Church #67 First Unitarian Universalist Albany

So, my life is busy! My daughter likes a church for a while and we find ourselves unable to go anywhere else as I support her identity as a Christian. But this week she decided to miss, so acting on a tip that I might actually like them, I went to a UU church. So this time I will be doing a very short review of a church I haven’t been to before.

First Unitarian Universalist of Albany service starts at 10am. There is a handy website to give you particulars like service time, parking recommendations, and other church information. I give full marks on said website. (I have been to churches with a non-interactive, single page broken, incorrect websites- this isn’t one of those!)

The building is modern with light colored wood beams in parallel lines on the ceiling of the sanctuary. It is lit by daylight and pine cone shaped lights. The space is large but plenty warm on the winter-like March morning.

I was slightly late and missed the start of service. I was able to find a seat easily enough in the mostly filled room where a couple others also trickled in late. I managed to accidentally sit next to a woman with my name, which amused us.

The service was like a church service that was partway into turning into a friendly lecture. If that sounds weird, just know that it wasn’t. The lecture part was a talk on altruism. Here are some things I learned.

Altruism was coined as the opposite of egotism.
Altruism has historically been seen as suspicious.
One real trap for the altruist is that of an addicted or abusive partner.

The rest of the service was taken up by music and joys and concerns.  The joys and concerns were done as follows:  each person picked a rock up from the table and placed it into a bowl for their joy or concern.  Each was invited to speak if they would like.  Music was (as is standard in my experience) from a music book-  The songs were hopeful and uplifting though none specifically referenced God.  This makes sense as I believe the UU tradition allows for atheism amongst membership.

At the service we heard that First UU is looking into what it would take to become a sanctuary church. As well, they are involved in other social actions. Over many years they’ve been working on issues ranging from hunger and homelessness, to anti-fracking and prison reform.

They also have a mailing list I’m going to get on to receive info on future actions. Overall a good experience!

Return To St George’s Antiochian Orthodox

Answers this time from Father Gregory Francis DesMarais. **

1) How does the church feel about current political events and the recent election?

It’s been a challenge. There are strong feelings on the right and the left. I preach the gospel. What does it say about feeding the hungry? Clothing the naked? Sheltering the homeless?
I also believe it’s important to help in all the little things.

2) What is the church doing in support of any of the following communities: LGBT, Muslim, Black, Disabled, Immigrant/Migrant/Refugee?

As a church we don’t isolate into groups. We have our own corners but we bring it together. We offer help to people who need: spiritually, financially, what have you. We have our traditions and our beliefs but we must never condemn others.
We have a ways to go in terms of social outreach. For me pastoral care is more about one-on-one than programs.
We are the smallest church in the diocese, but we are the second largest contributor in food donations. The church that gave the most was in fact the largest church in the diocese!

Disclaimer I am not a reporter. I can’t do shorthand and the answers here are not direct quotes. If something I paraphrased is too far off I apologize, and I welcome correction.

Return to Sweet Pilgrim Missionary Baptist

This Sunday I spoke briefly with Reverend Elgin Joseph Taylor of Sweet Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. **

1) How does the church feel about current political events and the recent election?

It is what it is. We pray. We trust god no matter who is in the White House.

2) What is the church doing in support of any of the following communities: LGBT, Muslim, Black, Disabled, Immigrant/Migrant/Refugee?

We are sticking together in fellowship across not just black churches but all churches. We are praying.

Disclaimer I am not a reporter. I can’t do shorthand and the answers here are not direct quotes. If something I paraphrased is too far off I apologize, and I welcome correction.

Return to Delmar Presbyterian

Sunday I spoke to pastor Karen Pollan at Delmar Presbyterian. Here are my two questions and the responses I got. Disclaimer below

1) How does the church feel about current political events and the recent election?

The church rarely has consensus about political matters. On average it is to the left of center, but there is diversity.

Some members were saddened by the election.
I try to keep us remembering be kind to one another.
2) What is the church doing in support of any of the following communities: LGBT, Muslim, Black, Disabled, Immigrant/Migrant/Refugee?

Delmar Presbyterian is part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network, a ministry to help homeless families. On church premises they host families at night by converting the Sunday school rooms into bedrooms. This ministry happens in partnership with B’nai Shalom.

To foster friendships across into other communities, the youth group has visited a mosque, and some church members attend gatherings at the Turkish center.

This particular church is welcoming to LGBTQ including weddings.

Disclaimer I am not a reporter. I can’t do shorthand and the answers here are not direct quotes. If something I paraphrased is too far off I apologize, and I welcome correction.

Church #66, Friends Meeting in Albany (Quaker)

Date: 11/9/14

Church name/type: Friends Meeting in Albany, Quakers

Pastor: the unique style of the meeting doesn’t seem to require a pastor

Style of worship:
Well, they sit, mostly quietly for about an hour. No, for real. And it actually wasn’t too bad. It’s a time for listening to see if God is going to speak to us. If anyone has a message they consider good for sharing they share aloud.

These were the messages this week:
1) Someone spoke about feeling welcome and having been given coffee that was exactly the way she liked it. This really seemed to have made her happy.
2) Another person said some remarks the Pope made were along the lines of God having given up some of his power in creating us. Some of the power is in us.
I tried to look up these remarks for reference but was unable to find them. The Pope says a lot of things I guess.
3) A visiting Quaker Friend? Quaker?….anyway, a visitor felt led to make the effort to find a local Friends Meeting and things just seemed to fall into place allowing her to be here on time.
4) One person observed that it’s amazing we are in what’s called the ‘goldilocks zone’ where life is possible.

After approximately an hour we all greeted each other then there was sharing of announcements as well as the standard joys and concerns. I stayed a long time talking with members of the congregation about different things.

Impressions:
I guess I really liked it. I say I guess because I can’t figure out why I liked it so much. It’s difficult to sit mostly still and quiet for an hour. But then again, I often like things that are a little difficult. It makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something worthwhile. I’m drawn to the fact that Quakers don’t have much doctrine going on. They seem to believe that God speaks to (or potentially speaks to) everyone equally. This is nice. I’m going to have to learn more and probably write more.

Church #65, Albany Second Branch, Latter Day Saints

Date: 10/19/14

Church name/type: This is a branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Called Mormons by some. (Not to be confused with fundamentalist Mormons who allow multiple wives to one husband) This church is called the Albany Second Branch.

Pastor: There is no pastor. They call that job Branch President. I did not write down his name.

Style of worship:
Very unusual. The Sunday morning gathering can be called a service, but seems to be more commonly called a sacrament meeting. It had the usual components: songs, announcements, scripture, prayer. The communion (if that’s what they call it) was different in that it featured bread and water (vs. wine or juice). The sacrament meeting itself was odd to me because it was dead silent for the bread and water, but sort of full of noisy chit-chat during the scriptural talk time. Different people from the church are asked to prepare these little talks and it felt like no one was really listening.

Impressions:
I had some trouble with this one. I expended a lot of energy trying to absorb new information, be polite in my reactions, and not let how different it was get to me. And in some ways, it was strikingly different.

There were three separate hour-long portions. First the sacrement meeting, then a doctrinal lesson, last a male/female segregated session. The middle hour made me feel the most uncomfortable. It was a class of women and a couple of older men, but it was taught by 18year-old-looking guys who were referred to by everyone as ‘elders’. It is hard to describe how weird that felt. I don’t have a problem with male teachers or young teachers. But usually teachers have professional training. This felt like kids telling me what to think and how to think it by virtue of the fact that they were male and raised LDS. The lesson was mostly something I’m going to call ‘prescriptive spirituality’. There seem to be a lot of parts to LDS that are prescriptive regarding metaphysical things. (Do this and this happens. Say these words at this time in this place and this will happen in the afterlife.) The entire lesson was regarding the ‘sealing’ of families in a temple so they would remain intact into the afterlife. One can also seal families posthumously if the need is discovered. This is why genealogies are important, or so we were told. I know my own faith tradition is weird, but I’m struggling with how weird I felt hearing this stuff.

Then the last hour, the women only group, was actually not very weird at all. It felt like any gathering at all the progressive protestant churches I’ve been to. We all tried to share ways to reach out and be good to others; to gain understanding and offer support. Everyone from their different lives offered different perspectives. It felt really normal. I hate the fact that I had to describe it as normal just there because the rest felt so strange. The young woman I talked to at this church was sweet and earnest. She’s a missionary from California and apparently that means she’s a greeter for newcomers to the church. She wants everyone to join the church. I’ve never quite felt like I fit anywhere, and I could never fit with this group either. I hurt sometimes and I don’t know what my life is doing. I shared something of this sentiment with my new friend. I think I hurt her. I left her without an answer for me. Sometimes I wonder if my project is becoming my journey to sadden others.

Church #64, First Presbyterian Church in Albany

Date: 10/12/14

Church name/type: First Presbyterian in Albany, PCUSA

Pastors: Pastor Miriam Lawrence Leupold and Pastor Glenn Leupold

Style of worship: fairly straightforward format with follow-along bulletin, with choral pieces punctuating occasionally

Impressions: The bulletin and welcome literature list more than a couple programs the church is involved with along the lines of social justice. I like that. I’m also impressed with an interior window of stained glass depicting a scientist teacher named Joseph Henry. It’s actually really cool for a church to embrace science. I personally love science and think it’s great that God gave us the ability to wonder and discover. In some cases Christian groups seem to actually have a strong dislike for science (or certain of its theories) so it’s encouraging that this church had a portrait of science build right into the wall.

The church building is pretty and looks kept-up. I note a decent mix of ethnicities. There was a person behind me making some noise who most likely had a disability. I mention this because I think it speaks well of the kind of welcome a church offers if they are cool with unintentional disruptions. Coffee hour after service was also a really nice time. A fair number of people came up to me and initiated conversation. So it’s an outgoing congregation.

I wasn’t sure what to take from the sermon. We got to hear the story of the golden calf Moses’ people worshiped while he was on the mountain talking with God. I was immediately struck by the fact that these people literally decided to worship gold. Maybe this should make us realize that chasing after money is a problem. The pastor giving the sermon likens this worship to our own obsessions today. We were asked to consider the ‘golden calf’ we might be worshipping. This would present itself as the thing we make our ultimate thing. It all came back to a refrain I’ve heard before: anything you focus on that is not God, is the wrong focus. I wonder what to make of this message in light of the fact I have no clear idea of who God is. Mixed messages come in constantly from all my church visits, from people I’ve met, from the bible itself. So this sermon’s takeaway point fell a bit flat for me. I guess I can agree with the idea that if one’s life revolves around something and that something fails or falls apart, one is devastated. I see this could be a huge problem…but I think I’m not wrong in saying that making God your ultimate focus could also result in this same problem. So again I’m left unsure what to do with this sermon.