Monthly Archives: April 2010

Wasilla Assembly of God – Fruitless & Puzzling Service

Invited to visit this longstanding church, I left unfulfilled and disappointed. Entering Wasilla Assembly of God on March 7, 2010, I was not greeted. I detected a strong, pungent odor of bacon and eggs, a first in my many church visits.

Lengthy musical selections by a young contemporary Christian band consumed the first half-hour or more. Filling out the first hour was a lengthy ‘meet n’ greet’ and long buildup to the morning offering. Announcements were still being given as the first hour concluded. I quickly grew tired of the pastor’s showboating with his microphone.

Finally, I was blown away by the other pastors and elders hijacking the service for the last half-hour to do an extended personal and video birthday tribute for the pastor in honor of his 11 years as pastor. Church was then dismissed for a spaghetti feed. This service was in stark contrast to the recent 40th anniversary commemoration of Archbishop Hurley’s years as bishop in Alaska. Fr. Hurley presided at that service, delivered an outstanding homily, and celebrated mass which I blogged recently. I felt as though my hour and a half was basically wasted at Wasilla Assembly of God, something I rarely say in this blog.

Not Friendly
My inviter cautioned they were not friendly. He was right. In all fairness, after entering to the smell of bacon and eggs, and no initial greeting, we did get a greeting from a person inside the church who came over as we were finding a seat. He did come back, gave us a bulletin, and shook my hand again. A woman also came by and introduced herself.[img_assist|nid=151261|title=Senior Pastor Ed Kalnins Leading Out|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]

Musical Lack of Surety
At start time, the band came onstage and like so many church bands, said “stand up”. The music was loud and upbeat. I did notice that some in the band did not seem to know the music or words being delivered. The lead female vocalist kept walking over to read her musical lines on a music stand. Many of the songs were unfamiliar to me, a church music musician, running to excessively long renditions, 7-10 minutes, with many repeats and unnecessary extensions. This continued, painfully for me, for 35-40 minutes. The church sanctuary interior is round without windows. The stage covers about a third of the interior. The middle third or so is has a couple of pews and lots of open area. Many members and children congregated in this area during this extended musical period and sang, danced or swayed to the music.

The Meet n’ Greet
I dislike the “meet n’ greet” in church services because it tends to disguise the lack of friendliness in a church. Pastors love it because it “forces” their members to interact. Visitors, for the most part, find it to be the most uncomfortable part of the service. We get to watch and listen to members kibbutzing about anything and everything, mostly to each other not the visitors. I’ve overheard so many conversations that have absolutely nothing to do with church, fellowship, and spirituality. We were greeted by several members during this period, but I felt it was more because we stood out like sore thumbs, rather than their eagerness to extend genuine friendliness. This was a fairly young crowd and we were older. The “meet n’ greet” was excessively long in my opinion.

The Offering Appeal
For once I agreed with an offering appeal, this church’s. It was quite lengthy, and designated for remodeling of the church starting with the bathrooms. After visiting the men’s room prior to the service, I must concur. I’ve never visited a church men’s room so in need of repair. But, as with many churches, visitors were not told they need not feel required to give, an unfriendly omission.

Preliminaries and the Sermon (NOT!)
The pastor, onstage during this time, gave various reports and announcements. His delivery used a rock star type of showboating with the microphone which I found disconcerting. You know the type where the “star” points the microphone out to the crowd to engage them in some type of response, usually adulation. I found it most annoying and detracting from what should be normative spiritual behavior. One hour in, announcements were still flowing. Then the other pastors and elders came onstage and hijacked the service noting it was the pastor’s birthday after eleven years on the job. After personal congratulations and testimonies, they projected, onscreen, an unbearably long video tribute with pre-recorded tributes from people I did not recognize.

The entire service concluded with the announcement they were adjourning to the fellowship hall for a spaghetti potluck. My friend and I left in stunned silence. Outside it was a sunny day, with fresh snow on the ground and mountains. As a visitor, I experienced little I could take away from this service.

Occasionally this type of behavior will be seen in churches. One tends to shake their head. In my opinion, most personalizing tributes to individuals in churches need to be left at the door. As a body, Christ’s church has a wonderful privilege of proclaiming the message of blood-bought freedom to every captive, and should not be trapped in self-aggrandizing performances. I feel Wasilla Assembly of God needs to determine what it wants to be when they grow up. With an 11-year pastor, it felt like they’ve achieved what they want to be at this moment.

1st Valley Visit – Sacred Heart Wasilla

Acting on one of a number of invitations to visit Mat-Su Valley churches, I trekked out on March 7 with a friend to visit Sacred Heart Parish in Wasilla. Though not greeted, per se, I received a warm smile from the bulletin passer. Finding seats, I was soon involved in a warm, welcoming service with a caring congregation shepherded by a sensitive priest.

Meeting in an airy and light sanctuary, Sacred Heart proved to be everything and more than my inviter said it would be. The priest’s homily was a brief Lenten reflection, delivered in an articulate and extemporaneous manner. Unusually reverent and quiet for a Catholic church, I found this service very likeable. If you are of the Catholic persuasion, you would do well to go out of your way to visit this congregation.[img_assist|nid=151149|title=Sacred Heart – Wasilla|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=164]

Invited I Come
One of this blog’s readers invited me, some time ago, to come visit her church in the Mat-Su. I try to incorporate reader invitations and suggestions in my visit schedule, but I’m not always able to respond quickly. Then, there’s that thing about the drive. The Valley is a reasonable area to do church visits, providing I’ve covered the major churches in Anchorage. I’ve still got some major churches to cover in Anchorage but decided I’d delayed long enough: the time had come to visit the Valley.

Catholic Welcome
I’ve come to associate most Catholic churches with being less than welcoming. Generally, if you come to a Catholic church, you’re coming for a reason. You’re not just shopping for a church. I’m a rare breed, one who actively visits churches to see what makes them tick. So looking for a warm welcome in a Catholic church is probably a false expectation. However there is that thing where scripture contains numerous admonitions for God’s people to extend hospitality. I did receive a smile from the bulletin passer which is more than I receive in many churches.

Passing through Sacred Heart’s lobby just before the celebrants entered, I observed them standing in a circle, in prayer to their God. This made a powerful impression upon me as I rarely witness such a scene in any of my church visitations.

Beautiful, Light & Airy
Sacred Heart’s sanctuary is square, providing seating on three sides. It’s high ceilings and twenty-three stained glass windows, take advantage of the plentiful light. It has a contemporary look and feel, accentuated by an old-world touch with the few images, and stations of the cross around the edges.[img_assist|nid=151150|title=Infant Baptism|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=177]

Early in the service, Father Bill conducted an infant baptism, inviting the parents forward. There were numerous people standing in the back that he kindly asked to take seats, promoting a more orderly feel to the service. The infant baptism was completed with further ceremony later in the service.

Lenten Homily
Father Bill’s lenten homily was brief, to the point, articulate, and extemporaneous. He talked about the gospel as providing a 2nd chance. Reflecting on Lent, he said it was a time to seek God’s forgiveness, and also a time to pledge to recommit to change their lives. He said more in his brief homily than many pastors say in their lengthy sermons. It was memorable.[img_assist|nid=151151|title=Father Bill Greeting a Parisioner|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=250|height=368]

Unusual Offering Plea
Fr. Bill noted there would be a 2nd offering that day to retire their mortgage. If accomplished, it would mean paying off the church in 11 years. That certainly is a notable achievement for this congregation!

The music of the church was provided by a small but effective choir.

During the mass, Fr. Bill demonstrated a great singing voice, one in tune and strong. I consider this to be a great asset for a priest!

I was left with a strong impression this congregation was happy to come to church, loved their priest, and was strongly committed to Catholic ideas and ideals. Despite hard floors in the church, their quietness and reverence gave me a new respect for their belief, because they walked their talk. I also saw a committment to their school. There was a celebration reception after church in the fellowship area. Although I did not stay for this period of breaking bread and mingling, I have no doubt it was a happy time for many. To my Valley reader, thanks for inviting me. If I were of the Catholic persuasion, I would return to this church for a 2nd visit as I left hungry for more.[img_assist|nid=151153|title=Sanctuary Interior|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=275|height=490]

Putting Easter in Perspective

Renowned British theologian N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, summarized his feelings about Easter in his recent best-selling book, Surprised By Hope.

So how can we learn to live as wide-awake people – as Easter people? I have come to believe that many churches simply throw Easter away year by year, and I want to plead that we rethink how we do it.

Easter is about the wild delight of God’s creative power, and at least we ought to shout Alleluias instead of murmuring them. Why? Because Easter is about the real Jesus coming out of the real tomb and getting God’s new kingdom under way.

Which brings me to Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend 40 days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little bit gloomy, bringing it to a peak with Holy Week…and then only having a single day of celebration!

Easter week itself (which starts today) ought to be an eight-day festival with champagne served after morning prayer or even before with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder that people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t at least throw our hats in the air?

Is it any wonder that the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to 40-days of fasting and gloom?

Take Easter away, and you don’t have the New Testament. Take Easter away and you don’t have Christianity. Take Easter away and you are still in your sins. This is our greatest day. We should put the flags out!

Happy Easter – 2010

This is what Christianity is about. Today, Christians worldwide celebrate the resurrection of the crucified Christ in many ways, traditions and expressions. Happy Easter and thank you for reading and contributing to this blog. I’ll be out there today visiting churches and writing about my impressions in the coming week.

Chris Thompson

Good Friday 2010 Has Arrived

Good Friday in 1964 saw Anchorage beset with a disaster of unprecedented proportions, the Good Friday Earthquake. Almost 2,000 years ago at this time, a disaster of unexpected consequences worked it’s way through Jerusalem in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Today, Christians worldwide remember this event with somber observances. Practiced differently by various religions, it still amounts to the same thing: Christ was killed on this day to ransom mankind from evil.

In many churches, alters are draped, interiors are darkened, and music reflects the darkest emotions and remembrances. Not all churches have services as they believe the focal point of Jesus’ life should be remembered in every sermon and observance of their religion. Thus, most Christians today tend to unite on the centrality of Christendom, the death, burial, and unexpected hope of the resurrection to be celebrated on Easter Sunday.

Whatever your belief, I encourage you to take an opportunity to share another faith’s observance of Good Friday. A Google search using these search terms, good friday services 2010 anchorage,* shows over 71,000 results which should help direct you to a meaningful service in the area.
*Google searches do not require capitalizations or punctuations. My terms are intentional.

Maundy Thursday is Here!

During Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, is celebrated. It commemorates the disciples last supper with Jesus. The last supper is considered by many traditions to be the founding of the institution of the Eucharist. Some churches also symbolically reenact the washing, by Jesus, of the disciples feet.

Many Anchorage churches observe Maundy Thursday with services. A Google search using the following search terms, pulled over 3,000 local references to Maundy Thursday this year, many referring to services.
“maundy thursday 2010 anchorage”

I hope many of you will take the opportunity to explore this rich religious tradition this evening.