Monthly Archives: July 2008

But what about theology?

Some comments to this blog have expressed concerns that I need to designate my theology and then pick a church based on that theology. As I see it, they are concerned I may visit their church and comment on it when it may be contrary to my theology. So, their point is I should pick a theology and then pursue a church to fit this theology – end of story.

This is more easily said than done and suggests a dogmatic view of religion. If it’s that simple, any of us could pursue BeliefNet’s “Belief-O-Matic. Answer 20 questions and you will be told what religion you are practicing or should be practicing. Wow!

The recent key findings from the Pew Forum study, quoted several times recently in this blog, shows this belief to be at variance with what Americans truly believe. The Pew study clearly shows Americans are not dogmatic about religion, with 70% agreeing that “many religions can lead to eternal life” and 68% agreeing that *there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion.”

Theology, as highlighted above and here, links to a related entry on Wikipedia with this definition:“Theology is the study of God from a religious perspective.” Additionally noting theology is undertaken to:
• understand more truly his or her own religious tradition,
• understand more truly another religious tradition,
• make comparisons between religious traditions,
• defend or justify a religious tradition,
• facilitate reform of a particular tradition,
• assist in the propagation of a religious tradition,
• draw on the resources of a tradition to address some present situation or need, or for a variety of other reasons.

I specifically choose not to delve into specific theological issues in this blog. My key reason being some will be tempted to dogmatically seize on these issues to press their own belief structure, rather than having a scholarly discussion. Thus theology divides rather than joins.

Clearly, many of you have indicated you are enjoying my foray into the churches of the Anchorage area. There are many reasons why only 3-5% of church visitors will return for a second visit. Some of these things are pointed out in this blog. If individual churches took a critical look, they would discover many opportunities to build good will and create an inviting environment for a continuing relationship.

To those who feel I should settle into a less than desirable church and give it time, I would say that I do worship semi-regularly at a church or two in the area but am not totally committed to any one church. I am still curious about our church community and will continue to pursue my quest. Thank you for your support, comments, and private e-mails from time to time. Let’s continue this conversation and learn from each other. I love hearing from those of you who have shared why they picked their church and what it means to them.

Holy Family Cathedral: Warm, Friendly and Catholic

[img_assist|nid=127811|title=Holy Family Cathedral Signage|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=241]While not a stranger to Roman Catholic services, I don’t often attend their services, due in part, to my Protestant background. One of the responses to my blog suggested I visit Holy Family Cathedral in downtown Anchorage. I put this suggestion in the hopper and finally visited the church on July 13. Located downtown at 5th and H, it is a prominent local landmark. There are many rites within the Catholic Church. A call to the church office confirmed Holy Family follows the Roman Rite .

A surprising first: personal pastoral welcome!
Upon entering the church for the 12 p.m. Mass, I was immediately greeted by an older priest who, after the service, introduced himself as Father Donald Bramble, OP, the pastor of Holy Family. This greeting was unique and a first among my Anchorage church visits. While not a prerequisite, and arguably not the best use of a pastor’s time, it was a great beginning to a friendly and warm service. My visits are unannounced, as I want to experience the treatment a church extends to any visitor.

The church was quite full but I found seating toward the rear. A kindly usher kept finding room for late arrivers and soon there was little open seating. The congregation is very multicultural with even a few mantillas in evidence on women, a reminder of a bygone era when women dared not enter certain churches with their heads uncovered. This lent a further air of respect and old world reverence to the service.

Told I was Catholic and it was OK
Catholics follow a formalized order of service as described in the missal in the pew. Following a formal procession of alter boys, lay servers, and the priest and deacon, Father Donald gave a very warm, all-inclusive welcome noting that to the ends of the earth, the fact that you were here makes you Catholic . This term can be construed broadly and it felt comfortable to me.
[img_assist|nid=127813|title=Interior View of Sanctuary|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]
Sow the seed
There was a lengthy reading of Matthew 13 which pertained to the homily, based on the parable of the sower. Deacon Gerry Grewe delivered a very warm and understandable homily, noting Jesus’ use of parable. He drew two lessons from the parable of the sower: That Jesus liked the sower who sowed seed liberally, and that whatever crop resulted was a gift of God who showered down rain. The summation of the homily was we are to minister to those around us despite discouragement. That we’re all called to be sowers and not to worry if the seed will grow. Plainly spoken and well delivered, this was an excellent sermon. What a delight!

I don’t claim to understand the Catholic order of service. There were responses, and rising, sitting, rising but one would become accustomed to this in time. The Eucharist concluded the service and was quickly and efficiently delivered. I was sorely tempted by a commercial at the end of the service to purchase fair trade coffee, proceeds to foreign missions, and homemade enchiladas, proceeds to the parish. The service ended promptly at 1 p.m. I was amazed at all that occurred during that short hour.

They sang a number of hymns with a woman leading out in a side pulpit, accompanied by beautiful sounding, and well-played pipe organ. A person seeking a Catholic family, from this brief visit, would be well served and welcomed into this church, for which my commenter was correct. From their bulletin I noticed Father Donald Bramble is leaving this parish on August 8. With one-quarter of American churchgoers being Catholic, I will need to visit Catholic churches more frequently to be fair.

For a fascinating glimpse into the Catholic Church, through the life of its last pope, I highly recommend the Frontline film, John Paul II: The Millennial Pope. This PBS link provides a video excerpt and much extra material or it’s available here for purchase.

[img_assist|nid=127812|title=Holy Family Cathedral|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=237]

Foreign missionaries to the U.S. or even Alaska, can it be true?

Did you know that many foreign countries have begun to send missionaries to Europe and the United States? This is due, in part, to some of the same religious shifts documented in my July 10 blog post sparked by the Pew Forum study released earlier this year. Additionally, Anchorage Daily News Columnist Julia O’Malley, in her recent front page article, Believe it or not, Alaska’s one of nation’s least religious states , uncovered another underlying reason from the same Pew Forum study – that Alaska’s church attendance is among the lowest in the U.S.

Spiritual Desert

In his recent groundbreaking book, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis, Philip Jenkins observes “In terms of deliberate missionary work, Great Britain today plays host to some 1500 missionaries from 50 nations. Many come from African countries, and these are shocked at the spiritual desert they encounter in this ‘green and pagan land’.” Author Jenkins further notes Mizo people from India, recipients of 19th century missionary endeavors from Welsh Presbyterians, have returned the favor sending missionaries back to Wales to reconvert it. They remarked that “Wales suffered from a perceived lack of relevance of Christianity to lives based on materialism.”

Kenyan Churchman Considers U.S. Huge Mission Field

A recent Christian Post Reporter article, American Takes on Humility in Changing Global Mission Landscape noted “More believers in the 2/3 world realize that the church in the West is on the decline and the majority of Christians are now found in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.” A further ominous tone was sounded by “Oscar Muriu, Senior Pastor of Nairobi Chapel in Kenya…[who] named America the third largest mission field and the third largest pagan country in the world.”

Finally, Christianity Today reported in 2001 the extraordinary ordination of four missionary bishops to the United States by Anglican archbishops from Africa and Asia thus forming the Anglican Mission in America (AMIA). Bishop Murphy of AMIA, quoted by Religion Today, said ”We [America] have become the mission field. In a bold reversal of the missionary actions of the last 500 years, the churches in Africa and Asia have undertaken a labor of love and courage to renew and revitalize the Anglican faith in America.”

Is the Last Frontier a New Frontier for Missions?

Its summer and we’re used to seeing “missionaries” here Alaska, primarily pensioners and vacationers sprucing up, painting, and otherwise assisting local and bush churches. From what I’m learning about the new missionaries from other countries, Alaska, from its dismal ranking in church attendance, cannot help being in their sights. They will not be our “summer missionaries” but possibly missionaries from the Global South who have left pantheistic religions, where god is in everything, to affiliate with the one God. We cannot blame a lack of church attendance and daily prayer, in the last frontier, with Alaskan’s affinity for the great outdoors. Christianity is a different kind of relationship with a unique inward and outward emphasis.

First church I’ve visited not using musical instruments, but they can sing!

[img_assist|nid=127165|title=S Anchorage Church of Christ Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=189]Church of Christ South Anchorage was selected for a visit as a result of an article I discovered while researching church music. Churches of Christ, the article noted, did not believe in the use of musical instruments in church services, only using acapella singing. So, July 6 found me entering the church just prior to 11:00 a.m. They were singing the first hymn.

Just before I entered the sanctuary, two gentlemen passed me in the hall briskly going the other way and wished me good morning. Other than that, I was not greeted by anyone nor given a bulletin, which I discovered were available. It was a bit warm but ceiling fans were keeping the air moving. Compared with other churches you will note a clear lack of ornamentation here.

A first! No instruments!
This is definitely an “old time” church, clearly out of yesterday. It’s amazing how much more space you have in a church when you eliminate the pianos, organs, and space for the band with its instruments. The hymns were familiar, sung accapella and well led by a gentleman chorister, who directed the audience as if it were a choir. And you know, it was amazing. I’ll bet everyone sang, and you could actually hear them singing, not drowned out by a band or other instrument. If you’ve not heard real church singing lately, this is the place to go. Clearly a first time experience for this church visitor.

I really admire the way they handled a private church concern during the service. It’s too bad other churches do not risk offending members and visitors by being momentarily frank. Enough said, it was good to hear.

Another First
One of the younger youth came forward and read the scripture. He read well and you know, it was another first for my church visits. Churches tend to ignore the youth in service duties. Rarely are they seen in taking offerings, handing out items, reading scripture, or giving a testimony. I wonder if the lack of meaningful involvement by youth is one of the reasons that many youth are moving away from church.

Willard Holliday, the pastor, gave what I considered an understandable, practical sermon entitled “Hurting the Church, Hurting Jesus”. He is an extemporaneous speaker, freely quoting scripture. He noted the meaning of “church” from the Greek is “Those who are called out”. He used New Testament examples of people who were called out and what they did with that calling. Holliday concluded his sermon with a call away from doing wrong after you have received the Lord’s call. According to my understanding, this is a New Testament church where the focus is primarily on the New Testament.

Breaking Bread
It should be noted that the Church of Christ serves communion every Sunday, and it was served to all. Pastor Holliday left the platform and the elders took his place to serve the communion, which was very meaningfully served.

The service concluded at 12 p.m. just a tad over an hour after it started. This congregation is very participative, with many members participating in various service functions. The pastor alone greeted me on the way out but other than the initial greeting of sorts noted earlier, I was not contacted or approached by any other member. Notwithstanding, I enjoyed my visit to this church. I believe this would make a great church to visit for anyone looking for a church home.
[img_assist|nid=127171|title=Church Building – Church of Christ South Anchorage|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=142]

Protestantism Declining, Catholicism Steady, and No Religious Affiliation Rising According to Pew Forum Report

Protestantism is on the decline, according to the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey released in February 2008. In fact, since the 1970’s, Protestant numbers have dramatically slipped from 65% to 51% of total U.S. Population as measured in 2006 by General Social Surveys.

Challenges for Catholics
Catholics, according to the Pew study, are losing members out the back door, but holding steady overall due to the influx of Catholic immigrants, especially from Latin America. The data further show 10% of American’s are now reported as being former Catholics.

Those expressing no religious affiliation have tripled from the 1970’s low of around 5% to over 15% of the U.S. population.

Organized Religions Taking Hit
According to a New York Times article, earlier this year, Americans Change Faiths at Rising Rate, Report Finds, by Neela Banerjee, many Americans are leaving organized religion. According to Professor Steven Prothero, quoted in the article, the winners in this shift are evangelical churches who are leading the move to more personal religion. The losers being impersonal religions.

In this blog I’ve previously observed, via my church visits, challenges various Anchorage area churches are having. It is easy to observe some of the challenges these religious trends create merely by visiting various area churches.

Wait, There’s Hope (coming post)
In a future blog post, I’ll further discuss how some progressive mainline Protestant churches, and upstart evangelicals have discovered a solution to this challenging dilemma. Bolded material in this blog represents, for the most part, clickable links to the source material. I urge blog readers to take a personal at these materials to form your own opinions.