Monthly Archives: March 2009

Cornerstone: Solid as a Rock and Welcoming

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During my March 8 visit to Cornerstone Church, I was treated to a warm greeting, a cup of coffee, a praying praise team, and a great Bible-based sermon. These things are not what I usually experience when visiting Anchorage churches, but this day they were present. Cornerstone offers easy access with their South Anchorage location on Brayton Drive just north of the convenient O’Malley Road. Pastor Brad Sutter and his church are clearly sharing their faith in a positive way.

Great Location
I’ve been by Cornerstone Church’s location many times over the past few years and wondered what type of people met there. The facility is modern looking and easily seen from the Seward Highway. Looking them up on the internet, I quickly found their website with service times prominently displayed on the first screen. They offer plenty of parking close to the church.
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Great Greeting!
Walking into the church I was cheerfully greeted by a warmly dressed woman who also opened the door for me which is unusual for my Anchorage church visits. It wasn’t a fluke as she continued to open the door for arriving guests and members. Spotting an array of coffee urns straight ahead I made a beeline for them. I asked the coffee tending volunteer what brand of coffee they used, expecting to hear the name of one of our great local roasters, but was told it was one of the mass-market brands that comes in a tin. The coffee was so-so, but many churches either do not offer it, or charge for it at their coffee bar.

Mistaken Identity
Preparing to enter the church and not yet having a bulletin, I spotted those responsible for them, standing facing toward, not away from, the doors into the sanctuary. This odd position forced me to go around them and turn back facing them. The woman with the bulletin had the right idea when she said, “I don’t think I’ve met you two…”. I was by myself but the greeter had mistaken a woman standing close by as coming in with me. Her greeting was on the mark though, because it doesn’t put the visitor in the position of feeling they’ve been singled out as a new face. The worst of all things to say are, “Is this your first visit…” or “What is your name?”. With these great greetings I later queried Pastor Sutter as to whether or not they offer training for their greeters. He responded “No.” This natural greeting behavior is to be commended.

Music Fitting-Not Just Entertainment
The musical praise team was preparing to take the stage when I entered. The eight persons in the group formed a circle, joined hands, and prayed, an unseen behavior in many churches but spoke volumes to me. Most of the group played some instrument and also sang. Several fairly short contemporary Christian songs were sung just before the sermon. Well performed and a great complement to the service, the music was not entertainment but a blessing. Preceding the sermon was the obligatory “meet n’ greet” which I don’t particularly like nor do many other worshipers from my visiting experience. I asked Pastor Sutter why Cornerstone does this and he said it was to “Encourage people to begin to engage with each other in the hopes of further connection in the future.” Personally, I feel there are more natural ways to engage attendees.

Outstanding Sermon
Sutter preached from the Word. I’m reasonably certain he had notes tucked into his Bible, but the casual observer probably saw just the Bible. PowerPoint slides displayed the texts so there was limited page rustling, a quibble but an effective way to discourage regular attendees from bringing their Bibles to church. The focus of his remarks was 1 Peter 4:1-6. In an explanatory fashion and extemporaneous manner, he drew meaning from this passage of scripture. He began the sermon with an illustration about how Ermine were trapped, showing that to this animal, purity was more important than life itself, a quite fitting start to the sermon. No title for the sermon was given in the bulletin but later Pastor Sutter shared that the title was “Developing the Attitude of Christ”. According to Sutter, his style is suited to going through books or sections of the Bible. This sermon was certainly meaningful and appropriate and may be listened to here. This blog is not about theology but I will say that this pastor excels in making the Word easily understood.

The service closed with the pastor leaving the platform to replaced by the musical group for several more songs. I enjoyed my visit to this church and believe they offer a meaningful and relevant way of worshiping for an active group of Christians here in Anchorage.

Amazing Grace Lutheran – A Hillside Gem

[img_assist|nid=139108|title=Amazing Grace Lutheran Church Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=186]Summary
My visit to upper hillside located Amazing Grace Lutheran Church seemed to have started on the wrong foot as I pushed through a thick knot of unwelcoming members as I entered the narthex. I didn’t realize it was the 9:45 service attenders visiting and exiting. Entering the sanctuary, I was warmly greeted by a friendly woman who gave me a hymnal and bulletin. Confused because chairs were being put up, I inquired if I’d missed the service? She assured me no. Because the 11:00 a.m. service has the fewest attendees, chairs are removed creating a closer sense of community amongst those there.

An understated sanctuary with lots of wood and warm accents, felt to me as though I was coming home. This may have been due to the Lenten accents of cross draped with purple, rough hewn altar, and tasteful hangings of decorated burlap. A signature round stained glass window, featuring a cross, highlights the east wall of the sanctuary without intruding on one’s sight lines to vie for attention. I counted twenty worshipers including a signer for deaf attendees, a pleasant first for my visits. During the Passing of the Peace, it seemed as though one-half of the church greeted me. The service was Lutheran liturgy. Pastor Marty Dasler was hands on and extemporaneous in his remarks. The music was simple and heartfelt. The eucharist was delivered to a circle of congregants around the alter from unusual eucharistic vessels. A touching moment concluded the service when Dasler prayed a birthday blessing for a younger member. I’m told their 8:15 and 9:45 services are heavily attended and feature a choir. A return visit is anticipated for this welcoming congregation.

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Why Amazing Grace?
To create an inner sense of personal symmetry, I visited Amazing Grace Lutheran Church on March 1, the First Sunday in Lent. This was my only unvisited church of the four participants in the Daybreak ecumenical service yet to be presented that night at St. John United Methodist Church. Previously I’d visited and blogged my visits to the other three, St. John United Methodist, St. Mary Episcopal, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Located on Elmore just off O’Malley, its signage is not readily apparant. The driveway turn is likewise deceptive and must be looked for carefully. But the church is beautifully sited on its property. Having had some frustrating experiences with Lutheran Church visits in Anchorage I longed for a totally positive visit to at least one Lutheran Church. Of two previous visits so far, one never made it into print and the other did but with exceptions.

Pastoral Style
To a first time visitor, Pastor Dasler showed both a practical and innately intuitive spiritual side. After the Passing of the Peace he played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” with a parishioner volunteer. The purpose of this exercise was to underscore Lenten discipline and that “…Spirit overcomes flesh.” So simple, so powerful and so memorable. Dasler was extemporaneous in his remarks speaking from his heart, not from transcripts or notes. Psalm 139 was the basis for his sermon.

Sermon Quotes
“God has given forces of hope to everyone.”
“God has made promises to us and we are part of the promise.”

Musical Church
This church has many talented musicians, both instrumental and vocal. I struck up a conversation with the pianist/organist Kathryn Eckmann after the service. I discovered a common bond we shared for the spiritual effect music possesses. One of the songs sung in the service was composed, words and music, by a member pianist/organist Carolyn Nickles.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.
God of pow’r and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name;
Comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.

Although not expecting such a small number of attendees, I found size irrelevant. These attendees were clearly focused on worship. I understand Amazing Grace is having special Lenten Worship Services on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m. preceeded by a soup supper. The services begin with vespers and are designed to be reflective including a series of Desert Readings featuring quotes by Thomas Merton, selected Desert Fathers and other spiritual leaders.

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