On my previous visit to Community Covenant Church – Eagle River, (Click here to read my previous review) I was most impressed with my experience, making a mental note to do a return visit. This was finally accomplished today at their 11 a.m. service, and was even more than I could ask for.
From the warm greeting and welcome, to the powerful music and ultimately the life-changing message, I felt at home. It was a most unusual experience. From my perspective as a guest, too many of my church visits seem to be distancing experiences. I highly recommend Community Covenant if you are searching for a solid, warm church with a personalizing feel that instantly makes it seem like your home church. Living off far W. Northern Lights, I drove it in less than 25 minutes.
Warm Greetings – Warm Feelings
Community Covenant has plenty of parking and it was nicely organized and laid out, even with the plenteous snow. Few Anchorage churches have organized their uncurbed parking as well as they have. A man was holding the door open and greeting each person as they entered; another man inside shook my hand, greeting me. A third man handed me a bulletin, greeting me as I entered the sanctuary. After I took my seat a fourth man came by and greeted me, offering his name. Kiddingly, I asked if I was sitting in his seat, to which he laughed and said there were no reserved seats at Community Covenant. None of these greetings were intrusive, but clearly reflected an uncommon warmth in our church community.[img_assist|nid=156342|title=Community Covenant’s Praise Group|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=162]
Right Musical Note Set
The musical group gathered in a circle for prayer, in front of the platform, before taking their places. As they started playing, the leader invited those gathered to join them by standing to sing praises. I was so shocked I almost fell off my chair. Normally I hear worship leaders telling people to stand or sit, rather than inviting them, a major difference. The seven member group played and sang respectful but mainly contemporary selections. They had eye contact with the audience and even gave brief testimonies on one occasion. The music appeared to be purposely selected to be thematically in accord with the sermon. My favorite song was a beautiful arranged version of that old hymn Holy, Holy, Holy. It sent chills down my spine! Clearly Community Covenant uses music to complement the message, not as an entertaining draw.[img_assist|nid=156343|title=Pastor Mark Preaching|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=301|height=450]
Great Message – Unusual Delivery
Before introducing the scripture reader, Pastor Mark Meredith pointed out the church had been not displaying the scripture on the screen up front, an action to encourage more Bible use by congregants. He noted that they were restoring the screen use for scripture because many were using iPhones, iPods, Kindles, Nooks and other means to view their scripture. He did note there were Bibles in the back for anyone wanting one. (Personally I use my iPhone and have many translations to help guide me in better understanding as scripture is read.) The scripture read was Ephesians 4:20-32.
He is currently presenting a series of messages titled “Stuck in a Rut”. Today’s message was “The Rut of Unforgiveness”. An easy going speaker, he is not bound to the pulpit as are many other pastors, reading their remarks. He prefers to wander on the first couple of steps of the sanctuary platform staying in close contact with his people. His extemporaneous speaking style was easy to follow. After reviewing the contents and applicability of the scripture, he invited two women onstage. What happened next was amazing! They described a hurt that happened between the two of them that seriously damaged their relationship, with each other and with the church. Through a series of pastoral intercessions and mediations, each was led to understand the importance of seeking forgiveness and moving ahead in Christian love.[img_assist|nid=156344|title=Women Sharing Their Hurt and Forgiveness Story|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=211]
You can hear this exchange in the audio of the sermon but I was struck by the “teachable moment” that occurred in this message. Pastor Mark served as the bridge to connect the dots during their conversation. Too few churches emphasize the practicality of the well-lived Christian life, and the necessity of forgiveness. I thoroughly enjoyed this message and presentation. You will too and can access it here via iTunes.
Offering Excepted Guests
A clearly worded notice in the bulletin said guests were not expected to give. This was most unusual and something I’ve only seen in two other Anchorage-area churches (Scenic Park Bible and Rabbit Creek Community). I’ve observed pastors tend to be very protective of the offering. When queried many staunchly defend the practice of collecting from everyone, including guests. Thank you Community Covenant. This is a very guest friendly practice and goes far to dispel a key guest bugaboo, “it’s all about the money”.
Beautiful Communion Service
Communion is a wonderful end to any service due to its deep symbolism. Pastor Mark explained the symbolism of the bread and the cup, noting there would be weekly communion during this series of important messages. Indicating there were various communion stations around the sanctuary, he soley served communion in front. During communion the worship leader played quiet and respectful music on his guitar. When communion was complete, we sang a song and left. I was most impressed with every facet of this service.
Whether everything I experienced was exquisitely planned, down to every detail, I don’t know. It’s pretty easy to tell if it’s just icing or there’s cake underneath. I had a nice slice of cake this morning and very much enjoyed it. This visit, though my second to this church, bore out my observation that great congregations are consistent. Virtually every revisit to a dysfunctional church has borne out this observation.
Finally, the icing on the cake was to see that same man opening the door and wishing people a great day as they exited after the service. Most churches don’t do this. It really makes a difference. Thank you sir![img_assist|nid=156348|title=Pastor Mark Answers Questions After the Service|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=437]