“The _________ Church is a community that is Christ-centered, spiritually alive, growing in worship attendance, Armenian- and community-based, and welcoming of all people.”
February 16, 2020, 11 AM
There are only five Armenian churches in the entire state. However, this one is even more rare because it originates from the reformist movement in 1846 which resulted in the first Armenian Evangelical Church in Constantinople, Turkey. Technically, this is a United Church of Christ, but it’s also part of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America. There are approximately 100 Armenian Evangelical Churches in the entire world. So, this non-orthodox Armenian Church in our area is quite a rarity.
The choir members were staged in the narthex area and several said “good morning” as I entered. Someone handed me a bulletin and I sat in one of the back pews. The church’s high A-framed ceiling with exposed trusses created a light and airy setting. The paneled walls and lighting seem to be original to the 1963 building, somehow now retro and cool looking. The choir sang a call to worship from the back of the sanctuary, right near my pew. Then, they processed down the aisle as we all stood to sing the opening hymn, which sounded decent with the choir’s help. Once they moved to the front, however, we singers in the back just couldn’t make any sense of the 17th century hymn.
The pastor gave a prayer of invocation, followed by a congregational prayer of confession. After the assurance of pardon, we stood to sing the Gloria Patri. Then the pastor said, “Now, it’s time to pass the peace.” Everyone stood and began mingling amongst themselves. I waited for a moment, but when no one seemed eager to greet me, I turned to the two men behind me, extended my hand, and said, “Peace of Christ be with you.” Then, I turned back facing front and waited some more. Nothing. Finally, after almost everyone had settled back down, one woman said, “peace be with you.”
After another hymn, the pastor said, “Well, I have no announcements today, other than what’s in the bulletin.” Then, as he was about to step away from the pulpit, someone from the choir said, “Introduce the speaker.” “Oh, yes,” the pastor said. Then he turned back and said something like this: “I don’t really know him, we’ve just met, but our guest preacher today is _____________. He will tell you more about himself in a few minutes.” The pastor then came around to the front of the pulpit, and with a microphone in hand, asked if there were any joys and concerns. He waited less than ten seconds before saying, “alright then, now we will pray.”
Although he’s probably from Armenia originally, and English is a second language, it seemed that this pastor felt uncomfortable being the worship leader. He didn’t attempt to welcome anyone to worship, nor to engage the congregation with the joys and concerns. He could have mentioned a few of the ongoing needs, which every church has. Or he could have said something about the weekly Bible study. But instead, it felt like he was in a hurry to get it over with. And while someone may have wanted to speak up, I got the feeling the congregation has learned to stay quiet.
We stood to sing the Lord’s Prayer in Armenian with the phonetic words shown on the front wall. I sang in English, which didn’t quite correspond musically, but oh well. Then, two people read the scripture, one in Armenian and one in English. I liked that they took turns every few sentences, rather than reading the whole passage in one language, then all in the other.
Then, the guest preacher (ol’ what’s his name..) stood in the pulpit. He introduced himself as a second career person who had recently received his Masters of Divinity. He also said he had very little preaching experience, so he was setting the bar low (his words, not mine.) He read his sermon and it was, um, a low bar. He’s new at this thing, I understand. But he’s going to have to ditch the generalizations and oversimplifications. Life is messy. Faith is hard. God is not always an obvious presence. We do not always act like believers. We are complicated beings, who waver, ebb and flow, sometimes with great grace and faith, sometimes with emptiness and despair. His sermon seemed all too academic, like he was reading a term paper. I tried to listen intently, but found myself daydreaming.
The congregation seemed quite gracious in listening to his green, and not quite ready for prime time, sermon. I’m always amazed that congregations will endure boring and uninspiring sermons week after week, year after year. I have very little tolerance for bad sermons so I applaud them for it.
After that, we stood to say the Apostle’s Creed and the offering was taken. After standing again for the Doxology, the pastor stood with his arms crossed in front of his chest and said a prayer of thanksgiving for the offering. It seemed to me that this defensive posture further signaled his unease with his role.
A closing hymn, a benediction and the choral response closed out the service. As I walked out of the sanctuary, the pastor turned to greet someone else. No one said hello, or asked my name and there was not even a greeting for visitors in the service. Therefore, this church FAILED the WELCOME TEST.