Monthly Archives: October 2010

New Grace Christian: Enjoyable Visit

Walking from the parking lot into New Grace Christian on October 17, a mid-Hillside church, I became concerned about the potential for a poor visit after noticing their unkempt shrubbery/landscaping. In my experience, the treatment one receives inside a church often mirrors how well they maintain signage and the grounds. However, I was treated well and enjoyed my first visit to this contemporary church.

The music, contemporary Christian, was respectfully and reverently sung, at much slower tempos than in other similar churches in town. The attendees were an across-the-board mix of young adults, younger families, and middle aged folks. I was probably the oldest person in attendance. Warmly greeted, I felt accepted and at home. A good sermon was given and there were no offering or altar call pressures. I can’t believe any visitor wouldn’t want to come back for a second helping of New Grace’s hospitality.[img_assist|nid=154077|title=New Grace Christian Praise Group|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=78]

Welcome Was First-Rate
Their youngish male greeter was on his game coming out to check on incoming worshipers. Kindly holding the door open for them, he personally welcomed each while handing them bulletins. This is a bit unusual. I’m always amazed at the number of greeters who watch you approach and refuse to even help with the door. They probably could have used a second greeter on the left side of the entrance, but this man held his own.

Going into the sanctuary the odors were overpowering at first. I couldn’t determine if it was coffee odor or if they used some type of air freshener, but it seemed spicy to me. I got used to it, but it wasn’t pleasing at first. Pleasant odors in church actually make people feel at home, however too much pleasant odor can be cloying and offputting.

Several people stopped by, casually greeting me at my seat which was unusual and nice. I did not have that “slip in – slip out without a greeting feeling”. Best of all, I wasn’t given the 3rd degree interrogation by any of them. Pre-service, there was quite a bit of loud talking and laughing. It seemed to detract from the reverence I connect with churches.

It Starts With Music
The musical group gathered off to the side of the main seating, and at first I thought they might ask God’s blessing on their musical contribution as I witnessed so powerfully at Cornerstone, but they disappeared behind stage. Don’t know if they asked God’s blessing at all.

The service started 4-5 minutes late. I’m a stickler for starting on time as are others. But it did start with a difference. Those present were actually INVITED TO STAND, a major departure from many churches where worshipers are curtly told to stand or expected to stand when the first musical chord sounds. This group, a blend of about 11 high-school/college age to fifty’ish was great! They smiled, were not wooden, cared about the music, and brought the worshipers along with them. Five or six songs were played or sung before the rest of the service got underway. One of the key members or possibly their leader played great flute and sax throughout the entire of the service.

My only complaint with the music was with the way the guitar was played during various aspects of the service such as the prayer and scripture reading. Unfortunately it was played such a high volume that it had the effect of cancelling out hearing the scripture and prayer. It sounded as though they were competing with each other.

Offering Taken Without Comment or Pressure
I was surprised they started taking up the offering without comment. Personally I like a bit of introduction as a visitor to the various aspects of the service. However, they were visitor-friendly by putting a notice in the bulletin, “To Our Guests: Please do not feel obligated to participate in the offering. The offering is intended for the regular attendees who consider New Grace Christian Church their church home.” It is so rare that churches extend such a courteous notation to guests that it saddens me. To guests it seems it’s “all about the money”. I hate to mention this because many pastors are touchy about the money issue.[img_assist|nid=154078|title=Special Music|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=226]

Beautiful Special Music
So few churches offer special music these days. They rely totally upon the praise group when so many members have highly cultivated musical talents. But, this day, a woman praise team member came forward, offered her testimony, then sang the most beautiful song. Don’t know who she was as the bulletin didn’t list service particulars or even the order of service, which I recommend they do, if only for guests.

It turns out Brian Chronister, the regular pastor was quite ill that day so his assistant, Michael Buckland, was pressed into service. I thought he did quite well, speaking on Genesis 40, the Joseph in Egypt story. His speaking was marred early on by an aluminum foil hat given him by the musical group who also wore them for a number prior to the sermon. He’d folded and placed it on the podium but was touching it constantly producing interference with his microphone for the first 10 minutes of his talk. I was getting ready to go up and release him from this disruptive demon until the pastor’s wife figured it out and put an end to the problem. Doesn’t take much for little things to ruin a service. Buckland is a fairly articulate extemporaneous speaker with good thoughts. There were a couple of times his jumps in logic left me in the dust but it may have been the odors messing with my mind.

Communion that Worked
They held communion this day but took the time to inform attendees of the manner with which it would be partaken. A statement of whom might partake was also made. So many churches leave visitors in the dark regarding the partaking of communion. I was glad they dealt appropriately with it.

Although there were a few annoyances, on the whole I enjoyed this service and sincerely feel it would be a comfortable church for a first-time visitor to attend. I know I’ll revisit this church. Hopefully they’ll work on the landscaping before then. My best to this growing congregation.

Confusing & Misleading Church Websites – Jewel Lake Area

Is Your Church Hard to Find?
Have you ever wanted to find a church in a particular neighborhood, resorted to the internet to find their worship times for that crucial first visit, but then not found them? I have, and it happened to me just this morning.

I’d driven by Jewel Lake Road’s Calvary Church several times this week and decided Church Visits would visit them. Needing worship times, I looked them up on Google using the search terms “Calvary Church Anchorage“. Finding a map with their name but no web address, I finally located them listed 6th from the top. Clicking on this listing, I found no obvious worship times, so skipped going there today.

After attending church at another location, I looked again and found Calvary’s worship times were there, but buried under ‘service times’. Churches don’t realize that most of the time, when a prospective guest wants to visit the church, they are only interested in the location and service times. Why force a potential visitor to figure out where you’ve chosen to hide the service times? Visitors may not have time or patience to wade through meaningless verbiage or promos for the Beth Moore Bible Study, Craft & Gift Bazaar, or the Fall Fun Festival, as I did with Calvary’s website. Just list your worship times clearly on the first page.

Mystery Church
Next, I searched “Churches Jewel Lake Anchorage” and found the top listing was Jewel Lake Parish. Going to the listed church web address, I still had no clue what this church was. At first I thought it might be Catholic due to the “parish” term. They have Facebook splashed all over their first page. I, along with many others, am leery of Facebook due to their recent headline news security and privacy breaches.

Worship times are prominently displayed on the homepage, but with the dogwood flower motif, I thought this might be a Southern USA church. Clicking on the Worship tab, I discovered that Curt Karns was speaking Sunday June 27, 2010. Now I was really confused as I know Curt is the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Yukon. I still don’t know who this church represents as a Google reference to the United Methodist Church was also discovered at this address.

Suffice to say, much of the information on their website is dated 2009. Much better identification needs to be incorporated on this church’s website to make it meaningful to the public. It also needs to be brought and kept current.

Where Did I Visit Today?
I ultimately visited Jewel Lake area’s Gloria Dei Lutheran Church whose website was easily found with Google as a Jewel Lake area church. Easy to read, it clearly indicated service times, and provided a strong inducement for a visit. I’ll be blogging this visit soon. It was a good visit, although Jewel Lake Parish and Calvary Church might also have been good visits. Unfortunately, they did not expend the effort necessary to make it easy for a first time guest to visit them.

Though my experiences detail problems with a few Jewel Lake area churches today, these same issues are found in any area of Anchorage. Churches are known for being particular with points of their theology. If they applied the same care to their websites, who knows how much better they might be perceived in their communities.

The recommendations below are primarily for church webmasters, but they can also help church visitors understand why many church websites are so dismal, a possible tipoff to what you may experience when visiting the church itself.


Have Real or Prospective Users Test Your Websites
A huge blunder churches make is in assuming they themselves (the churches or their website creators) are the real users of their websites. The real user is the average person who has occasion to access their website. It might be helpful to actually have ‘real or potential users’ of church websites test them before they are published to the internet.

Google Your Church Website
You should always know how your website ranks in a Google search. If you end up low on the listing, there are ways to improve your position, but you’ll never know unless you look.

Analyze Your Website’s Traffic
Do you know how many people visit your church website, where they’re coming from, how far down they dig, and what they are looking for? You should! Is your church paying big bucks for little return? If so you may need another website service to help you become more useful and visible. If I favorably mention your church in a blog post, you should know how many website visitors linked to, i.e. visited your website, from my mention.

Does Your Church Understand the Top Ten Sins Committed by Church Websites?
If not, you may be wasting valuable church money? Send me an email at for a good top ten website sins list I’ve recently created.

Ensure Your Website’s Illustrations Apply to Its Ministry
Dogwood flowers, as seen on Jewell Lake Parish’s website, are pretty but I’m not sure how they apply to an Alaskan church website. Today, I also saw an illustration on a church website of a man fly fishing. Same thought. This is also true of mountains, lakes, rivers, and inlets. They are pretty scenes but what do they convey of your ministry? Nor is it necessary to show pictures of your church. However, if for example, your church is concerned with the homeless, derelicts, and the downtrodden, it’s appropriate to show pictures of members of your church actively dealing with these issues. They go a long way.

Keep Your Website Current
Even yesterday’s event listings can cause prospective guests to wonder if your church is stuck in time. Last month’s information is clearly unnecessary, while last year’s information is of no value whatsoever. Think of the newspaper. Do you purchase a newspaper for last month’s or last year’s information? Absolutely not! Why is your website any different? People are interested in what just happened, is happening right now or is about to happen.

Use Spell Checking
Grammatical errors aside, spelling errors are rife on church websites. A Google search of “Anchorage Church Alaska” today reveals this misspelling, “chruch”, close to 14,000 times with many of them on church websites. With today’s spell checking tools, this is inexcusable.

Don’t Overburden Your Main Page With Too Much Information
Your church website main page should be easily readable, free of eyestraining clutter. Avoid using too much text. Use bullets, headlines and illustrations where possible.

Brad Sherrill’s Prophets Performances Postponed

The recently announced performance schedule for Brad Sherrill’s landmark presentation, Prophets, has been postponed due to medical reasons. Previously posted performances have been rescheduled for January 19-24.

Revised Schedule of Prophets Performances
January 19……Central Lutheran Church – 7 p.m.
January 20……Central Lutheran Church – 7 p.m.
January 21……St. John UMC – 7 p.m.
January 22……Valley Christian Conference – 7 p.m.
(hosted by St. John Lutheran – Palmer)
January 23……St. Elizabeth Ann Seton – 2 p.m.
January 23……St. Mary’s Episcopal – 7 p.m.
January 24……Soldotna UMC – 7 p.m.

In the meantime, if you’ve not viewed the YouTube video on Sherrill’s presentation, take a few minutes to do so. Click here for video.

Northern Lights Baptist: Uncomfortable Service

Ever received one of Northern Lights Baptist Church’s pamphlets? (See below) Strongly toned, it nonetheless piqued my interest since receiving them at home in West Anchorage via recruiting members, and during teaching stints at East High.

Thus I visited this church, October 10, to see what was waiting for typical visitors behind the pamphlets and the hyperbole in their Google listing, “The Best Church Ever!”.[img_assist|nid=153737|title=Northern Lights Baptist Church Pamphlet – Front/Back|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=267]

I discovered this Fairview-sited church does not appear to live up to expectations they set. I wasn’t greeted; the church was extremely noisy and started late. They had the PA cranked up to 11 leaving my ears ringing by the time I left. Their preacher is the shouting kind. He also conducted a lengthy Altar Call with more verses of Just as I Am sung than are in the hymnal. Looking for a new church, and have fragile nerves? It’s possible Northern Lights Baptist might not be a good choice for you.[img_assist|nid=153738|title=Northern Lights Baptist Church Pamphlet – Inside|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=266]

Many People Around the Entrance – Not Welcoming
Arriving just prior to the 11 a.m. service, I entered via Northern Lights Baptist Church’s main doorway which was thronged by many, inside and out. Obviously church members, not one individual said a word to me as I walked in. No bulletin was given me as I made my way to a seat. Just before the service started, Pastor Gregg Clark did come down the aisle, shook my hand, introduced himself and greeted me. But, it’s not the duty of the pastor to be the only one to greet newcomers. A woman standing in the pew in front of me, during the meet n’ greet, also did greet me. Typically, a visitor makes his/her mind up about revisiting during the first 5-8 minutes of a new church experience.

Noisy, Noisy, Noisy
This proved to be one of the noisiest churches I’ve visited in Anchorage. Non-reverential loud talking and laughing, before the service started, marred my visit. All the while a piano and organ were being played, loudly. Seemingly, the audience was trying to outdo the music. This scene conjured up visions of a ‘shouting Baptist’ or revival service atmosphere in the Southern U.S. with which I’m intimately familiar. Starting late, for no apparent reason, the service began with the choir entering 6 or 7 minutes past 11.

The song service began with the director commanding “Let’s Stand”. Too many churches don’t invite attendees to stand; they choose to command instead. As a visitor I bristle at being told to stand, or sit. I, like many others, respond to invitations. It’s more people-friendly to hear a warm invitation to stand to “join us in singing praises to our God and King” than just “Stand!”, or “Let’s Stand”. The first song, the old hymn “Blessed Assurance” was sung so fast, I was out of breath quickly, and I have great lungs. The song leader’s special music, a traditional Southern tune, was also sung very fast. In fact, their numerous hymns all tended to be sung very up-tempo.

Fall Program
The pastor alluded to their “Fall Program”, a code phrase for inviting and bringing visitors to church. Teams are awarded points for bringing them and the point losers have to treat the winner in some tangible way. My visit might have been more pleasant if I hadn’t been subjected to hearing about their church rivalries in bringing visitors. The pastor said he wouldn’t embarrass any visitor by revealing them but then proceeded to ask visitors to stand to receive a special loaf of bread baked by a member the night before. It’s visitor-unfriendly to ask them to identify themselves. Most visitors do not appreciate such behavior. It lessens their likelihood of returning. If you are uncomfortable with being singled out, it’s my opinion this may not be the best church for you.

Double Tithe on PFDs
The pastor called on members to remember to pay a double tithe on their PFDs to increase the church treasury, something I’ve not heard of churches doing in Alaska. I strongly believe in religious giving. Most church members, however, do not understand the real concept and authenticity or lack thereof for tithing, and are often easily manipulated to give more than they can bear, i.e. double tithe.

Meet n’ Greet
Northern Lights Baptist had an awkwardly long meet n’ greet session. I was greeted by one person, but the members had a field day greeting each other. It’s funny how I can slip in the door without a greeting, and then slip through a meet n’ greet session with minimal greeting. It was loud, long and noisy.[img_assist|nid=153739|title=Pastor Gregg Clark Preaching|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=127]

The sermon began with an anecdote by the pastor about his recent bear hunting trip and experiences which explained his use/choice of Psalm 40 as his key text. Well, it’s Alaska but…I couldn’t make the connection.

The sermon centered on a standard Baptist theme of being saved and salvation. Those words were drilled into our heads relentlessly. As mentioned, this pastor is fairly young and quite loud, moving all over the platform to make his points. He asked for the PA to be turned down several times, but then seemed to compensate and preach louder when it was turned down.

This church maintains a file of sermons on their website for online listening or download. The latest sermon available at this posting is 9/19/2010. You can listen to Pastor Gregg’s preaching style and hear the 10/10/2010 when it’s posted. 3 weeks in arrears is a bit late for posting sermons in Anchorage. Click here to go to NLBC’s sermon page.

This all culminated in an Altar Call when he said, “Do you have that salvation today? If you died right now, could you honestly say your soul was saved?” He then asked people to put their heads down, close their eyes, with no one looking around, promising he wouldn’t call anyone out, and asked the people for decisions. “Don’t leave today without knowing”, he said. He then asked people to raise their hands, and put them right back down quickly, indicating their decision, and his view of it. The choir started singing “Just as I Am”. There are 6 verses to this hymn but they must have sung each 3 times. Respondents to the Altar Call were announced and Pastor Gregg immediately held a baptism for one of them, adding several boy’s parents were being contacted for permission for their baptism too.

All of this made for one long service, 1 ½ hours, much longer than most churches. I was worn out after leaving this service. Every church has its own styles, history, and traditions. I feel Northern Lights Baptist is not friendly to visitors and appears to use Altar Call pressure to gain converts. Sharing a bit more about the love of God, vs. Alter Call decision pressure, would have gone far with me.

Their little tract may land them in a church-state scuffle unless their younger members stop handing them out in the schools, and especially, leaving/strewing them in the classrooms, as I’ve witnessed. Can you imagine the outcry if an Islamic, Jewish or Scientology group were doing the same thing?

I visit churches to experience what potential visitors might see. All religions and their congregations present themselves differently. Many churches present public and private faces according to their prospective audiences. It’s not my intent to pass on the relative merits of any religion or church, and certainly not with Northern Lights Baptist. My focal point in these reviews is to describe what a visitor will likely experience. I was extremely surprised to see this churches’ heading in their Google search listing. “Best Church Ever!”

Episcopalians Consecrate New Alaska Bishop Revised: Bishop McKelvey’s Prayer Added

Have you ever attended the consecration of a new Bishop? I hadn’t until September 4 when as an invited guest, I attended the consecration of the eighth and newest Episcopal bishop of Alaska.

Preceded by a clearly-defined selection process, The Episcopal Diocese of Alaska consecrated Mark Lattime of Rochester, NY in a 3 hour ceremony, presided over by Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. Bishop Schori, the first female bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, was elected to her nine year term in 2006.

The consecration service was held at First United Methodist Church in downtown Anchorage, an alternate location after the Episcopalians were disinvited from holding it at Our Lady of Guadalupe, by the Catholic Archdiocese, over several key theological issues. First United Methodist, standing room only, was peopled by a warm and welcoming audience. Clergy from other denominations, including Lutherans and Methodists, also participated.

A 32 page program guide to the consecration, given to all upon arrival, helped track the flow of this long but meaningful ceremony. The format of the consecration, harking back to the early Christian church, was a blend of traditional spoken pieces and other rituals, tied together with considerable music. I counted 24 or 25 musical selections. Though the service was lengthy, it was clearly a celebration of respect.

Beginning with an ensemble of native and non-native musicians, often singing in dialect, the service flowed with vestment, grandeur and homegrown simplicity. Pre-service music included a melodic piano-organ arrangement of Sheep May Safely Graze. The primarily native group Dancing With the Spirit, with folk song and stringed instrument, helped set the initial tone.[img_assist|nid=153584|title=”Dancing With the Spirit” Singing Before the Consecration|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=142]

An impressive entry of the specially-created, Tlingit-inspired diocesan icon ‘Our Lady of Alaska‘, to drumming, (see icon below) brought the audience to its feet.[img_assist|nid=153588|title=’Our Lady of Alaska’ Icon created by Sherry Lynch & Rob Ridnour|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=320|height=490]
Following the icon the clerical participants entered, in procession, down the main aisle, around the sides of the church and back down the main aisle again. The bishop-elect was then presented by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori to the clergy and people assembled. As the service unwound, Lattime was finally consecrated with a laying on of hands by the bishops in attendance. The major theme of a consecration is a setting apart of a religious person for a holy purpose. Bishop Lattime certainly has his hands full with issues of statewide and national significance.[img_assist|nid=153585|title=Lattime Kneeling Before Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=202]

It is not my intention to describe the ceremony in detail in this post. Suffice to say Alaska’s native peoples were wonderfully represented in song, and in speaking throughout the consecration. Particularly heartwarming were the scriptural readings in native tongue.

The warm consecration sermon, a highlight of the afternoon, was preceded by wonderful family anecdotes and injections of humor directed at Lattime and family. The deliverer, Bishop Jack McKelvey, a Lattime family friend from Rochester, NY (7th Bishop of Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, retired), after a quite long humorous prelude, proclaimed “The sermon starts now.” Starting by observing that “Leadership is the most needed trait for the church today”, McKelvey proceeded to detail five pieces of advice for a new bishop.

#1 – “Be a doubter about all you know”, further noting “the opposite of faith is certainty”.
#2 – “Cultivate a sense of patience”.
#3 – “Learn to compromise”.
#4 – “Journey in Faith” explaining that “Faith is walking into that sometime fearful future knowing that God will be there to greet you”.
#5 – “Be a risk taker” continuing with “Head out to deeper waters. Life belongs to the risk taker; the cautious die. Don’t worry about failure. Worry about what you will miss if you don’t even try.”

McKelvey employs an excellent speaking technique by stating his advice twice, ensuing it was properly heard and understood. Personally, I wish more ministers would follow McKelvey’s approach which some might label as being pedantic. I did not feel so.

Bishop McKelvey concluded with a wonderful prayer which is reprinted below:

“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come to fruition because we dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of the things we possess we have lost our thirst for the water of life.

Stir us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery, where in losing sight of land we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hope, and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope and love, Amen”

The ceremony ended with the celebration of the Eucharist, a fitting conclusion to a beautiful and meaningful consecration. A brief reception followed the official ceremony, where participants and well-wishers met to share greetings and congratulations.[img_assist|nid=153595|title=Bishop Lattime With Family & Friends at Reception – courtesy Scott McMurren|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=450|height=309]

The Episcopal Diocese in Alaska has an impressive history, being established in 1895. By geography, it is the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church. Approximately 7,000 members in 53 congregations comprise the diocese. Their themes of openness and social justice go far in this vast land. It would appear that Episcopalians have made a wise choice of leadership in Bishop Lattime. There’s a great updated Wikipedia update on Lattime, but the Diocese website is quite a bit out of date.

As a person of faith, I was warmed by the expressed formality and informality of this consecration. I heartily recommend you take any opportunity to observe how various faiths install and set apart their key leaders. Churches and members who do not take these opportunities are clearly displaying a “holier than thou” attitude toward other members of the religious community. We should be bound together in love, serving the same God, even if we express those service themes differently.

Hillside Baptist: A Problematic Visit

Visited six months ago, Hillside Baptist might not be the best choice for a first time visitor. Their website didn’t list service times without clicking around, and poor signage made me miss the church the first time.

The music was uneven, appearing unfamiliar to the trio of ladies leading it from the podium. The meet n’ greet time was noisy and awkwardly uncomfortable. An unbelievable number of crosses throughout the church, unusual for a Baptist church, coupled with extremely feminizing touches such as hearts, candles, and flowers might be a bit too much for some visitors. Finally, the lengthy sermon was via PowerPoint accompanied by a “fill-in the blanks sheet”.

How Do I Find Thee?
First of all, I do not visit churches not having websites. A poorly constructed website is almost as bad. Viewing Hillside Baptist’s website, I could not find service times posted. Finally I clicked Calendar and found the service times. Most potential visitors are usually looking for only one thing on a church website, the service times. An early mark of a visitor-unfriendly church is hiding the service times behind mysterious jargon known only to members or their volunteer webmaster. ALWAYS PUT THEM ON THE MAIN WEBPAGE IN PLAIN SIGHT! Though this was March, December material was still on the website. Driving up O’Malley on March 14, I went sailing past the church entrance because their sign is small and hard to see from the road. The service times are unreadable from O’Malley. Turning around at the next intersection, I went back, turning in to a driveway not well plowed and quite narrow.[img_assist|nid=153449|title=Hillside Baptist’s Tiny Sign, Far From O’Malley|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=467]

Greeting and Starting
I was nicely greeted and handed a bulletin by a gentleman. Taking a seat in the rear of the fairly small auditorium, I tried to be inconspicuous, which is hard to do with an audience of 40 adults and numerous children.

The music started and we were told to “All stand and sing!”. Personally, I like to be invited to stand and join the group in singing. I feel commands are a bit presumptive. A trio of women were leading the music, accompanied by a guitar and piano. The music was familiar but the women’s eyes were glued to their music as if they didn’t know the songs. After five songs there was a “meet n’ greet”. I’m not a big fan of this time because in most churches, it’s a time that members yak long and noisily with each other, and ignore the visitors in their midst. I found this time to be overly long, noisy, and personally awkward. Sitting down the children’s story was presented. They were asked “What is evil?”, an unusual start for a children’s story.

Puzzling Interior
The interior was an interesting mix of stylized, black iron crosses, of which I counted seven. Don’t recall seeing more than one cross in a Baptist church previously. A considerable number of feminine touches were evident. Two candelabras, each with seven candles, two flowery hearts, and artificial flowers galore decorated the church. There must be a story behind all of this feminine-centric finery. I believe many visitors would find this display out of character with what they were looking for in a church.[img_assist|nid=153448|title=Pastor Loeffler Preaching|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=110]

Strong Sermon
Pastor Garry Loeffler’s topic was “The Problem of Evil”. Utilizing PowerPoint slide and “fill in the blank” sheets, he escorted those assembled through the various aspects of evil via key words and proof texts. Defining evil as “the absence of good”, he also took Rabbi Harold Kushner to task a number of times. A lengthy sermon, and due to it’s construction, it was not extemporaneous. I would have preferred him merely talking plainly from scripture with the small crowd. His sermon ended with a standard Baptist altar call question, “If you were to die right now, would you go to be with Jesus? Are you sure?”

I was uncomfortable at Hillside Baptist. It didn’t feel like a particularly warm church. Finding them was not easy, and navigating their website was a pain. The music lacked joy, and the preaching did not engage me. I might have caught them on an “off day”. Maybe another visit will reveal a different experience. The truth is that most visitors decide in the first 5-7 minutes whether they will return.