendship Baptist

While the offering was taken up, the congregation began to spontaneously sing the traditional gospel song, “I Know it Was the Blood” which in nine verses describes the crucifixion. The pastor joined in with a call and response form of singing. (see lyrics below)

Another prayer was offered at this time, by another woman. It was a spirit-filled prayer that one rarely hears prayed in church services anymore. It was followed by the song “The Battle is not Yours”, sung by a woman who sang sincerely and wonderfully. There is so much talent in this church.

Pastor Bunton Singing – Greater Friendship Baptist

By this time, an hour had passed and it was time for the pastor to speak.  Bunton restated he’d be doing a series on worship, and yesterday’s installment was “What’s Stopping You from Worshiping God?”.  Beginning with Hebrews 10:25, he continued on to pose some key questions about things stopping congregants from worshiping God. He mentioned:

  • don’t feel like it because we’re fearful
  • we’re embarrassed
  • we feel condemnation
  • we feel a lack of worthiness

I enjoy Bunton’s method and style of preaching.  He’s a good speaker and has an easy to follow outline for his thoughts. The monitors display his points, and Bible references to them.  He’s very direct, telling it like it is and does not soften the blows.  He is an encouraging pastor helping his congregation to live a more Christian life, and to grow in the knowledge of the word.  They are putting their youth front and center in Christian service.  He said the solution to many of the problems in their neighborhood was not criticizing the youth, pimps, prostitutes, and addicts, but getting them into the church house and into the Word of God.

You can watch the entire 2-hour service through their Facebook link. Apparently they do not feed the audio from the sound system into the live video so it is incredibly difficult to follow as the microphone must be located in the back of the church. I hope they fix this soon, as I find the feed distracting from and otherwise worthy church service.

Bunton ended each service with an altar call, which ultimately included more than half the church. He mentioned that several people he’d hoped would come up didn’t. I heard Rev Patterson of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church use the same remark at my last visit there.  It’s one of the things that makes me personally leery of altar calls. They come across as being somewhat manipulative.  That’s a hallmark of Southern Baptists and many other evangelical religions.

Overall, I really enjoyed my second visit to this fine, growing church.  I felt more welcomed and accepted there than I do in many of my church visits locally.  They enjoy their music and so do I. If you are ready for a spiritual vitamin B-12 shot, I recommend a visit to this church !

I Know It Was The Blood lyrics

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com
www.churchvisits.com

 

Church Signs Tell Strong Stories…Or Do They? Part 1

I’ve written about church signage in Anchorage several times over the years. When I was being published in the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage Daily News), I was unable to get my photos of church signs included with my columns. I’ve decided to regularly give examples of great signs and those needing improvement. Signs are needed to identify your church, service times, and hopefully your website where more information about the church can be found. They should be readable when passing at the posted speed limit for that roadway. It is not necessary to put the name of the pastor on church signs, a vanity sign of bygone days.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral – Wisconsin Sign

I enjoy visiting Catholic services and find them of value to people of that faith and others. Many Catholics and Catholic clergy are close personal friends of mine. While the sign in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an improvement from the previous sign, it still cannot be read by someone driving by at the posted speed limit. It’s unfortunate it’s not posted perpendicular to their beautiful cathedral. It also contains too much information to digest. This information should be available by referring to Our Lady of Guadalupe’s website, the address of which is missing from the sign.

Faith Christian Community – Wisconsin Sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two blocks south of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Faith Christian Community’s sign is simple, can easily be read on both sides while passing at the posted speed limit. It contains worship times and the church website address. I’m always amazed how efficiently and inexpensively this church has used the same sign for dozens of years to great effect.

Cornerstone Church – Seward Highway (Brayton Drive entrance)

For many years, Cornerstone Church has prominently displayed their sign along Brayton Drive and the Seward Highway. Easily viewed when passing at 65 mph, their signage is often changed as the seasons dictate, e.g. Easter, Christmas, etc. What a cost-effective and efficient way to communicate their presence, website, and service times to travelers on a busy thoroughfare.

Churches need not dedicate tremendous sums of money to have effective signage.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

 

AFACT hosts event, interfaith prayer vigil against racism – tomorrow @ 1 p.m., Central Lutheran Church

Church Visits has received word from Anna Bryant, Executive Director of Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together (AFACT) they will be hosting an inter-faith prayer vigil this coming Sunday (8/20) from 1-2 pm at Central Lutheran Church, 15th and Cordova, to address the violent displays of racism during and after the events in Charlottesville.

Anna notes that in addition to the pastors from AFACT’s 16 member congregations, they will be joined by Marcus Sanders from Greater Friendship Baptist Church in Fairview and Rabbi Avram from Congregation Beth Sholom. AFACT is encouraging car pooling as much as possible to allow for good utilization of Central Lutheran’s parking lot.

If you are as discouraged about the recent stand against racism as I am, you’ll be interested in being a part of this event. I think this is a great idea, and urge your attendance in this timely event. I’ll be there and look forward to seeing you there too!

Several AFACT documents about this event are attached. Bring your friends and neighbors.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

Stand Against Racism_flyer

Stand Against Racism_insert

 

It’s Greek Festival Time at Holy Transfiguration: Let’s help them pay off their mortgage!

Nave and Iconostasis – Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church

This weekend marks one of Anchorage’s great traditions: The Alaska Greek Festival. Held yearly at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, (http://transfiguration.ak.goarch.org/) its members offer food, dancing, and glimpses into their vital spirituality they hold so dear. And…it’s this weekend! (

There’s more than meets the eye in this major event. Holy Transfiguration’s priest, Fr. Vasily Hillhouse shared some thoughts about about its significance. “This is our 23rd Festival! I would say that this is the single most important event of our year in terms of bringing the parish community together. It takes so much work to put on a festival this large, and we continue to learn how to love each other in a sacrificial way – serving and working even when we do not “feel like it”, for the betterment of our brothers and sisters.”
Some of you might have concerns about the O’Malley Road construction. “We have been assured that the road will be open completely and that our attendees will not face any increased delays due to the roadwork”, says Fr. Vasili.
I, along with many of you, have been wondering when Holy Transfiguration’s building project will be finished. “We are nearing the completion of the new church building,” notes Vasili, “though we have had some setbacks with the dome, and may need to continue to raise funds in order to get that taken care of. Our goal for this year is to raise enough money to completely pay off our mortgage on the building! We feel that we can do this, and are so grateful to the Anchorage Community for supporting us year after year. It is in this spirit of gratitude that we look forward to opening our home to our visitors and giving the some wonderful food and good wholesome fun!”
I’ve come to love and appreciate this fine multicultural group of people over the years I’ve been privileged to worship with them, and attend their festival. I plan to be there this weekend to enjoy tasty Greek food, watch the dancing, and hear Fr. Vasili talk about the church and Greek Orthodox faith, in the church, at various times over the weekend.
There is no charge for admission or parking. Festival hours are:

Friday, August 18th, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Saturday, August 19th, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sunday, August 20th, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.

This is a kid-friendly event, so if you have them, bring them. They’ll enjoy the kids doing the Greek dancing for sure.

Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church
2800 O’Malley Road in Anchorage

Lack of member involvement indicates dying churches

I recently attended a church service where a wide variety of church members took part in the Sunday service. To me this was an indication of a strong, healthy, and involved church, helping make the service more interesting and representative of that church.

Several years ago, in contrast, I attended a church service where the opposite was observed. I was ignored by the greeters, and the service was conducted solely by a pastor and and a single church musician, a bit much for a lengthy service.

Two years ago, the Pew Research Center released the results of their survey of church involvement. Titled “Church involvement varies widely among U.S. Christians”, Pew used “…three measures of congregational involvement: membership in a congregation, frequency of attendance at worship services and frequency of attendance at small group religious activities.” (see http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/16/church-involvement-varies-widely-among-u-s-christians/)

The results were astounding! Ranking each denomination by involvement, the study indicated that the overall averages were 30% for high involvement, 58% for medium involvement, and 12% for low involvement.

High % Medium  % Low %
Overall 30 58 12
Mormon 67 29 4
Jehovah’s Witness 64 35 2
Evangelical Protestant 43 49 8
Historically Black Protestant 41 53 6
Mainline Protestant 20 61 19
Orthodox Christian 20 68 11
Catholic 16 70 14

The study report states the high medium level of involvement for Mainline Protestant, Catholic, (and presumably Orthodox Christian) is due to, “…while many of their members attend religious services, they do not participate in a prayer or Scripture group on a weekly or monthly basis.”

I enjoy visiting churches which exhibit a high degree of involvement encompassing all members, regardless of age. They seem to exhibit a passion for connection, which to me, is the heart of the gospel. Dying churches seem to be floundering in a tidal wave of lack of member support. Take a look at the study to see how your denomination fares.

 

REMINDER: Eagle River Institute Starts Tomorrow

Tomorrow’s the day St. John Orthodox starts it’s 2017 Eagle River Institute (ERI).

Kickoff lecture at 3:30 p.m. is by Peter Bouteneff, PhD. His topic will be:

From the Old Testament to the Fathers: The Journey of the Creation Accounts

The 7:30 p.m. lecture will be by Gayle Woloshak, PhD. Her topic will be

Religion and Science: Interface

If you value a dive into Orthodox thought, and practice of spirituality, I highly recommend you enjoy this opportunity. I’ve come to value Orthodox thought and their unique expressions of ancient spirituality. I sincerely believe each of us, regardless of our personal spiritual persuasion, can benefit from the thoughts and practices of other religions.  ERI is no exception.  I’ve discovered many enriching details about the Christian faith through my friendship with Orthodox, of which there are three major branches in Alaska: Greek Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, and Orthodox Church of America (formerly known here as Russian Orthodox).

My detailed write-up about this year’s ERI, published two weeks ago, is here:

Eagle River Institute 2017 – Science & Faith is Key Topic – Plan to attend!

I’ll be there and hope to see you too!

Chris Thompson
Church Visits
churchvisits.com
churchvisits@gmail.com

Quirky Church Service Practices Repel Repeat Visits by Guests

In many years of visiting local churches, I’ve experienced a wide variety of services. A characteristic of churches I do not seek to revisit is represented by those with quirky services. This can be exhibited in many ways, but often as follows.

  • Service time commitment not followed
  • Runaway musical productions
  • Off-the-cuff lengthy sharing moments
  • Lengthy and verbose offering appeals
  • Interminable altar calls

Earlier this year, I attended a Sunday service at a new church.  The music was brief and to the point. The pastor repeatedly elicited responses from all present such as asking people to stand for the reading of scripture; asking people to say “amen” on many occasions; after a prayer he said, “and everyone that agreed with that prayer shouted…” to which a muted shout of “amen” rang out. Disrespectfully, a chorus of cell phones rang during the entire service. During a lengthy testimony time, many gave individual testimonies or asked for prayers of support. This was the first time I’d experienced this in all my church visits here. An emotional time consuming a significant amount of the service, it might have been more effective in a mid-week service. In fact, an entire hour went by before the preaching by a guest speaker started. The service lasted just shy of two hours. I had attended this church one other time and found them similarly unpredictable.  Significantly fewer people were present at this recent service, versus to previous one noted leading me to assume their church growth strategy was not working.

With over 50 churches closing every week across the U.S., there has to come a time when churches need to recognize their ministry is just not being effective.

One local church I’ve attended has offering sermons prior to the offering collection. They last longer than most homilies offered by local pastors. Their services last a couple of hours as well.  Another local church has members bring their offerings up front to staffed offering plates. I fail to see the value of this practice which I consider to be offensive to first-time guests and possibly regulars.

Many churches think that a rich musical entertainment format will attract and hold millennials. However, church consultant Thom Rainer says they’re looking for three things: content, authenticity, and quality.  In a recent article (http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2017/april/the-real-reason-why-millennials-arent-going-to-church-and-its-not-because-they-hate-jesus) Rainer said, “They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths,Millennials speak less and less about worship style. Their focus is on theologically rich music.” They are looking for rich spiritual truth in the message, and in the lives of the members. They will quickly see through inauthentic congregations. Too many churches still offer half-hour or longer music sessions at earsplitting levels. That’s not what these future church members and potential leaders seek.

Altar calls are a standard in evangelicalism. Many times they last 15 minutes or more. I consider them to be unscriptural, psychological blackmail, and an artifact of the second great awakening in the early 1800’s but honed by evangelicals to produce “decisions” by which effectiveness of ministry is measured.  By and large I do not think God works on the human heart through emotional altar calls. Quite often they are accompanied by pleading songs and instrumental music to shape attendees emotions to a desired response. Studies indicate few people make life-giving changes during altar calls and repeating the sinner’s prayer.  One lengthy altar call I recently witnessed saw the pastor searching the crowd. He finally admitted the person(s) he’d hoped to come forward wasn’t even there that morning.  God works on the heart, asking individuals to “rend your hearts, not your garments.”

Finally, pastors should build expectations in every member/guest regarding service times and stick to them.  Sermons can be overdone and overly long. As a professional presenter, I learned early that to be effective, I had to do three things: say in advance what I was going to cover, then say it, and finish by repeating what I’d said. This practice makes the information memorable and unforgettable.  I love to hear Redeemer Presbyterian’s Tim Keller do exactly that. In no small part it’s why his unfolding of scriptural truth is so compelling. I rarely hear local pastors use the same tried and true technique. Peoples attention spans are very brief these days. Some of the most effective sermons I’ve heard locally were only 10-15 minutes long.

We should strive to give our guests and members unforgettable experiences in worship.

Happy church-going during this beautiful Alaskan summer!

 

churchvisits@gmail.com
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