Monthly Archives: October 2012

Enjoyable St. Benedict’s Visit

I’ve visited many of Anchorage’s Catholic churches, but don’t visit as often as I should. This is due, in part, to the fact my religious orientation is not Catholic, and there are actually relatively few Catholic churches in our area. This is because those churches are intensively used by various age and ethnic groups.

The result is that there doesn’t seem to be as much reason for me to return to experience the various flavors of services offered, and that I can’t fully experience the services in all their differing linguistic forms. So far I’ve visited all but one major Catholic church in the area.

During one of my Bean’s volunteer stints recently, I served lunch with a volunteer group from St. Benedict’s and had an agreeable conversation with them about their church which sparked my interest in visiting.

October 7 found me trudging through the rain from their large parking lot to the sound of a chiming carillon. Entering the church I was not greeted by anyone nor received a bulletin. The church was quite full already with a wide range of ages represented. I proceeded to the front pew, in front of the pulpit and altar. The church has a contemporary feel with beautiful wood accents. It could have been any modern church in Anchorage except for the statuary and stations of the cross around the sanctuary. The altar is beautifully carved with Alaskan scenes tastefully represented. [img_assist|nid=162799|title=St Benedict’s Altar, Podium, & Stained Glass|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]

St. Benedict’s pastor is Fr. Leo Walsh. Dressed in green, the color for this period in the church calendar, he gave a friendly greeting to all visitors, even mentioning one by name. It’s amazing how often churches forget to give even such a greeting, a true disservice to their religion, whatever it is.

The theme for the day was Marriage which was preceded by a reading from Genesis regarding Adam and Eve. The homily was delivered by Deacon Green, one of St. Benedict’s two Deacons. He talked about marriage and divorce in Jesus day. His remarks were clear and well-spoken, on a topic few churches these days are brave enough to deal with.

Green threw out several thought questions. First, “How do we value our spouses?” Secondly, “What are we doing in this parish to support marriage?” Deacon Green’s remarks were clear and well-spoken. He also mentioned that the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, was convening a conference on October 11 (50th Anniversary of Vatican II) with regard to Catholics sharing their faith. He challenged those present to be able answer the question, “Why are you Catholic?”. Deacon Green’s homily can be heard by clicking HERE.

The music at St. Benedict’s is augmented by organ, piano, and choir, all positioned in mid-sanctuary, a most pleasing effect. The choir special was beautiful, accompanied by piano and a vocal solo.

The Eucharist took approximately one-half of the service time with its various readings and rituals. During Fr. Leo’s celebration of the Eucharist, his singing parts and chants were rendered in a clear mellifluous voice, a real treat compared to other Catholic services I’ve attended locally. During the actual serving of the Eucharist many in the congregation waited to be served by Fr. Leo instead of the lay servers. The service was quiet and respectful except for a number of crying children present who might have been more comfortable in the cry room. For whatever reason their parents chose not to use it resulting in a quite noisy sanctuary at times.

At the end of the service I almost fainted when Fr. Leo gave another warm welcome to all guests adding his hope that we had been blessed by attending. This is such a rare occurrence by clergy in their churches. I’m overjoyed just to note it. It sure felt good!

If you are of the Catholic persuasion and looking for a church, treat yourself to a visit to St. Benedict’s. Something wonderful is working here and is worth seeing first-hand. I hope to feature Fr. Leo Walsh in an interview in the not-too-distant future. Finally, their website is fully functional and a treat to look at. It offers those critical items prospective guests or members need and is developed and maintained by a member.

ChangePoint Hosts Ed Stetzer – Noted Church Growth Expert

September 23, 2012 found me at ChangePoint in response to an invitation to hear author, researcher, pastor Ed Stetzer of Nashville.

Stetzer’s primary responsibility is Vice President of Research and Ministry Development for LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the world’s largest Christian Resource Providers, and affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville.[img_assist|nid=162775|title=Ed Stetzer|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=235|height=400]

I’ll spare readers the pain of my description of ChangePoint’s lengthy and loud (105+ db*) musical service which I’ve commented upon before, except to note the first of five musical selections, ” I Am a Friend of God”, lasted 8-10 minutes.

Stetzer, in town at the request of the local Southern Baptist Convention to do a training conference, spoke with a strong message titled Engaging All Gods People in Mission. He opened his remarks with a reading from 1 Peter 4 using it as a template for his remarks.

He shared that according to a study of 7,000 churches, most people who come to church are passive spectators rather than active participants in the mission of God, further noting that in large churches many people come for the ‘show’ but don’t come for the ‘serve’. They come to watch but not to be a part. “God has called all to be a part of meaningful ministry and mission”, he said. These are brave remarks and would likely get him driven out the pulpit in some Anchorage churches I’ve visited.

Stetzer followed this up with four key points.

1. All have gifts. 1 Peter 4 v. 10
He cautioned serving won’t make you a Christian but that Christians serve. Citing the 80/20 rule he observed that 80% of the work of the church is done by 20% of the people. Noting that large churches like ChangePoint can fill up the church with customers or consumers, who consume religious goods and services. He pointed out that his is not what this verse says. Each is given a gift to use, but the “passage and practice are not aligned”. Churches set clergy apart from the laypeople. He further opined that when churches build theater-like spaces to worship in, we should not be surprised if people act like ‘show goers’. Our language, terminology, and worship places work against this Biblical principle of God-given gifts.

2. God intends all to use these gifts. 1 Peter 4 v. 10 – 2nd part
All called to the ministry. Where and among whom is your ministry? God has called you to be a co-laborer not customer at ChangePoint, good managers of the grace of God. What does it look like to be a missional community in the service of God? Don’t have the attitude that you come to pay, pray, and stay out of the way so other people can do the work.

3. For which he empowers us. 1 Peter 4 v. 11
Gift of the Holy Spirit empowers our speech, a spiritual gift. All believers are chosen, gifted, and called. We are to speak AND to serve by the strength God supplies. Too many people are riding in the wagon instead of pulling it.

4. To bring God glory. 1 Peter 4 v. 11 – 2nd part
The church should be filled by people who are gifted by God and are using those gifts for his glory. God has called all of you to make a difference for His kingdom. We can’t do it under our own power. God will provide the strength. 80% of people are spending their time being the object of the ministry. God is to be glorified by the use of these gifts in service.

To listen to this entire well-delivered Bible-based message, click HERE and select the September 23 message.

My brief synopsis here does not give just attention to Stetzer’s remarks and delivery. Please take the time to listen to this well-delivered and much-needed sermon. I applaud ChangePoint’s courage in asking Stetzer to speak. Some mega-churches in America are experiencing significant declines, due in part to many of the issues Stetzer outlined. Whatever you think about ChangePoint, I feel they are a brave church to address this very real and thorny issue. Virtually every church in Alaska has this problem.

* At the ABBA and Anchorage Symphony performance last night at the PAC, I took a sound meter reading during a typical rock number. It was 95 db! 2,500 concert goers were hearing the music perfectly at significantly lower and less punishing levels than many Anchorage churches deliver every Sunday.

Foodstock V: Frosty Nights This Friday – Great Music & Help the Less Fortunate

Another fabulous Foodstock concert is coming to Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church this Friday at 7 p.m. The purpose behind these concerts is to raise donations of money or food for those less fortunate in our community. All donations go to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA) to help them acquire and distribute food. LSSA’s food distribution program serves over 25,000 individuals annually.

Performers at Foodstock donate their services in support of LSSA. Featured artists for Foodstock V are:

7:00 p.m. Ken Baehr, original songs, singer/guitarist

7:30 p.m. Nikki and Fingers, Country

8:00 p.m. Mike Lane, classic blues guitar

8:30 p.m. Bayou Glacee, Cajun dance band

I attended Foodstock IV in May and found it to be a wonderful event. Click here to read my blog post about it. Although there is no fee, you are encouraged to bring a food donation, especially canned goods or other non-perishable food items. Or better yet, a freewill donation for LSSA provides them even greater flexibility to acquire commodities wholesale.

To download a poster of the event see below.

Robin Meyers, “Underground Church” Author, at St. Mary’s This Weekend

Looking for a spiritual challenge? If so then don’t miss hearing Robin Meyers this weekend. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, in the inaugural event of The Carolyn Penniman Wohlforth lecture series, is bringing Meyers to town for a weekend of presentations.

Dr. Meyers is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, a tenured professor in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University, an author, a syndicated columnist, and an award-winning commentator for National Public Radio. He has been the Senior Minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC church of Oklahoma City since 1985, the fastest growing UCC church in the Kansas Oklahoma conference.

The author of five books, his most recent book is The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus. In it Meyers proposes that the faithful recapture the spirit of the early church with its emphasis on what Christians do rather than what they believe. He also proposes that the best way to recapture the spirit of the early Christian church is to recognize that Jesus-following was and must be again subversive in the best sense of the word because the gospel taken seriously turns the world upside down. No matter how the church may organize itself or worship, the defining characteristic of church of the future will be its Jesus-inspired countercultural witness.

–Friday, October 12, 7:00 p.m.
Lecture: The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus
–Saturday, October 13, 10:00-11:30 a.m.
Presentation: The Risks and Rewards of Fearless Preaching (lunch available for $10)
–Saturday, October 13, 1:00-2:30 p.m.
Workshop: The Seven Characteristics of the Underground Church
–Sunday, October 14, 10:30-11:30 a.m.
Presentation: Saving Jesus From the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus
–Sunday, October 14, 11:30 a.m.
Service: Dr. Meyers preaching in worship from Gen. 1:26-31a on: Original Blessing.

All presentations at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (Tudor & Lake Otis) and free of charge.

Preaching Politics from the Pulpit: Is It Permitted?

In my visits to various churches in the Anchorage – Mat/Su area over the past 12 years, I’ve heard politics coming from the pulpits of some churches. As we are in the heat of the political season during this presidential election year, some churches may be tempted to delve into politics. Churches that do so risk losing their tax exemptions.

The Pew Forum has just released its latest guide:
Preaching Politics From the Pulpit:
2012 Guide to IRS Rules on Political Activity by Religious Organizations.

This valuable guide is available in it’s entirety as a download below.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday Coming October 7: Some Churches Tempting Fate

My last post spoke to the rules in place since 1954 which prohibit tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from preaching politics from the pulpit. Several organizations are now actively seeking pastors to flaunt these rules to provoke the IRS to act against them.

One such entity is Alliance Defending Freedom who is promoting Pulpit Freedom Sunday on October 7. They are actively encouraging pastors to sign up to use their pulpits to deliver political messages this coming Sunday. It is claimed that over 1,000 pastors intend to exercise their political messaging muscle this coming Sunday. ADF’s blog, Speak Up Movement, is the mouthpiece for gaining pastoral approval. You can view their assorted pastoral messages by clicking here or here. As for me, I’m not amused by pastors who use the pulpit for political purposes. There is an appalling abuse of religious tax-exempt privilege in this country that churches take unfair advantage of.

I thought the Grassley investigation into Prosperity Gospel Televangelists would have established some baselines, but that did not happen. Personally I think many tax exempt preachers, and the statistics bear this out, who make significant salaries and collect benefits the general public are not entitled to, make a mockery of equity in this country. Could it be possible that some of the reason support for organized religion is fading may be due to these perceived inequities by Christians and/or potential Christians?

Today Huffington Post ran an excellent article by Steve Siebold on this very issue raising the question of whether the $71 Billion saved by churches being tax-exempt was fair and just.
Click here to view .

Regardless of your feelings on this topic, it will be interesting to see how this vital issue plays out in the religious community.

Christ Our Savior Lutheran: Great Weekly Updates

Some Anchorage churches do a fabulous job of keeping their members informed and in-touch with weekly updates full of vital information about church activities. Several churches share these updates or newsletters with me. From time-to-time I proudly share them with the readers of this blog.

Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church in South Anchorage is one such church. Each week Pastor Dan Bollerud sends out a heartfelt, colorful, visually stimulating, and information packed update. It only takes a few minutes to read but is worth the time spent, even if you’re not a Lutheran or attend his church.[img_assist|nid=162562|title=Colorful Forgiveness Update: COSLC|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=490]

One of COSLC’s latest updates, Colorful Forgiveness, is HERE.

Another recent update can be viewed by clicking below.

Dancing Under the Stars
These emailed updates do a far better job of communicating church activities and parishioner entreaties than the usual dull and boring newsletters many churches mail to their members.

Thanks Pastor Dan for giving us something of value to chew on!