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Anticipating a lively service at Life Church on June 21, I was not disappointed. But I began to feel this would be another church, Pentecostal at that, where I would not be welcomed. I felt this way because in passing the welcome desk, staffed by three women, I noted they were in fervent conversation with each other, but totally oblivious to visitors! A guy with a clipboard finally tracked me down. Eventually I was warmly greeted by many. The music was quite lively, in the style of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir cum soul music. However, the expected Pentecostal displays of dancing, speaking in tongues, and shouting were almost totally absent. Pastor Jim Blackshear’s sermon in honor of Father’s Day, prefaced by a gift of a handy tape measure to the dads, was dynamically delivered and a powerful statement to families, and their dads. This was a fun visit to an interesting church.
Why Life Church?
Located just off Huffman, mid-hillside, I’ve been going by Life Church for many months on my way to other church visits in the neighborhood. Curiosity got the best of me. I Googled them, found their website and then my way to their parking lot on June 21. I say parking lot because that’s where I ended with no seeming way in. I’d always been puzzled by no apparent entrance to the church from their parking lot. I finally discovered an entrance around the rear of the church and it seems they have one downstairs on the Jerome Street side too. Their church entrances should be clearly marked for the sake of visitors.
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Welcome Took a While
Finding my way in to the church, I saw a reception stand immediately ahead but the three greeters were totally absorbed in conversation with each other, too much so to greet me or even say hello. A gentleman standing inside one of the sanctuary doors said hi, and I found a seat. A while later, a gentleman with clipboard came over asking if “Is this your first visit? Are you new here?”. He welcomed me and asked me to complete a visitor card on the clipboard, standing patiently waiting while I completed it. Other than being totally ignored, there is nothing more rattling for a visitor than to be asked if you’re “new”, on your “first visit” or to fill out a card while someone waits for you to do so. These actions are totally avoidable by training and coaching by church leadership, assuming they are not guilty of doing the same to visitors. I noticed an older man making his way around the congregation, welcoming people, and putting them at ease. His easygoing, genteel manner finally reached me and I was warmly greeted, unobtrusively. Later I discovered he was J.R. Blackshear, former Life Church pastor, and a caring individual.
The church service started on time at 11:15 with their praise group of ten singers, and four band members. The singers were in beautiful choir robes and the band, for the most part, was in suit and tie. The music was a cross between Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, R&B, and Soul. It was quite good and was performed without reference to printed music, a real feat for any singing group in church. There was interesting interaction between the praise group members during singing. Although the congregation was at half-strength this morning due to conflicting camp meeting on the Kenai, they readily joined in and sang, with a few raising their hands charismatically. I was amazed the majority of the congregation was nicely dressed, suits and ties for the men, and similarly appropriate dresses for the women. It’s becoming rarer to see “Sunday-go-to-meeting” clothes at church. The pastor joined the praise group on several songs, leading out with a strong voice. I must say their sound system made everything sound a bit echoey, much like an outdoor venue such as a fair.
And All the People Gave
When the offering was taken, Pastor Blackshear reminded everyone that local church expenses were important and that giving at camp meeting would not pay the bills. He did not mention visitors not feeling pressured to give, an important “miss” to be visitor friendly. At Life Church, people bring their offerings down front, an unusual sight which I’ve witnessed in 1 or 2 other Anchorage churches.
Father’s Day Noted
Pastor Blackshear asked all the fathers in attendance to stand. He then directed his kids to hand each of them a gift, a retractable tape measure. He also welcomed guests and visitors. His sermon titled “The Measure of a Man” started about 40 minutes after church had begun. Fifteen minutes into the sermon, he finally started using the Bible. Using the story of Noah, Blackshear pointed out the example of a God-following father, who ultimately only saved his wife, three sons and their wives from the flood. The ultimate question was “How do you measure success?” He noted it was easy for dads to take their kids to take their kids to athletic events or fun things, but what real dads needed to do was to take them to the altar. On cue, the piano player started up and he invited the dads up for special prayer, and eventually the whole church to pray for them in front. I was one of the few still sitting.
It was an important, well-delivered and good sermon. Blackshear seemed to be looking at his notes rather than the audience much of the time, but it was a forceful message. I couldn’t be sure, but it seemed as though he was chewing gum throughout the service, a first in my pastoral observations. However, this church grew friendlier the longer I stayed. They need to work on being warm and welcoming from the time you reach the doors until you leave, but I was pleasantly surprised by my visit. I particularly enjoyed my visit with J.R. Blackshear after the service, receiving more insights into this long-time Anchorage church. Every church needs a dozen J.R. Blackshear’s to warmly welcome visitors into their midst. He was a strong platform support for his son that day. He also shared information about various ministries they support – such as a flying ministry. Pastor Jim received several warm Father’s Day tributes from various people during the service. I expect this church is very lively when full with regular members.
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