Today’s report will be a little different. I did visit a church, but as a guest preacher. I will write a similar report to my other ones, but I will not get to writing/completing it until Monday, since the church has an evening service as well.
I had never previously attended the church I visited. It has a reputation somehow in the region for being very conservative in the context of our congregations of our denomination. What that means is there is room to expect older songs to be sung from a previous edition of the hymnal, to expect an organ to be the main instrument of accompaniment, possibly supplemented with a piano. It means reserved and even stoic singing with minimal body movement, though vocal gusto is allowed. It means as a pastor one should be prepared to see a lot of older faces, leaning to’rd dour in their facade. It means expect these faces to sour even more if certain mandatory elements of a service do not occur, such as the reading of the 10 commandments and/or the Apostles Creed. It means women will certainly not be Elders and possibly even not Deacons. Clothing will be plain, not excessive in cost, in fashion statement making, but not rags either. That’s what conservative in our context means.
Well for the most part, it was not that. At all. Songs were projected on an overhead screen, with one on the back wall so that I and the worship leaders could see it. The worship leading team consisted of drums, an electric guitar, piano and four vocalists. For the closing song some clapping erupted! There were female Deacons. There were a lot of older folks, and the dress code was on track with what I expected. But there were clear breakouts from the norm as well, showing a congregation in transition out of tradition into today, or at least yesterday. Hey, it’s progress, celebrate it!
I preached my “Dirty Cups” illustrated sermon on Luke 11:37-41 titled “Cleaning the Inside” and of course I can’t give my opinion on that, because I’m completely biased. In the evening I preached on the Lost Sons parable in Luke 15, a sermon titled “Celebration of Being Found.” What I can say is that I was thrilled that two different people came up to me after the evening service to specifically tell me how they had appreciated the messages. One man told of how they had helped him see things in a new way (He said I could probably get a job teaching Bible or teaching my style of preaching! I smiled and thanked him.) Both of these thanker/complementers came across to me as genuine, which is an experience for any pastor that increases the sense of privilege they have to bring God’s word into a congregation in that way.
From my perspective the morning service was a good worship experience for me but also for many attending, gauging by how attentive and responsive most seemed to be, especially since the service was fairly long because we had communion as well, and it was served out into the seats, which took time. The worship team had selected excellently relevant songs to the theme, and they were lively and upbeat, though it seemed clear that they were not very familiar to some in the congregation, meaning some of these changes and songs were not made too long ago. In the evening the piano alone accompanied the singing. There were more people there for the evening service than I was used to preaching to in the morning. I was much more relaxed in the evening, mainly because now the congregation was ‘known’ to me a little bit. They are working on a prayer request time in the evening, which I was quite familiar with doing.
The church seems to not be used to accommodating visitors. There are some specially designated “Visitor only” parking spots near the main door, but there seemed to be no one at the door trying to spot those who might be new and might need assistance. Because I was arriving with a task to do, I did not pay as much attention to details that might strike a visitor as in other reports.
Next Sunday night I’m preaching there again. Allinall it was a good Sunday. I believe God was glorified in the worship in that context.