Last week someone I know through an internet group wrote of an experience visiting a particular church in our area. So I decided to visit that church this week to see if my experience would be similar.
This is a large church that is currently without a lead pastor. It is in a generally conservative area and seems to have built some (or all) it’s success on being a progressive alternative to the others in the area. As I approached the building about 10 minutes before the service’s start, others were arriving, and I thought I was in for an ‘ignored visitor’ experience when a lady who was converging with me in heading towards the main door looked my way then raised her hand and waved at and greeted someone behind me. Right after that a pillar was between us, but when we both emerged on the other side she said hello to me as well.
There were two young ladies who were standing as greeters just inside the doorway, and they shook my hand and said hello. I got a sense that they had been assigned to stand there and greet, but that they did not understand the task’s purpose. But it was still good to have someone there right as you enter, saying hello.
This church facility has a large lobby area that bridges the worship space and the classroom areas of the building. I have been in it before, so I knew my way around. Knowing my way, I did not pay too much attention to whether there were indicators as to where things were. Stepping beyond the greeters I did experience some confusion that is quite common when new to a building or situation. When you are that new person, it seems to you everyone knows everyone already and everyone knows where to go and what to do. I saw someone with a coffee, and had a desire to have one as well, but the table with the coffee urn on it was not operational. I realized that partly what letting you get a coffee (or even any refreshment) does is give you an opportunity to have something in your hand so you are ‘doing’ something, and then ‘case the place’ without empty hands. When coffee was not an option I purposively went to the washroom (again, with nothing to hold or look occupied with there is a sense that one must keep moving with some look of purpose) and then went and chose a seat near the rear of the worship space. There were young guys handing out bulletins as one entered the worship space. This space was quite large, and it surprised me that it was flat and that the stage area was really not raised well enough for me to have a good view of the musicians and speakers at the front. The stage area had a huge window behind it which afforded a nice view of the mountains in the distance. Even though it was a semi-overcast morning, that back-lighting also made it hard to see the worship leaders clearly. At one point in the service some blinds were closed over that window.
The bulletin had some basic information in it, a very general outline of the service, and it had the passage under consideration on this morning printed in it. There were also inserts that dealt with other ministries, such as the VBS program that had been run that week.
At the appointed time the worship leaders appeared and one of them welcomed us briefly but warmly, focusing on visitors with his words He asked those who had helped with VBS to raise there hands, then encouraged the rest to thank them with applause.
We were led into worship after that by a contemporary narration of Psalm 100 that had a music track playing while pictures from VBS where shown. The gestures or actions of the children shown were clearly related to the words being said. This struck me as a wonderful way of tying things together. If I had been there as a community parent who’s child had attended, I would have known that VBS was important in the fabric of this church.
Some new members were introduced. There was also a time given in which we were encouraged to say hello to those around us. A little later, during the taking up of the offering, a folder was passed down the seats for us to put our names into and to indicate if we were members or not. As the worship leader gave these instructions, he encouraged members to check for names they were not familiar with and to consider getting to know these people later.
I was only familiar with the first and the last songs we sang in the opening portion of worship. They seemed to have a consistent theme of unity. In the bulletin this was referred to as Unity Sunday. I don’t recall reading an explanation for it but that theme was clearly in the service. The songs we sang were God mentioning and God honouring.
The message was engagingly presented, launched from and touching down in the text that was read, and it was brought to us with several good story illustrations and a good bit of demonstration that the pastor had personally grappled with the issues and the message . It basically came down to a teaching, based in Colossians, that God puts difficult people in our lives as community in order to grow us spiritually and ended with four steps we could take so that we could grow in that way. If I recall right (I don’t take notes) these were: bear with them; serve them, pray for them, and “really see them.” The message ended with a pointing to the Cross in speaking of Jesus having died to serve all, and the service then moved to communion, which was set on tables at the front. After a few brief instructions as to who might participate and how it was going to run logistically, we filed forward and were able to serve ourselves the bread and the cup. When all had finished we were encouraged to join hands and sang one verse of “Blest be the tie that binds.”
After that we were dismissed. A lady sitting to the right of me approached me and said she didn’t think she had met me before. I misunderstood and thought she was saying she HAD met me before, so I asked her where. After we got that confusion cleared up (The family usually attended the early service of the two held most of the year, and as this was a Sunday with a single morning service she thought I was someone who usually came to the later one) I explained a bit of what I was about in being there, and we had a sort of conversation as we moved out into the lobby. I complimented her on having the courage to approach me. When our conversation ended, I grabbed a coffee and left.
The demographic of this congregation was predominantly white, though there were a few people of colour present. The attendance was in the multiple hundreds. The largest demographic group it seemed to me was 60 year olds of Dutch heritage (this may be a few generations old, but it is still recognizable). There were a lot of people with young families and a significant number of families with teens.
Overall I had a sense that this is a congregation looking for a vision, an identity. It’s roots (some 30 years old) might have been in being an alternative contemporary church, or it may have been a seeker church, but it had a feel of a church looking for who it is going to really be. There was one song in which eager rhythmic clapping broke out and it had a feel of wanting to reach for something more exuberant than was normal for this situation, it had a sense of an eagerness to break out into a prolonged time of singing and enjoying God’s presence, but the feeling did not carry the day, a certain kind of reservedness and orderliness did. I know that struggle, it lives in me.
Overall, it was a good worship experience, with it’s primary benefit having been a decent time of instruction.