Monthly Archives: June 2009

Life Church: Lively & Honoring Fathers

[img_assist|nid=142058|title=Life Church – Sign at Huffman & Jerome|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=200]
Anticipating a lively service at Life Church on June 21, I was not disappointed. But I began to feel this would be another church, Pentecostal at that, where I would not be welcomed. I felt this way because in passing the welcome desk, staffed by three women, I noted they were in fervent conversation with each other, but totally oblivious to visitors! A guy with a clipboard finally tracked me down. Eventually I was warmly greeted by many. The music was quite lively, in the style of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir cum soul music. However, the expected Pentecostal displays of dancing, speaking in tongues, and shouting were almost totally absent. Pastor Jim Blackshear’s sermon in honor of Father’s Day, prefaced by a gift of a handy tape measure to the dads, was dynamically delivered and a powerful statement to families, and their dads. This was a fun visit to an interesting church.

Why Life Church?
Located just off Huffman, mid-hillside, I’ve been going by Life Church for many months on my way to other church visits in the neighborhood. Curiosity got the best of me. I Googled them, found their website and then my way to their parking lot on June 21. I say parking lot because that’s where I ended with no seeming way in. I’d always been puzzled by no apparent entrance to the church from their parking lot. I finally discovered an entrance around the rear of the church and it seems they have one downstairs on the Jerome Street side too. Their church entrances should be clearly marked for the sake of visitors.
[img_assist|nid=142059|title=Life Church – Main Entrance in Back|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=162]
Welcome Took a While
Finding my way in to the church, I saw a reception stand immediately ahead but the three greeters were totally absorbed in conversation with each other, too much so to greet me or even say hello. A gentleman standing inside one of the sanctuary doors said hi, and I found a seat. A while later, a gentleman with clipboard came over asking if “Is this your first visit? Are you new here?”. He welcomed me and asked me to complete a visitor card on the clipboard, standing patiently waiting while I completed it. Other than being totally ignored, there is nothing more rattling for a visitor than to be asked if you’re “new”, on your “first visit” or to fill out a card while someone waits for you to do so. These actions are totally avoidable by training and coaching by church leadership, assuming they are not guilty of doing the same to visitors. I noticed an older man making his way around the congregation, welcoming people, and putting them at ease. His easygoing, genteel manner finally reached me and I was warmly greeted, unobtrusively. Later I discovered he was J.R. Blackshear, former Life Church pastor, and a caring individual.

Peppy Music
The church service started on time at 11:15 with their praise group of ten singers, and four band members. The singers were in beautiful choir robes and the band, for the most part, was in suit and tie. The music was a cross between Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, R&B, and Soul. It was quite good and was performed without reference to printed music, a real feat for any singing group in church. There was interesting interaction between the praise group members during singing. Although the congregation was at half-strength this morning due to conflicting camp meeting on the Kenai, they readily joined in and sang, with a few raising their hands charismatically. I was amazed the majority of the congregation was nicely dressed, suits and ties for the men, and similarly appropriate dresses for the women. It’s becoming rarer to see “Sunday-go-to-meeting” clothes at church. The pastor joined the praise group on several songs, leading out with a strong voice. I must say their sound system made everything sound a bit echoey, much like an outdoor venue such as a fair.

And All the People Gave
When the offering was taken, Pastor Blackshear reminded everyone that local church expenses were important and that giving at camp meeting would not pay the bills. He did not mention visitors not feeling pressured to give, an important “miss” to be visitor friendly. At Life Church, people bring their offerings down front, an unusual sight which I’ve witnessed in 1 or 2 other Anchorage churches.

Father’s Day Noted
Pastor Blackshear asked all the fathers in attendance to stand. He then directed his kids to hand each of them a gift, a retractable tape measure. He also welcomed guests and visitors. His sermon titled “The Measure of a Man” started about 40 minutes after church had begun. Fifteen minutes into the sermon, he finally started using the Bible. Using the story of Noah, Blackshear pointed out the example of a God-following father, who ultimately only saved his wife, three sons and their wives from the flood. The ultimate question was “How do you measure success?” He noted it was easy for dads to take their kids to take their kids to athletic events or fun things, but what real dads needed to do was to take them to the altar. On cue, the piano player started up and he invited the dads up for special prayer, and eventually the whole church to pray for them in front. I was one of the few still sitting.

It was an important, well-delivered and good sermon. Blackshear seemed to be looking at his notes rather than the audience much of the time, but it was a forceful message. I couldn’t be sure, but it seemed as though he was chewing gum throughout the service, a first in my pastoral observations. However, this church grew friendlier the longer I stayed. They need to work on being warm and welcoming from the time you reach the doors until you leave, but I was pleasantly surprised by my visit. I particularly enjoyed my visit with J.R. Blackshear after the service, receiving more insights into this long-time Anchorage church. Every church needs a dozen J.R. Blackshear’s to warmly welcome visitors into their midst. He was a strong platform support for his son that day. He also shared information about various ministries they support – such as a flying ministry. Pastor Jim received several warm Father’s Day tributes from various people during the service. I expect this church is very lively when full with regular members.
[img_assist|nid=142060|title=Life Church From Front – No Entrances Obvious|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=140]

Sunday Evening Church: Trinity Presbyterian’s ‘7:07’

[img_assist|nid=142569|title=Trinity’s 7:07 Service|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=231]Summary
This is the second in a series of blog posts about Saturday or Sunday evening services I’ve located which offer identical sermon/message content to Sunday morning/afternoon services. Church Visits has received queries from individuals looking for more convenient alternative service times.
In my quest to visit churches with evening services, as described above, I visited Trinity Presbyterian Church on July 12. They offer a service called 7:07 which oddly enough starts at approximately that time. The group was primarily ‘twenty-somethings’, about thirty-five in number. Everyone was warmly greeted. The music was provided by drums, guitars, and bass expertly played by a mix of summer interns and Trinity young adults. Pastor Tom Letts’ message was well-delivered, covering the same material from the morning sermon. Based on John 3, and the story of Nicodemus (nike=victory + demos=of the people), Letts unveiled two streams and eight parables hidden in this scripture passage. Stylistically, Letts encouraged participation by inviting individuals to read passages in John 3 and in teasing out observations from those present. I enjoyed this service very much.[img_assist|nid=142570|title=Pastor Tom Letts Makes a Point|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]

What I Liked
-Good, relevant music
-Scripture reading was participative
-Topic same as main preaching earlier
-Discussion format
-Very casual dress
-Used comfortable chairs around small tables in lobby area
-View of green hillside through picture windows
-Friendly, warm and welcoming group

What I Disliked
-More people were not taking advantage of this
-No offering taken (just kidding)[img_assist|nid=142571|title=Oh, that sweet music…….!|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=182]

Hillside-O’Malley SDA Church: And the Lord Rested the Seventh Day…

[img_assist|nid=141889|title=Hillside-O’Malley SDA Church Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=203]
Arriving ten minutes late for a service at Hillside-O’Malley Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Saturday, May 23, 2009, I was pondering why I was attending church on Saturday morning. Although greeted cheerily by one person, I discovered a musical service let by an uncertain praise team, lengthy preliminaries, a baptism, and that was just the beginning. Their young pastor Donovan Kack, finally began preaching one hour after the start of church. Concluding his excellent, but lengthy Bible-based sermon, he dismissed the congregants to meet the newly-baptized member. Crying children signaled this 1 3/4 hr. service was probably already too long for some. A judicious pruning of the preliminaries might have provided an hour plus service of greater impact. If you’re hungry for good Bible-based preaching, Hillside-O’Malley SDA, while not visitor friendly, is a good option if you time your arrival to avoid the lengthy preliminaries.

I couldn’t believe it but there I was at 10:50 a.m., ten minutes late to Hillside-O’Malley Seventh-Day Adventist Church on May 23, 2009. Greeted cheerily with “Happy Sabbath” by a young greeter with a bulletin, I headed into the sanctuary only to find they were already into the music portion of their service. The music was being “led” by a praise team of three holding mikes, music sheets, and aided by words projected on the wall. They seemed unfamiliar with the lyrics and tunes of the traditional hymns being sung. The piano and organ accompaniment were excellent, however, and the worshipers were almost all singing.

The church itself has no visible stained glass, and no apparent source of natural lighting which is so atypical of our churches here, being surrounded as we are by our beautiful mountain vistas. The décor was simple, warm and contemporary accented by pastel interior decorating flourishes. A well-dressed church, with contemporary casual being the lowest point of dressing down, it’s not a “jeans” church. Although the announcements were printed in the bulletin, one church leader still took time to read them. While not considering this church “visitor friendly” overall, visitors in general were welcomed in a brief mention from the podium and invited to a potluck following the service.

More Prelimaries
The pastor interviewed the baptismal candidate at length. There was a prayer service for a military chaplain recently promoted to the rank of colonel. Many of the spiritual leaders of the church gathered on the podium, knelt, and placed their hands on this chaplain while prayers were offered.

Children’s Offering & Story
An interesting tradition, a first for me, is practiced at O’Malley SDA. Children gather at the back of the church, then wander to the front collecting paper money from parishioners on the way down. I didn’t note the purpose of this offering. The children’s story was conducted after this.

Full Immersion
Seventh-Day Adventists, like Baptists, believe in full immersion water baptism. This was a touching service for the candidate and a very exuberant pastor. However, a visitor to this church might benefit from an explanation of the baptism and it’s symbolism.

More Preliminaries
After an opening hymn, there was a time of prayer for people with particular concerns. Many in the church came forward to kneel and pray, while one prayed for all.

The offering taken up with no mention of visitors not needing to feel pressure to give. Visitor-friendly churches make it a regular practice to put guests at ease with a brief “no offering required” note.

Great Sermon
Finally, assuming the pulpit a full hour after the start of O’Malley’s church service, Pastor Kack gave a wonderful sermon based on Matthew 12 click here for replay. Unusually, for Anchorage pastors, he spoke extemporaneously, preaching from his Bible. Teaching solely from the Word, not relying on PowerPoint slides as do so many other pastors, Kack ended his sermon 40-50 minutes after starting, a long sermon even by Anchorage standards. Closing with a song and prayer, he invited the members forward to meet the newly baptized member. I left at this point and one person at the door said goodbye.

In conclusion, I do not consider this church visitor friendly. As a visitor I sat through portions of the service which could have used a brief word of explanation. Other than the one time noted, I was not talked to at any other time during my stay. A judicious pruning of their order of service might have shortened the service, in my opinion, and upped its’ effectiveness. I personally believe an hour and forty-five minutes is too long a service, not only for children, but for many adults. Other Anchorage churches I’ve visited having this length of service, would have had 30-45 minutes of entertainment style praise music preceeding the preaching. Nonetheless, I believe the members of this church are sincere, are strong Bible believers, and enjoy going to church.
[img_assist|nid=141890|title=Hillside-O’Malley SDA Church Exterior|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=140]

The Crossing @ Birchwood: A Work in Progress

[img_assist|nid=141760|title=The Crossing @ Birchwood – Exterior View|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=114]Summary
Last August I received an invitation to visit The Crossing @ Birchwood from a member. As it’s a bit of a drive out, I didn’t visit until May 24. Greeted by only one person when entering, I was pretty much on my own after that. The music was praise group style, not entertainment, great sounding, and singable. The sermon worked, was Bible-based, relevant, but delivered by a young preacher using poor English, littered with street slang, and a bit jangly for this old schoolteacher. The Crossing is not a particularly warm congregation to visitors, but they are warm to each other. On the way out of church, one gentleman thanked me for coming . A note (from me) on their “registration card” to contact me has gone unanswered for almost three weeks. So much for follow-up.

Why Kim and Her Family Attend
My inviter was Kim Holderbein. She described why her family attends The Crossing.
[img_assist|nid=141761|title=Kim Holderbein|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=150|height=180]
“We were active members of our church in California and were looking for a contemporary church where we could be of service and, because we have kids, had an Awana program. We are also a bit jaded by pastors who “borrow” messages from other pastors (like Rick Warren) and were looking for a pastor who preached his own sermons. We visited multiple churches in Anchorage and they never felt like home. After our first visit to The Crossing, my husband and I looked at each other and knew we found our home. Since then we have been welcomed into the church family and plugged into ministries.”

Bit of a Drive for Some
From where I live in South Anchorage, it’s close to 30 miles to drive to The Crossing @ Birchwood. I understand people do the drive, but many members appeared to be from the Eagle River-Birchwood-Chugiak area. A sprawly complex also housing a school, The Crossing is easy to access being 1-2 blocks from the Glenn Highway. Arriving a few minutes late, I found their large (unpaved, and quite dusty) parking lot almost full. Such a hugh area does need paving. It must be a mess in the winter.

Sole Welcomer
After my trudge in from the parking lot, I was warmly greeted by a sole greeter at the door. The services had started. Soon after, a “meet n’ greet” was called and members warmly greeted each other with hugs and glad hands. Only two people greeted me. It felt a bit strange, like I didn’t really belong there. Next up was a baby dedication and then an ordination for an elder.
[img_assist|nid=141762|title=Baby Dedication & Praise Team|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=126]
Good Music
The musical group leader asked people to stand and we sang a number of songs. It seemed to me the congregation was only half-engaged during the singing, even though the praise group of six was quite good. I’ve seen this before when a church meets in a similar gymnasium/sanctuary setting. It may just be the acoustics or the non-churchlike setting. There were kneelers at the front and several people came up to kneel and pray during the singing. This custom was an unusual departure from my church visits so far.

Unusually-Delivered Sermon
The sermon was given by David Springman, the assistant pastor, a young man in his 20’s. You can listen to it HERE. Clearly Bible-based, it was based on Daniel. Having taught school for years, I found Springman’s grammer liberally sprinkled with street jargon and the type of syntax I strive to correct daily in the classroom. That aside, his thoughts were good, but may have played better with a younger crowd. As the sermon was concluding, on cue, a guitar player came out and stood off to the side playing softly. I thought, “Oh no! Here comes the altar call.”, but it didn’t happen. Don’t really know what the guitar part was all about.

The sermon concluded with prayer and after that another “take a stand” prayer. FInally it was announced “Give the Lord a hand because He did something here this morning.” Just what the Lord did, I don’t know because it wasn’t announced.

Visitor-Friendly Offering Gesture
Pastor Brad called for the offering and, most unusually for Anchorage churches, he told visitors to let the offering plate pass. This most visitor-friendly statement, rarely heard, did not go unnoticed.

During the service, I met the pastor, Brad Rud, in the hallway and introduced myself. After the service, he and Pastor David disappeared. I’d hoped to ask a question or two. I also thought my visitor registration card would have been scrutinized and the requested contact with me made, but so far no one has called. A nicely dressed older man thanked me for coming as I left church, a few minutes before the press of the crowd. I’d like to revisit this church and hear Senior Pastor Rud, but will not do so for a few months. There were pluses and minuses. I appreciate the invitation by Kim. Christians have to be comfortable in their church to invite an outsider to come. Thank you Kim!

ChangePoint Finally Delivers…For the Most Part

After five visits and almost a year-and-a-half of trying, I finally experienced a ChangePoint worship service that, for the most part, worked for me. The band’s music was toned down, seemingly more reverent. Guest speaker Jim Capaldo gave a clear and extemporaneously delivered talk. Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell delivered a fitting Memorial Day tribute to our veterans. The lone greeter covering too many doors was a disappointment, as well as the lone bulletin hander at the door I entered. I still maintain ChangePoint is not visitor friendly. It seems to be more vested in having visitors come to their welcome center than in being genuinely friendly to everyone, clearly a member responsibility. Unfortunately, stores like Sears and Carrs are more outwardly friendly and helpful to their “guests” than most churches are to theirs.

I had visited ChangePoint on May 17 and found the music unusually loud. The next week, May 24, I returned with a sound level meter to see if I was just imagining things. Instead of leaving after measuring sound levels which were fairly normal, I became intrigued with the service and decided to stay.

Musically Different
Musical minister Lee Hudson, an awesome keyboardist, asked people to stand. He led the band in “America the Beautiful”. Lt. Governor Sean Parnell was invited to the stage. Giving a well-spoken tribute to our veterans in a Memorial Day weekend point of recognition, he asked members who had served our military to stand. An impressive number did and were richly applauded for their service.

The music, beautifully performed, continued in a reverent tone with “It is Well With My Soul”, “Amazing Grace”, and “My Jesus I Love Thee”. The music segment was not as lengthy as in previously attended services only lasting 25 minutes, an improvement.

Outstanding Message
Guest speaker Jim Capaldo of Interact Ministeries, started by reciting from memory the whole of the book of Titus. He then invited a new immigrant from Bulgaria to the stage to interview, translated for the most part by Capaldo, regarding the difficulties experienced by legal immigrants adjusting to a new life here. Noting there were over 100,000 legal immigrants in Alaska, Capaldo pointed out there was much Christians could do to help immigrants with transitioning, e.g. childcare, employment, social services, education, language assistance, etc. Capaldo told several impactual stories of his family’s eight year missionary stay in Eastern Siberia ending just six months ago. He also embellished these stories with an amazing display of Tuvan throat singing. He ended with saying, “We can love others because God first loved us.”

I would normally link this sermon here, but 2 1/2 weeks later, it is still not available on ChangePoint’s website. If the power represented by ChangePoint’s massive member numbers would support the vision laid out by Capaldo, much good could be done across the state. The 1:30 service had fewer attendees than normal, but I’m sure many, as did I, received a blessing by taking the time on a holiday weekend, to join in worship. They are also to be commended for addressing the traffic flow issues I raised in earlier blog posts. APD and their own parking staff do a great job.

A Parting Note
Megachurches like ChangePoint seem to be subject to the same kinds of issues. They tend to be impersonal, huge, expensive, often offering appealing but watered down messages safe and comfortable to accept. In the Barna book, “Jim & Casper Go to Church”, these church visitors noted only one occasion where someone actually spontaneously approached them to talk in a megachurch. Christian hospitality is not an option; it’s a biblical imperative. Christianity is not an anonymous religion.

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