Monthly Archives: July 2009

Abbott Loop: 2nd Visit – Not Much Change

[img_assist|nid=142688|title=Tanner Interviewing Baptismal Candidate – Music Group Onstage|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=173]Summary
Last year I visited Abbott Loop Community Church on June 22. I found a church not visitor-friendly, the music long, loud, and too much a show. However the message by a guest preacher was awesome, one of the best I’ve heard in my life.(click here for the review) One of their members contacted me recently, noting they had a new pastor and urging me to give them another try. I visited again on July 26 finding the church still not visitor-friendly, the music even longer, louder, and still a show. The new pastor, Josh Tanner, came across more like a youth pastor with lots of energy, excitement, but not particularly plowing deep into his topic. There may be more “under the hood” than meets the eye in this church but as a local church visitor, I’ve discovered there are local church choices doing a better job: visitors, music, preaching, connecting, in about half the time. This will remain a challenge for Abbott Loop.

Visitor Unfriendly
Abbott Loop doesn’t seem to know what to do with visitors. Visitors tend to be ignored until the middle of the service when they are asked to raise their hand to receive a welcome packet. From the parking lot to my seat, only one person said “hello” and that was the bulletin passer at the door. Only one person shook my hand at the “meet n’ greet” but there were dozens of people around me being glad handed and vigorously hugged by each other, obviously friends and acquaintances. The espresso stand outside of the auditorium doors seemed to be doing a brisk business. No onscreen messages about beverages being brought in either. I do have to say that one member came over and introduced himself before the service, which was nice. That’s it though, just one.

Bring Your Earplugs
The music started promptly at 10 a.m. and continued, almost without interruption for close to an hour. It seemed more show than worship. People dutifully stood, without being urged to do so, when the first chord sounded. Maybe that was a Pavlovian response. But the music was so loud, you could scarcely hear yourself, or others around you for that matter, singing. (I really miss Delores Benjamin now.) The light show was still in play and it was quite a spectacle. The music was interrupted by new Pastor Josh Tanner who presented a passel of baptismal candidates. He interviewed each briefly and that was good. But, he then had everyone go back to their seats and they waited almost 45 minutes to be baptized while enduring the endless musical performance. I’m sorry. If you say you’re going to baptize someone, and introduce them, then do it. Don’t make them wait.

Different Preaching Style
Josh Tanner is a younger preacher, but his talent, energy and delivery come across more as a youth pastor than that of a pastor who can bridge generations. The sermon seemed to be oversimplified and somewhat pedantic. On taking the pulpit he joked that he was “…all fired up with six Red Bull’s” then admitted he was playing with the crowd. It made me wonder about what else in his remarks he was joking about. You can listen to Tanner’s sermon here. It had a little scripture and lots of stories, vignettes, and remembrances. I didn’t realize that Abbott Loop was a prosperity gospel church but with Tanner’s various allusions to money, discovered they probably were. In a baptismal prayer, he asked God to “Increase her financially O Lord”. During the tithes and offerings, he prayed that “God bless our finances”, and posed the question, “How did I get in debt?”

Abbott Loop Evolving
I am left with a distinct impression that Abbott Loop is evolving and going through another phase. It concerned me that the auditorium was about 1/3 full when church started. People drifted in for the first hour or so, what I consider just short of disrespectful. Eventually, the auditorium was about 3/4 full. The two video cameras up front were a big distraction. I can’t say why they were there. The website did not indicate what use was being made of the video. I do give ALCC high marks getting the sermon quickly posted in podcast form. I pestered Pastor Benjamin for months after my last visit about the non-availability of a marvelous sermon by visiting Pastor Iverson. Finally, the website is way too busy. If someone really wants to give this church a visit, they have to scroll and click around to find the worship times. That’s the first thing that should hit a reader’s eye, not a splashy picture of the music team. Google is spare for a reason. Abbott Loop could benefit from Google’s insight.

The baptism was full-immersion water baptism. It concerned me that the pastor doing the dunking seemed to be chewing gum throughout which, if true, I would consider to be in poor taste. I may have missed the point here, but my impression was the service level had declined since Rick Benjamin stepped down. But, I’m more interested in what you, the reader, have to say about this conspicuous eastside church.[img_assist|nid=142689|title=Tanner Preaching|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]

Saturday Evening Church: Faith Christian Community

[img_assist|nid=142422|title=Faith’s Musical Service|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]Summary
In response to reader queries, I’ve begun visiting churches offering Saturday or Sunday evening services, and the same sermon content as regular Sunday services. My first visit of this nature was to Faith Christian Community on July 11. The account of my last visit to Faith can be found by clicking here. With a service starting at 6 p.m. Faith offers a warm welcome, lively music, good preaching, and weekly communion. I did detect several visitor-unfriendly slipups, but these should not deter you from giving Faith an opportunity to meet your church going needs.

What I Liked
-Preaching – well delivered, Bible-based
-Casual dress
-Mexico mission trip participants brought up front

What I Disliked
-No mention of visitors
-No reference to who was preaching
-Taking an offering for the poor without identifying recipients
-Bringing offering to the front of the auditorium
-Long song, during offering for the poor, became performance
-Website is pretty but difficult to find items (try to find service times)

Faith’s sermons are usually posted by clicking here. It may not be this specific service but will be the theme sermon.
[img_assist|nid=142423|title=Pastor Bob Sloan Preaching|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=466]

First CME: Underattended Gem on 36th

[img_assist|nid=142297|title=First CME Church Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=132]Summary
Curious about the distinctive, but unknown to me, church on 36th between the Seward Highway and Lake Otis Boulevard, I stopped mostly because I was running late for my other planned church visit. I discovered the church was First Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. Warmly greeted, I located a pew in their distinctive sanctuary. The music was lively, upbeat, and in the black gospel style. Even the meet n’ greet was fun with lots of hugs and warm contact. Communion was beautifully delivered before the sermon. The preaching was Bible-based and animated. Pastor Paul Everett gave a wonderful lesson based on Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. If you want to join a group of warm, dedicated Christians for worship, this is the place.

Almost by Accident
In rushing to a church visit on the east side of Anchorage, I found myself on 36th, Sunday July 5. I’ve always wanted to know more about this church and stopped in. Some of my best visits happen this way. The church, First Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, has a very distinctive architectural layout, inside and out. I arrived just in time. Church was about to start. Warmly greeted from the moment I entered, I sat in a traditional pew.

Small Group – Big Sound
There was a six member choir, more like a good praise group, accompanied by piano and organ. They clearly set the tone for the music. Though small in number this church loves to make joyful music. The opening song “We’ve Come This Far by Faith” was sung by everyone in a rousing style. The choir special, “We Declare Your Presence in This Place” was just beautiful. The music was lively, but reverent in the black gospel tradition.

Early Communion
Unlike most churches, communion was served before the preaching service. They followed a lengthy ritual of readings from the hymnal. Deaconesses dressed in white came forward to prepare the communion table. People were dismissed by row to come forward to get their bread and wine, returning to their seats to partake on cue with the pastor. As a visitor, I was a bit uncomfortable as no mention was made of their practice, i.e. was communion open or closed. Churches need to be visitor friendly, especially in this area and in the taking of the offering. The choir came down, singing, and received their sacramental tokens. It was soul stirring. After the communion, the pastor hugged the deaconesses at the rail. Most touching.

Forceful Sermonizing
Pastor Paul Everett gave a wonderful sermon based on Hebrews 11, noting this chapter (faith chapter) was a history lesson, given as to “not forget”. He was very extemporaneous, and kind but forceful with a rapid style of deliver Eventually he stepped down from the pulpit and stood on the main floor in the front of the church so close it seemed he could be touched by the congregation. He urged all to “Praise God for what he’s done, when you have a testimony.” Clearly conveying a sense of excitement and urgency as he preached, people often stood up in answer to his distinctive call and response style of preaching. He closed with an altar call, backed up by the organ playing “Just as I am”. The platform ministers and participant came down and joined him below. Everett’s final words were “Get it right with God today. Only God knows your heart. We can speculate but only God can emancipate.”

After the dismissal, I went up front and talked with several people. They were warm and open. I believe this church would warmly welcome anyone into their midst. First CME didn’t believe it was an accident I was there that day. In a special welcome sheet for visitors they say, “We’ve been waiting for you! It’s true, because we believe that every person who comes into the circle of this special fellowship was sent by God Himself. It’s not by accident we have the joy of meeting you. So, above all else we want to express Christ’s love to you with genuine, heartfelt warmth.” Clearly, this church is doing something few other churches in Anchorage do.
[img_assist|nid=142326|title=First CME Church|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=174]

Chapel of the Cross: “B Team” but Friendly

img_assist|nid=142180|title=Chapel of the Cross Church of the Nazarene Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=123]
Having visited no Nazarene churches yet in my Anchorage church visits, I found Chapel of the Cross Church of the Nazarene after a difficult slog through the Alaska Nazarene District website. Located on the upper hillside, this small church received a visit from me on June 28. I received warm greetings from several men greeters upon entering, and exiting. The regular pastor was not there nor was their accomplished music minister, and no mention was made of their absence. The music was traditional to slightly contemporary with a small praise group on stage, accompanied by piano, violin and conga. A beautiful prayer was offered, specifically mentioning members by name who had requested prayer. The sermon by Pastor Don McCullough was well-delivered, even if read, and was based on the gospel story of Nicodemus as recorded in John 3:1-16. I enjoyed my visit. A few visitor friendly practices, commented upon below, could have added to my visit.

The Hardest Step is the First One
Wanting to include the Nazarene’s in my visits I located their Alaska District website here. A somewhat confusing site, it offers a button for “Our Churches”. When clicking on it, one is presented with a map of their area breakdown of churches in Alaska. Anchorage churches are listed by name under Southcentral with seven of the eighteen listings. There’s no way to tell where the churches are located without visiting each church website, a real pain. I discovered Chapel of the Cross was close to where I live and picked them. They’re conveniently located on the upper hillside on Hillside Drive between O’Malley and DeArmoun.

Greeting Worked
Warmly greeted by two gentlemen in the foyer, I was given a bulletin and looked for a seat. Walking by the sound guy he greeted me as well. A smallish church, seating 75-100, I took a seat on the back row. Ultimately there were around 50 people in attendance that day. The music started with a piano accompanying hymns and some contemporary Christian music. Hymn books were used as well as two monitors above the stage and one in the back, presumably for the praise group. The praise leader stood at the pulpit, and 4-5 people stood toward the back of the platform singing into microphones. Like a recent review noted, I wasn’t sure of the purpose of the praise team other than perhaps, moral support. A woman in a wheelchair came over and offered me a hymnbook. I thanked her, saying no. Very kind of her to offer.

And All the People Gave
The offering was taken very early in the service. I say this often, but few churches make a point of telling visitors they are not required to feel compelled to give. Visitors feel uneasy when an offering plate is thrust in front of them, especially during their first visit. It was no exception this day.

Meaningful Prayer
Pastor McCullough called people to prayer, asking if anyone had special requests. People raised their hands and he prayed in a heartfelt manner for them by name, addressing particular needs specifically and tactfully. He then prayed in general for the congregation. It was, however, one of those prayers where the person praying, although addressing God, seems to be telling God what is happening. Mention was made of the Nazarene Church’s ongoing General Assembly in Orlando. In praying to God this way, it appeared as though prayer was being used to inform the worshipers about ongoing events, rather than addressing God directly – interesting practice.

Bible-Based Sermon
McCullough’s sermon about Nicodemus appeared to have been read, but was easy to listen to and informative. I enjoyed it. It was brief and to the point. After the sermon and closing prayer it was over. The entire service was short, around 45 minutes. Upon exiting several people thanked me for coming, as did Pastor McCullough. Later, during the week, I inquired as to the absence of the pastor and music minister. I was told they were at the General Assembly in Orlando and that it had been announced on the previous Sunday. There had been no mention of this on their website, and it was not mentioned at all during the Sunday services. I do not recall hearing a single mention of visitors during my visit, although it was certainly obvious I was a visitor. All in all, my visit went well.
[img_assist|nid=142179|title=Chapel of the Cross Church of the Nazarene|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=111]