Invited to visit this longstanding church, I left unfulfilled and disappointed. Entering Wasilla Assembly of God on March 7, 2010, I was not greeted. I detected a strong, pungent odor of bacon and eggs, a first in my many church visits.
Lengthy musical selections by a young contemporary Christian band consumed the first half-hour or more. Filling out the first hour was a lengthy ‘meet n’ greet’ and long buildup to the morning offering. Announcements were still being given as the first hour concluded. I quickly grew tired of the pastor’s showboating with his microphone.
Finally, I was blown away by the other pastors and elders hijacking the service for the last half-hour to do an extended personal and video birthday tribute for the pastor in honor of his 11 years as pastor. Church was then dismissed for a spaghetti feed. This service was in stark contrast to the recent 40th anniversary commemoration of Archbishop Hurley’s years as bishop in Alaska. Fr. Hurley presided at that service, delivered an outstanding homily, and celebrated mass which I blogged recently. I felt as though my hour and a half was basically wasted at Wasilla Assembly of God, something I rarely say in this blog.
My inviter cautioned they were not friendly. He was right. In all fairness, after entering to the smell of bacon and eggs, and no initial greeting, we did get a greeting from a person inside the church who came over as we were finding a seat. He did come back, gave us a bulletin, and shook my hand again. A woman also came by and introduced herself.[img_assist|nid=151261|title=Senior Pastor Ed Kalnins Leading Out|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]
Musical Lack of Surety
At start time, the band came onstage and like so many church bands, said “stand up”. The music was loud and upbeat. I did notice that some in the band did not seem to know the music or words being delivered. The lead female vocalist kept walking over to read her musical lines on a music stand. Many of the songs were unfamiliar to me, a church music musician, running to excessively long renditions, 7-10 minutes, with many repeats and unnecessary extensions. This continued, painfully for me, for 35-40 minutes. The church sanctuary interior is round without windows. The stage covers about a third of the interior. The middle third or so is has a couple of pews and lots of open area. Many members and children congregated in this area during this extended musical period and sang, danced or swayed to the music.
The Meet n’ Greet
I dislike the “meet n’ greet” in church services because it tends to disguise the lack of friendliness in a church. Pastors love it because it “forces” their members to interact. Visitors, for the most part, find it to be the most uncomfortable part of the service. We get to watch and listen to members kibbutzing about anything and everything, mostly to each other not the visitors. I’ve overheard so many conversations that have absolutely nothing to do with church, fellowship, and spirituality. We were greeted by several members during this period, but I felt it was more because we stood out like sore thumbs, rather than their eagerness to extend genuine friendliness. This was a fairly young crowd and we were older. The “meet n’ greet” was excessively long in my opinion.
The Offering Appeal
For once I agreed with an offering appeal, this church’s. It was quite lengthy, and designated for remodeling of the church starting with the bathrooms. After visiting the men’s room prior to the service, I must concur. I’ve never visited a church men’s room so in need of repair. But, as with many churches, visitors were not told they need not feel required to give, an unfriendly omission.
Preliminaries and the Sermon (NOT!)
The pastor, onstage during this time, gave various reports and announcements. His delivery used a rock star type of showboating with the microphone which I found disconcerting. You know the type where the “star” points the microphone out to the crowd to engage them in some type of response, usually adulation. I found it most annoying and detracting from what should be normative spiritual behavior. One hour in, announcements were still flowing. Then the other pastors and elders came onstage and hijacked the service noting it was the pastor’s birthday after eleven years on the job. After personal congratulations and testimonies, they projected, onscreen, an unbearably long video tribute with pre-recorded tributes from people I did not recognize.
The entire service concluded with the announcement they were adjourning to the fellowship hall for a spaghetti potluck. My friend and I left in stunned silence. Outside it was a sunny day, with fresh snow on the ground and mountains. As a visitor, I experienced little I could take away from this service.
Occasionally this type of behavior will be seen in churches. One tends to shake their head. In my opinion, most personalizing tributes to individuals in churches need to be left at the door. As a body, Christ’s church has a wonderful privilege of proclaiming the message of blood-bought freedom to every captive, and should not be trapped in self-aggrandizing performances. I feel Wasilla Assembly of God needs to determine what it wants to be when they grow up. With an 11-year pastor, it felt like they’ve achieved what they want to be at this moment.