Church #53, Sweet Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church

Date: 3/23/14

Church name/type: Sweet Pilgrim Missionary Baptist- affiliations include: Hudson River Frontier Missionary Baptist Association, Empire Baptist Missionary Convention of NYS Inc, National Baptist Convention USA Inc

Pastor: Reverend Elgin Joseph Taylor

Style of worship: Formatted but in a way that seems mildly flexible.

Overall Impression: Good!

I actually have a lot of different things to say about this one. I guess I’ll start by giving my general impression. I liked this place. The people greeted me but didn’t overdo it. One woman named Penny greeted me before service and then spoke to me at length after service about the church. I don’t mean to say she was pushy- I was driving the conversation by asking about the church. She told me the pastor was new(ish) and had only been at the church about four years. I asked about the push or lack thereof to get current attendees to join either the church or Christianity. She told me the church and pastor are relaxed enough that one can show up frequently and not be hassled. That squares with the vibe I felt on Sunday. I didn’t get either a desperate “please stay!” or a high pressure “give your life to Jesus or Doom!” This might actually be a place I could show up again and feel comfortable.

Now, I’d like to describe the building. The outside looks in good shape, the sign appears new. Once inside you must ascend a somewhat daunting staircase to the sanctuary. The steps are just a little steeper than they need to be and this makes the trip a bit slow and ponderous. Just as you’ve despaired of finding anything special at the top of what seems an ill-designed stairway, the sanctuary swings into view. The space is bright and sun-kissed, lit by large but simple stained glass windows the color of watermelon candy. The floor is gently sloped downwards toward the altar as you might find in a concert hall. The benefit to this is twofold. First, you can easily see the altar area from wherever you decide to sit. Second, this design makes it easy to approach the altar as the gradient gives you a boost, almost like some combination of God, gravity, and the building designer want you at the center of the action, down near the altar. Above the altar are the giant, decorative pipes of a pipe organ. Above the pipe organ the ceiling is white, but highly detailed with lines and flat pieces like shingles. The whole effect of the ceiling is like that of a cake with lined and woven icing. The sanctuary is thus, very inviting.

Memorable bits of the service were the guest welcome and the liturgical dance. During the welcome they simply asked guests to stand and acknowledged they were glad we joined them that morning. The church was well-filled with people, but I didn’t get that- all turn your eyes on the newbie– neck turn that happens sometimes. I have not talked before about liturgical dance. So, in the same way we reach out to God through song, there is dance that is meant to be more prayer than performance. Liturgical dance is usually a slow series of movements that correspond partially or minimally with a piece of music suitable for church. The variety of liturgical dances I’ve seen are set to taped music, presumably to keep them uniform and keep the music from distracting from the dance you are seeing. This day’s liturgical dance was no disappointment. Four individuals took up places along the altar and performed. Meanwhile dancers stood in the aisles with long fans covered in fluttering fabric. Their motions were soothing and beautiful, and did feel holy in a way. I very much enjoyed the liturgical dance.

There were some other things I noticed as well ranging from intentional messages to subconscious messages this church was sending. There was a youth near the front making random movements and sounds, but bigger by far than a toddler. I imagine this young person was challenged in some way and the noises were not meant to be disruptive. What’s more, no one around was shushing or stopping it or acting annoyed. I tend to see this as a positive thing. If a mom or caregiver feels comfortable bringing an untypical child to a place, it speaks to the environment being one of welcome. In a broader sense I wonder if a church like this one (that encourages more noise from the congregation in general) is a better choice for someone with similar difficulties over, say, a church where silence is encouraged. It’s probably easier to have crying baby in a more vocal congregation as well.

Something I liked from the direct message (before the actual sermon) was the mention of fasting. I don’t remember if the term lent was used.* However I’m always happy when nuance is used, especially in defining ‘fasting’. Not everyone should be fasting from eating food. I’ve never done a food fast on purpose and my health issues dictate I should never do one. The pastor mentioned that we ought to fast, but he included the important qualifier that fasting need not be food. We can fast anything as a way to get closer to God, make us realize we are lucky, or just gain insight into ourselves. It’s not like it’s the first time I’ve realized this or written about it on this blog, but it’s so nice to hear from the pulpit. One good point from the sermon itself (most of which I liked) was the point that sanctuary is not the building we worship in, but rather the presence of God we meet with. This was as from Psalm 73 verse 17. The gist of the verse is a man complaining that evil men reap good rewards. He wonders why, and can’t figure it out. Then he enters the sanctuary and finds peace. If we can find this place of peace, that’s good. I don’t mind someone having this and I think we all find it in different ways.

*The Catholic Church I was raised in pays an awful lot of attention to lent, but some denominations do less so. They may even drop the term altogether.

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