Monthly Archives: January 2011

Local Churches Giving Up On Meaningful Appreciation of Scripture?

Last Sunday found me at the final area performance of The Prophets by Brad Sherrill. St. Mary’s Episcopal had a great crowd but I estimate over 50 more people could have been accommodated.

Brad’s dramatic recitation of portions of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and some of the lesser prophets literally brought their words to life against a backdrop of projected scenes. The effect was awe inspiring, bringing the viewer in close contact with this important biblical material having strong parallels with our present day.[img_assist|nid=155552|title=The Prophets – Brad Sherrill at St. Mary’s Episcopal – January 23, 2001|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=223]

Despite aggressive promotion of this production in the local church community, very few actually attended these performances. I was given tickets to share with pastors across a wide spectrum of Anchorage churches in hopes, after seeing the performance, they might encourage their congregations to attend. Most pastors approached had “previous engagements” or other things to do (reminiscent of the excuses noted by Jesus in the Parable of the Great Feast). I was shocked I could not give them away. Only two local pastors took me up on the tickets. After the performance one wrote me saying, “I was struck not only by the sheer amount of scripture Mr. Sherrill has memorized, but also by the voice he gave to that scripture. Often the emotion and inflection of God’s Word is “two dimensional” when we read it. In Mr. Sherrill’s performance, I was amazed at the life he brought to those messages. It was refreshing.”

I’ve been wrestling with this and wondering why such lack of interest and support? One explanation I can suggest is, because these performances were sponsored primarily by mainline churches in Anchorage, not the evangelical or non-mainline community, they were not given attention. After reading a statement by well-known theologian, Old Testament scholar/teacher, and commenter on the prophets, Walter Brueggemann, this week, it may be other issues are involved. Two years ago, in an interview before the 2008 elections he observed:

What we have to start with is that the biblical text is more interesting and important than anything else we have to say. But that requires a great deal of reeducation of the pastor and the congregation because so many pastors and so many congregations are looking for simplistic answers that are clever and cute. And there aren’t any clever, cute answers that will now help us in the situation we’re in. It just requires harder work than that.

[W]e’ve done this incredible dumbing-down. We need to work at helping congregations engage in hard intellectual work. But that’s very difficult.

I went to…church yesterday and it was marvelous. But I looked around during the scripture and nobody was listening. In fact, they had a high school girl read it, and they didn’t even have the microphone on. Nobody was even upset or restless that they couldn’t hear the text. Because they don’t expect anything from the text.

Well, I don’t blame those priests. I blame the whole church culture that has communicated to people that nothing important is happening here. And how we get at that requires great intentionality now. And it’s going to be a long-term comeback. I’m not sanguine about doing something between now and the election. We gotta do what we can do.

We are in a sorry state in the church. A couple Sundays of heroic action doesn’t cut any ice, I think.

What we have to help people see is that when the local congregation meets, we are engaged in an act of alternative imagination. People don’t know that.

Annie Dillard says in one of her books [Holy the Firm] that if people understood what was going on in church they would wear crash helmets. But nobody wears crash helmets. Nobody even stays awake. We’re in a very sorry way. To recover from that is huge now.

As I visit local churches I rarely hear scripture used in lengthy recitation. What I tend to hear is a verse or two read and expounded upon, and mostly augmented by interesting stories, experiences and analogies. There are churches who extensively use lengthy passages during their services, especially mainline churches with a strong liturgies coupled with Old and New Testament readings. Brueggemann’s quote noted lack of attention to the readings. Often they’re delivered by someone who is a last-minute fill-in, or one unfamiliar with the readings, stumbling over the wording, and devoid of expression. Nonetheless, if you are a professing Christian, you might well want to be intimately familiar with much scripture, as it contains the basis for your belief.

A recent national poll reveals that, only 25 percent of Evangelical Protestants, 20 percent of other Protestants, and 7 percent of Catholics read the Bible daily. The poll showed that 44 percent of Catholics “rarely or never” read the Bible, while this is true of only 7 percent of Evangelicals, and 13 percent of non-Evangelical Protestants.

In closing, I’m curious if the position of Alaska’s churches, at or near the bottom of national surveys, is being influenced by this marked lack of interest in scripture. Anyway, Brad Sherrill has departed Alaska, but a few of us will long remember his impactful presentations. And…I’ll certainly dig into scripture more than ever.

At Last! Prophets Performances Start Wednesday

I’m excited Brad Sherrill’s postponed tour of Prophets performances starts this week at Central Lutheran Church – Anchorage, Wed and Thur (1/19 & 1/20), 7 p.m. (Tickets available at the door.)

Additional Performances Scheduled
January 21 – St. John UMC – Anchorage – 7 p.m.
January 22 – St. John Lutheran – Palmer – 7 p.m.
January 23 – St. Elizabeth Ann Seton – Anchorage – 2 p.m.
January 23 – St. Mary’s Episcopal – Anchorage – 7 p.m.
January 24 – Soldotna United Methodist7 p.m.
January 25 – Northern Light United Church – Juneau 7 p.m.

A preview of the performance is available at this link.

My previous blog post on this performance is located by clicking this link.

I asked Walt Hays, dedicated Methodist pastor and tireless promoter of these performances, a few questions about this unique event.

CT – Why would someone come to a performance such as this?
WH – I think the performance will be of interest to those who want to know more about the Old Testament Prophets. In our day, we use the word “prophetic” to describe the lives and writing of men and women like Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela who did not count the cost but lived out a message that would help reform society in race relations, concern for the poor and political equality.

Their model was the Old Testament Prophets who “spoke truth to power” and were reviled and imprisoned for their words and actions. They were not philosophers but ordinary men who dealt with the “nitty-gritty” issues of widows and orphans, corrupt judges and dishonesty in the marketplace. They were not on the “A” list for the best dinners and parties – they were often outcasts and lived at the margins of society. Their tongues were a two-edged sword that condemned the uncaring rich and powerful and gave comfort to the poor and those in exile.

CT – What about children? Would they gain anything from attending?
WH – Yes! Children and youth often only hear a few verses of scripture read or a short passage that is excerpted for their age-level for a Sunday School story. This production will give a great overview of the themes the Prophets addressed (big ideas) — judgment, forgiveness, restoration, homecoming and a new covenant. The 21 minutes of big screen, high-quality multi-media with images of stones, deserts, water, children, prisoners, cracked pots, a globe, water, light and the trappings of a courtroom will enhance the spoken word and these themes. Kids and adults should come away with a greater appreciation of God’s great seeking love as revealed by the Prophets.

CT – What is the significance of the prophets for today? I thought those things were done away with at the cross?
WH – It is the task of every generation to reclaim the Prophet’s message and is probably best summed up by the great verse from Micah: “…the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love and to live in humble fellowship with our God” (Micah 6:8 TEV ).

The writings of the Prophets were known to Jesus and were one of the foundational pillars on which He built his teaching. When this amazing teacher-healer came on the scene, the immediate response was that “He was one of the Prophets”. We need to reaffirm these great images and themes as we conduct our faith journeys as individuals and as members of faith communities that see ourselves as a “pilgrim people” intent on doing God’s will.

A downloadable brochure is also available below.

John Carpenter, Former KTUU Sports Anchor, Ordained at BRBC

Popular local TV figure, John Carpenter, former longtime sports anchor at KTUU-TV, Channel 2, was ordained tonight at Baxter Road Bible Church .

Carpenter will serve as Associate Pastor assisting long-time Pastor Bob Mather. Mather proudly noted that well-known Pastor Rick Benjamin had introduced the idea to him recently. This fast-growing church in the Muldoon area will certainly benefit from this leadership addition. [img_assist|nid=155182|title=Pastor Bob Mather and John Carpenter Prior to Ordination|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=293]

BRBC’s praise group gave a peppy start to the ordination service with four up-tempo renditions of praise songs, capped by the Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, and Ed Cash favorite “How Great Is Our God”. The 45-minute ordination service was brief but meaningful. Pastor Mather’s remarks focused on 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul’s delineation of the duties of a pastor. Carpenter was accompanied on the platform by his wife, Kelley, who is already a strong partner to him. I was quite impressed that both John and Kelley were walking up the aisles of the church, before the service, shaking hands, talking with members.

Unusual in my church visiting experiences, a footwashing was performed by Carpenter with a young man member to emphasize the servanthood nature of ministry. Pastor Mather noted the connection with Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples prior to the last supper.

The elders anointed Carpenter, laid their hands on both he and Kelley, praying an ordination prayer over them. In his brief post-ordination remarks Carpenter, quite overcome with the emotion of the moment, thanked all for the opportunity to be their pastor. Noted for his wit, he lightened up the moment by apologizing to his son. “Sam, I’m sorry but I’ve just made you a preacher’s kid”.

After a final song by the praise group, Pastor Rick Benjamin, a longtime friend of “Carp”, concluded the service with a powerful prayer. I look forward to hearing more from this dynamic little church on Baxter Road. It all begins with Pastor Carpenter preaching for the next three Sundays about why he quit a highly visible, well paid job, trading it for higher demands and a lower salary at Baxter Road Bible Church.