“We share a common heritage with all Christians: God as Creator of the world, Redeemer through Jesus and Sustainer through the Holy Spirit. The church as the body of Christ is an extension of God’s work in the world today.”
January 27, 2019, 1015 AM
The website is awesome. The home page is a scrolling video of multicultural and intergenerational faces, smiling and waving. One woman even makes a goofy face. On that same page it says: “WHO WE ARE: First UMC is a place of safety in which you are gently encouraged to grow into the spiritual person you are destined to be.” The Home page also has a heading “New to First UMC?”–and when you click on it, there is a welcome statement and three sections below that explain what to expect on your first visit, what the service will be like and even what to wear: “dress in what is comfortable to you.” As a newcomer, I am feeling welcome already. In the “about us” section, I see they are a reconciling congregation, celebrating “our human family’s diversity of race, ethnicity, age, faith history, economic status, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation and education.” Best of all, they have a woman pastor. Yay! So far, this seems like my kind of church.
I entered the front doors and the two women greeters literally gasped and gave me bear hugs. For a moment, I thought they mistook me for Lady Gaga. They asked me to write down my name and phone number. The pastor greeted me also before the service started, calling me by my name. Obviously, she checked with the greeters to get my name.
Two screens at the front detailed welcome and announcements. The service began with a trio of musicians on keyboard, drums and violin as well as five singers leading us in upbeat praise songs. The words flashed on the screens and many in the congregation sang along, which made it participatory in stead of just auditory. After singing, the pastor read the centering words printed in the bulletin and then asked the congregation to share any joys/concerns they might have. This can be a tricky time for pastors and I believe the key is to keep the service feeling like worship, which can be lost when so many people have something to say. And since we never actually prayed for any of these things, it really felt like something was lost. When all the sharing finally ended, we simply read The Lord’s Prayer, also printed in the bulletin.
Okay, I’m gonna give my two cents worth here. As a visitor, this felt like inside baseball. And it took away from the worshipful flow of the service. One thing I did as a pastor that helped this problem, is going right into a time of prayer. While everyone is in prayer, heads bowed usually, the pastor (me) will say a short prayer of confession or adoration or whatever she is feeling. Then, the pastor invites the congregation to lift names or situations to pray for. This allows someone to mention Dear Aunt Alice, without going into long details of her carpel tunnel surgery. All we really need to know is Dear Aunt Alice needs our prayers. After each person says a name or situation (ie: the government shutdown), the pastor can say, “Lord, hear our prayers.” Or something to that effect. This keeps us in a prayerful mode, and still allows for the sharing of joys and burdens.
Okay, done preaching.
The children’s time was next, which I’m always happy to see. The leader asked the kids to name something they are not in control of. One kid said, “the federal government.” We went right into the “passing the peace” time, which meant everyone getting up and moving around. Again, it just feels like this should be at the very beginning or at the end, in my humble opinion. Then, Dear God, the pastor stood behind the pulpit and welcomed visitors. Well, that would be me. Yes, she actually welcomed me by name from the pulpit. A little embarrassing, but okay. I didn’t mind. What did bother me is she went on to make several announcements that had already flashed on the screen or were printed in the bulletin. Then, she asked if anyone else had any announcements.
Interestingly, she said we would now hear “the story,” and a male reader read the scripture reading, which was also printed in the bulletin. Very interestingly, the version used the word “SHE” instead of “HE” for God’s Spirit. This doesn’t bother me one bit as I know God is gender neutral, but I hope they are willing to say both male and female pronouns (or just GOD).
When the pastor rose to preach, the 11:00 chimes were ringing, so it had taken forty-five minutes to get to this point. She preached the sermon from the center aisle of the congregation, using notes, but really just speaking to her parishioners. She made the text relatable to our lives and she seemed comfortable in her casual way of preaching. I liked it.
We stood as the offerings were brought to the altar and I thought we might sing the Doxology. But no, the pastor just said a prayer of thanksgiving. Darn. I really like the Doxology. The service pretty much ended after that, about an hour total.
Obviously, from the big hug at the front door, this church PASSED the WELCOME TEST.