riving by Anchorage Bible Fellowship last week, I was pleased to see they were now prominently posting their Sunday worship time on the sign. This small change is greatly appreciated, doubtless a sentiment that will be echoed by many. I also noticed the service time of 10:30 a.m. is now on their website’s first page, but suggest it clearly be identified as Sunday Worship. I applaud ABF in making these small but significant changes.
[img_assist|nid=144186|title=Anchorage Bible Fellowship Sign – Elmore Rd.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=237]Summary
Visited on October 11, Anchorage Bible Fellowship presented several faces to this church visitor. Prominently located on Elmore Road just south of the new Dowling interchange, ABF was easy to access and locate. I encountered a warm door welcome by two gents as I arrived at 10:30 a.m. The praise group was playing and singing as I entered the auditorium. The music was mainly contemporary Christian music (CCM) performed conservatively, i.e. it wasn’t jazzed up. Many women wore head coverings, unusual for a Protestant church. The special music, a solo by a woman, was quite nice but unusual for churches today. Usually the praise group is the sole focus, with an occasional solo by one of their members of which this was the case.
The pastor, ascending the pulpit, told a joke I considered to be in poor taste, totally unconnected to the sermon. I almost left at this point but hung in. Delivering a very dense 55 minute, Bible-based sermon he dwelt on the theme of mercy and judgement. The praise group came back onstage 1 1/4 hours after the start of the service. Communion was served, with presumably a layman leading out rendering good preparatory comments. (ABF’s bulletin did not supply names for anyone who participated in the service, a serious omission in my opinion. I’ve guessed about participants.) The communion was meaningful, but nothing was mentioned about who might participate or how it was taken. The service ended with yet another layman, presumably, ascending the pulpit to make closing remarks. His comments were good, more in a response format, but might have been better with the omission of his joke. I feel the 1 1/2 hour service could have been shortened without any serious loss to the worshiper. ABF’s website makes it difficult to find service times, and their prominent Elmore sign makes no mention of service times, almost as if they are trying to keep their meeting times secret. Visitors were not mentioned or accomodated at ABF. I wondered if they had many. They made mention of a fellowship meal but visitors were not invited.
I pass this Elmore Road church many times in the course of a week. I’ve always been intrigued with their location and prominent sign. Several months ago, I went looking for a church and had a disappointing time finding one open for business (see my post) . ABF was the 4th church I drove by and actually drove into their parking lot. I noticed they were not in service yet and drove on not knowing the service time(s). Their sign could and should list service times, especially with the road exposure, but it ususally lists one of those cutesy little thought challenges some churches use. The one they’ve posted for some time has been “YOURE NOT TOO BAD TO COME IN. YOU ARE NOT TOO GOOD TO STAY OUT”. (note the picture at the top) Shortly after this, I received an invitation from a member to visit which I did on October 11.
Greeters on the Ball
There were two friendly men greeting at the open outside doors as I entered. I felt genuinely welcomed to this church. A bulletin passer handed me the bulletin as I entered the sanctuary. It was filled with news and church happenings, but contained not a word about the services or anyone connected with them, a visitor unfriendly omission. There was a meet n’ greet during the service and I was greeted by a couple of members. Most of the serious greeting seemed to be member to member. One of my welcomers was one of the same gents who initially greeted me. I asked him about the head coverings and discovered the New Testament inspiration for them. We disagreed over several other New Testament practices not followed today but he was kind to have sought me out.
The praise group of seven was playing and singing as I entered. The volume was not particularly overpowering. Audience members were standing and singing, quietly participating in honest music, though many were not singing. It’s really not necessary for everyone to stand for 15-20 minutes of musical singing. I’ve had most powerful singing experiences while sitting, but so many churches in Anchorage expect members to stand for the music, marooning them on their feet for long periods of time. It wasn’t too bad this day but I did notice several members finally sit down after a while.
This church takes the Bible in their name seriously with almost everyone there bringing their own Bible and using it. The apparant theme of the pastor was on mercy and judgement and was expounded upon for around 55 minutes. I don’t know who the preacher was but presume it was the regular pastor. I don’t always take a Bible with me because different churches use different Bible translations and it can be a challenge switching mentally between them. No Bible was in the seat in front of me and I found the sermon to be a bit dense to follow being so scripturally based. Consequently, I didn’t get as much out of the sermon as I might have.
How Do You Spell Communion?
Many churches serve communion seamlessly and effortlessly but don’t the time to explain their beliefs regarding partaking in their church. It was no exception this day. A layman delivered a few Bible-based remarks on the bread and the wine which was then distributed. As nothing was said, I wondered if the bread and wine were held and partaken together with the congregation at a given moment. I noticed some people held their bread and some ate it immediately. Same with the wine. Some drank it immediately and placed the cup back in the tray while others held it, partook, and then put the cup in the receptacle in front of them. More churches need to be visitor-friendly in welcoming visitors to communion and explaining how it is partaken.
The Offering and Closing Remarks
Like so many churches, ABF called for the offering but said nothing to visitors about not feeling compelled to give. This is so visitor unfriendly. Until one has become more affiliated with a church by attendance or acceptance as a member, they should not feel as though they have to give. Giving should be voluntary, but when an offering bag is thrust in front of you, there is an implied obligation to give. Visitors should not be burdened with this.
At the conclusion of the service another layman got up and delivered some closing remarks, more a responsorial reflection on the sermon which I appreciated a bit more than the sermon. He also told a joke which surprised me. Maybe it’s part of the character of this church to be telling the jokes, but it’s a bit out of character for Anchorage churches and didn’t work for me. Other than not being invited to the fellowship meal after church, I did think ABF offered an interesting service. A visitor might be more in tune with ABF’s practices after attending several times but I could see where one also might not get to the second visit.
A Final Word
ABF maintains a website I consider to be confusing. About 1/4 of their home screen page is devoted to constantly changing pictures of Alaska outdoors scenes, totally unconnected with the work of a church. To me it’s a waste of valuable website space. Sunday service times are not displayed on the main webpage. I finally found them under ABOUT US and WEEKLY SCHEDULE, an unlikely place in my opinion. They should be on that first page. ABF is also missing an important opportunity to tell people their worship times by not posting them on the Elmore Road sign. The impact of so many passing that sign daily, and not seeing worship times, is a lost opportunity of significant magnitude.[img_assist|nid=144187|title=Anchorage Bible Fellowship Complex|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=113]
Many of the churches I’ve visited in the past 1 1/2 years are quite noisy in their sanctuary before the service. Occasionally I’ve commented on this. Recently I stopped by Trinity Presbyterian to check out their service. Finding the sanctuary doors closed, and a dark interior with few people seated, I queried Associate Pastor Tammy Letts about what might be happening. She explained they were experimenting with creating a more worshipful environment and attitude. The way they’re doing this is by keeping the doors closed until the 10:30 a.m. service start time. Before that time, worshipers are free to go inside if they choose to do so. But it is into what is clearly a reverent environment. At 10:30 the doors are thrown open. The congregation enters to the joyful sound of music and the service commences.
To all those churches who already demonstrate reverence in their worship places, I say “good job”! To those churches experimenting to create a more reverent environment, I applaud your efforts. To those churches who are beset with irreverent noise, I urge you to visit other churches who are addressing this issue, and then experiment with your own solutions. The Lord says, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” I’ve not noticed any significant background noise levels on previous Trinity visits but I’m always pleased to note when a church is continually striving to improve their worship environment and experience. Best wishes to Trinity for a successful continuation of this experiment.
At this point, this wll be the last of a series of blog posts about Anchorage Protestant church offerings of evening services, Saturday or Sunday, with the same message format of normal Sunday services. Some worshipers find it necessary to attend at these times but still desire to be spiritually fed the same as other worshipers, only at a later hour.
To date, I’ve written of three other churches offering this format: Faith Christian Community, Trinity Presbyterian, and ChangePoint. Last week I attended St. John United Methodist’s Sunday evening service and am pleased to add it to this list of options. St. John’s 6:30 p.m. Sunday evening service complements their 8:15, 9:30, and 11:00 a.m. services. Lightly attended, it nevertheless offers a wonderful opportunity to worship, but in a more casual form.[img_assist|nid=143919|title=St. John UMC Evening Praise Group|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=298]
My September 27 visit found me singing praises with a group of approximately 35 people. The contemporaneous praise group of six, accompanied by flute, mandolin, and percussion, led those assembled through several simple, though touching renditions of Christian melodies. I was deeply affected by their acapella rendering of “Send Me Lord (Thuma Mina)” during the offering. Clearly augmenting worship rather than entertaining, this group was wonderful.
St. John has acquired an exceptional interim senior Pastor, John Dodson. He is providing leadership during the replacement process for Pastor Dave Beckett who accepted the call to become the Methodist conference Superintendent for Alaska. This evening Pastor Dodson provided an exceptional extemporaneous sermon using the story from John of Jesus’ changing the water to wine at Cana as his basis. I was also pleased to discover St. John, true to it’s special needs mission as previously reported, opening it’s arms to several special needs individuals during this service.
What I Liked
*service was slightly shorter (45 min vs. normal 1 hour)
*tonights topic was relevant – a fresh look at John’s gospel
*worshipful and relevant music by their praise group
*a worshipful audience of 35 people
*Pastor Dodson’s lively, extemporaneous style
*acceptance of the special needs individuals
What I Disliked
*offering did not except visitors
*more people not taking advantage of this great service format
I recommend this service highly. Along with others, I’ve come to know St. John UMC as a friendly, and dependable Anchorage church.