Category Archives: Church Visits Blog

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
churchvisits.com

 

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

St John Orthodox Cathedral – Eagle River

St. John Orthodox Cathedral has announced their Eagle River Institute topic for this year: Orthodoxy and Science.

I’m very excited about this topic as it offers a unique experience for local Christians and other seekers to delve into the topic of religion and science. In over 17 years of visiting various churches in Anchorage, I’ve yet to hear any clergy dealing with this topic.  In light of this, I asked Fr. Marc Dunaway, Archpriest of St. John Orthodox Cathedral why this topic was chosen for this year.  “We want to address issues that are especially on the minds of the young people,” Fr. Marc replied. “We cannot ignore the recent statistics showing the increased departure of the millennial generation from the Christian Faith. Issues about Science and Faith are certainly very important.”

Fr. Marc is right as millennial’s have expressed dissatisfaction about churches sweeping science and faith issues under the rug. Much has been written about this recently. David Kinnaman of the Barna Group presented research findings a few years back in his masterful book, “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith.”

The Institute will be held August 1-5 at St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River.   A pair of highly qualified presenters will conduct four track sessions each, starting at 3:30 p.m. each of the five days, ending at 9:30 p.m. A dinner and vespers break separates each of the two-hour sessions.

Peter Bouteneff, PhD, a professor at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, will be presenting on “Early Christian Tradition and Genesis 1-3.”  Gayle Woloshak, PhD, professor of radiation oncology at Northwestern University and adjunct professor of Religion at Lutheran School of Theology Chicago and at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The speakers will alternate between afternoon and evening sessions.

For complete information and an detailed brochure use this link: http://stjohnalaska.org/institute.html.

As a side-note, I recently discovered that Hank Hanegraaff, president of Christian Research Institute, and known as the Bible Answer Man, recently converted to Orthodoxy. His given reasons for leaving evangelicalism include watching pastors who act more like entrepreneurs focused on branding. Hanegraaff said, “Where the pastor is like an entrepreneur, branding, formulaically getting people into seats — that became troubling to me and I decided I was going to explore,” he said.

I’m looking forward to this exploration of science and faith through the eyes of Orthodoxy. It’s worth the small fee. Over the years, I’ve become enjoyed the warm and dedicated spiritual connection this particular Orthodox community offers.

 

10-minute Church! Is that possible?

10W on Soundcloud

Anchorage pastors sometimes surprise me with insights of connecting to people spiritually. Pastor Dan Bollerud, retired Lutheran (ELCA) pastor, came up with one such idea over six-years ago.

When he was pastor at Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church (COSLC), he was approached by a couple in search of worship materials to take and use on a summer trip for their private devotions.  This linked an observation he had that “20-somethings” missed church, but didn’t come often.  Through dialog involving the question, “What would church look like if you started from scratch?”, he developed a mini-church service to be recorded and distributed to members via CD. When deciding upon a name for this new program, wife Jan suggested calling it a 10-minute worship, the time it took her to drive to work.  So, the name 10W was born for the 10-minute worship service. Initially, it was copied onto CDs and placed in the church narthex for anyone to take. In fact, at my first visit to COSLC, Pastor Dan gave me such a set of those CDs. At that time, each CD contained services for all of the weeks of the month.

Lectionaries are used by many churches to cover the scriptural flow of the church year, including major events and celebrations. Last Sunday, for example, was Pentecost and has specific scriptural references to follow. This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  Initially Pastor Dan started using the Revised Common Lectionary for the 10W but about four-years ago, added the Narrative Lectionary. Both versions are still used.

Liturgical Format
Each 10W service follows the liturgical format of a Lutheran Service. Pastor Dan begins each 10W with a song which fades out partway through.  A variety of spiritual music is used, but only with the permission of the musicians presented. He released the Revised Common Lectionary version of June 11’s service yesterday. You may listen to it via this link.

https://soundcloud.com/bollerud/61117-how-do-i-love-thee

Titled “How Do I Love Thee”, the introductory music by Dakota Road is “Dance with Me.”  After a brief introductory statement, he offers prayer before commencing the gospel reading.  After the gospel, he presents a brief homily distilling each Sunday’s theme.  This particular homily dealt with Trinity Sunday. Following the homily, a statement of faith (apostles creed or other) is recited.  Personal prayers come next, in true liturgical fashion, thanking God, praying for the world and nation, the community, the faith community, friends and family, and for help in specific ways.  The Lord’s Prayer immediately follows, along with a concluding blessing. The service ends after the second part of the introductory song is completed.

To receive the 10W, sign-up via the following link. (www.10worship.blogspot.com) You will then receive it by an email twice a week, Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary.  When you received the emailed service click on the link provided and you’ll be taken to Soundcloud to hear the 10W. By using the search tool on Soundcloud, you can type “Bollerud” and find all of the 10W’s posted with them.  I just open the Soundcloud app on my mobile phone and listen directly.

Other Pastors Contribute
Several other area Lutheran pastors support Pastor Dan by doing occasional 10W service recordings. Pastor Julia Seymour, Lutheran Church of Hope and Pastor Martin Eldred, Joy Lutheran-Eagle River lend their talents to this wonderful spiritual vehicle from time to time.

10W’s have been a blessing to me and I highly recommend them to you as well. It’s not often we experience true innovation like this in Alaska.

Pastor Dan continues to explore new vehicles to encourage spiritual development in our media-driven culture. I wish him well, and to the other ELCA pastors who support this wonderful spiritual tool. If you are aware of unique spiritual practices and tools to share with a wider audience, please write me at churchvisits@gmail.com.

 

 

Easter 2017 Memories

Every year, when Easter finally arrives, I visit churches for the joys of communal Easter celebration but vow this is just a personal experience for me.  Usually later, I find my thoughts bending toward sharing the experiences I’ve been a part of. Easter this year is no exception.

My visits took me to two separate churches of different denominations.  The commonality of the joy was expressed in both, but in different ways.

The first visit was to St. John United Methodist Church’s 9 a.m. service. The music was glorious, full of choral expressions and worshiper singing. Most churches tend to start Easter services with the pastor intoning “Christ is risen!” to which all reply “Christ is risen indeed!” repeated three times and ending with “Allelula!” The same was joyfully done this morning.

The choir’s anthem was “Rejoice, He is Alive” by Shafferman, and beautifully sung. St. John is one of the shrinking number of Anchorage churches still maintaining a fine choir. Ably directed and accompanied by a husband and wife team, they are a credit to this church and our community.

Pastor Andy Bartel’s sermon was titled, “What Are You Looking For” and tied to the New Testament scripture for the day of John 20:1-18, the account of the resurrection discovery and Mary’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus when he asked her what she was looking for. Bartel provided a great challenge for today’s Christian.

The service concluded with G.F. Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”, led by the choir and participated in by all. I was invited to join the choir as the led out in this appropriate and beautiful ode to joy, and tribute to the Messiah. Wonderful service at this friendly church!

The 2nd service I attended was at First Covenant Church, downtown Anchorage. To me, this church offers its multicultural congregation wonderful evangelical services.  My few visits there have been accentuated by hymnody led by a spirited singing group of six, using acoustic instruments, stepping through hymns in an upbeat fashion. This day their songs included, “Low in the Grave He Lay”, “Amazing Love”, “I Surrender All”, and “The Easter Song”.  An all-church choir came forward to sing that old evangelical song, “He Lives”.

Pastor Max Lopez-Cepero’s sermon was actually a reading of noted author Walter Wangerin, Jr’s “The Ragman”. I considered it to be a remarkably moving tribute to the power of Jesus in changing people’s lives. If you care to read it click this link. http://tinyurl.com/n3uky2g

There was a baptism of a young man as the service was concluding. First Covenant practices full immersion baptism and it was a scene of joy as he was baptized while his family looked on.  All were invited to a coffee and dessert reception as the service concluded.

I was filled with joy and wonder at the power of religion to bring hope, and the celebration of that hope by these two churches this Easter. Although only four weeks has passed since Easter, the memories of it linger in many hearts, including mine.

Church Gardens List Now Live!

Several readers advised me of church gardens I’d missed in last week’s column. Thanks to my sharp-eyed readers!  Those gardens missed are:

Trinity Lutheran Church – Palmer
First Christian Church (DOC) – Anchorage
Immanuel Presbyterian Church – Anchorage
Trinity Presbyterian Church – Anchorage
River of Life Lutheran Church – Chugiak

I’ve added a menu item on my website showing all church gardens I’m aware of, along with the names of identified coordinators. Take a peek. http://www.churchvisits.com/church-gardens/

Please help me keep this list up-to-date with corrections or additions.
Chris
churchvisits@gmail.com