Trio of Advent Treats Served at St. John UMC

[img_assist|nid=135904|title=St. John United Methodist Sign – O’Malley Road|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=352]Summary
Last Sunday, I started out to visit one or two other churches but missed both services due to one church having a non-functional website, and the other showing just a few cars parked just before the posted 10:30 a.m. service time. Instead, I passed both by and headed for St. John United Methodist Church, a friendly and dependable worship venue. What a treat I had! A beautiful morning service accentuated by special music, caring for each other, meaningful prayers, and a welcoming congregation. Pastor Dave Beckett had an unusual advent sermon, filled with probing questions, lots of hope, and illustrated by short clips from the film, Christmas Vacation. I came back for the evening meeting to discover it was a casual version of the morning service, but with the added treat of a musical group of eight singing, playing guitars, instruments, percussion, lots of wonderful Christmas music. The third surprise was an incredible performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria. A choir of approximately 30 singers was accompanied by an eight piece chamber orchestra and piano under the expert direction of Karen Horton. One never knows what will happen when your day doesn’t start out right.

Warm, Friendly, and a Great Christian Community
Earlier this year I visited St. John United Methodist Church, and wrote about it here. I was impressed with their friendliness, warmth, and sense of Christian community. When my planned visits to the other churches fell through [will be covered in a future blog post] , I wondered where I would visit. St. John immediately popped into mind and I’m glad it did.

I felt the service was intensively personal. From the children’s story and lighting of the advent candles, to the congregational sharing of joys and concerns, it seemed a gathering of an extended family. The joys and concerns were real and one could not help but be touched by their being spoken. When a joy is spoken the pastor says “Thank you, God”, and the people respond “Alleluia”. After a concern the pastor says “God, to your love”, and the people respond “We trust this prayer”. During the 11 a.m. service there was special music by the bell choir, always a treat, and a vocal solo accompanied by violin. During the opening of the word, the reader lights a candle and the congregation sings “Thy word is a lamp unto my feed, and a light unto my path.” St. Johns service connects to real, heartfelt, intensive meaning.
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Unusual Advent Message
Pastor Dave Beckett’s message format was one he used in some summer sermons, which unfortunately I missed. He uses a film to illustrate, sometimes in outrageous ways, the point he is making. This Sunday he used Christmas Vacation, a funny Chevy Chase film about the meanings of Christmas. Beckett posed the question “What do you want for Christmas?” quickly clarifying the questions further, “What do you really and truly want to happen in the next several days in order for your to feel Christmas joy?” Yes! I like that! But creating and managing family traditions can be difficult. He noted even he couldn’t imagine what future Mary saw for the Son of God when pregnant: his ministry, miracles, and crucifixion. “Don’t we all need to be reminded of Jesus whose birth in Bethlehem was and continues to be the reason for the season? The challenge for us in seeking this Christmas joy is to have ready and open hearts to receive it when it comes.” Quoting James Noland, Beckett continued “Sometimes we miss the extraordinary because we are blinded by the ordinary.” After the last film clip, Pastor Becket summarized “It is one thing to know what would put us in the Christmas spirit. It is another thing to try to force it to happen. The key is to prepare ourselves for when it surprises us. Be ready. Prepare a place for the Christ child in your heart. Joy is very near. Thanks be to God!”

I know I walked out of St. John walking on air. It wasn’t just one thing, it was the whole package, a real Christmas gift for this writer.

Evening Surprises
I discovered the evening worship service at 6:30 p.m. was a more casual version of the morning service with a more relaxed feel, but the same message. A church musical group of eight individuals provided the backdrop of well played music to accompany congregational singing of advent hymns and music of the church. What a great way to end the day and a perfect solution for those who require an evening service due to commitments during the day. A smaller group, but certainly as warm and welcoming as the earlier services.
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Musical Fireworks!!!
During the morning service I was made aware of a sacred concert to be performed at 7:30 p.m. at St. John for which I made immediate plans to attend. The work to be performed was Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria. A choir of 30, accompanied by an eight piece string orchestra and piano directed by Karen Horton performed this moving religious work. There were three solos and one duet, performed by women of the chorus and beautifully sung. I was quite moved by the duet “Laudamus te. Benedicimus te. Adoramus te. Glorificamus te.”. It is a tribute to the entire musical group, and to St. John for performing this masterful work as a Christmas gift to the community. It illustrated the manner of Christian love and sharing I’ve come to associate with this fine church.

Looking for a Meaningful Christmas Eve Service?
St John will be having services at 4:00, 5:30, 7:00, 9:00 and 11:00. The two earlier services are for families with children, the 7:00 p.m. service features the Sanctuary Choir, the 9:00 p.m. service is a candlelight service with the Sanctuary Choir, and the 11:00 p.m. service is a candlelight service, music by the bell choir and offers communion.
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Maybe I’ll see you at one of these services. Merry Christmas!

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