Church #51, Greater St John’s COGIC

Date: 3/9/14

Church name/type: Greater St. John’s Church of God in Christ (COGIC)

Pastor: McKinley Johnson Sr.

Style of worship: sections for: song, offering, bible verses, praise, sermon, and prayer

Overall Impression: Seems ok

Thoughts:
This church was predominantly black; I was one of a couple white people there. I was greeted a number of times, but not overwhelmingly. Those who said hello were friendly and warm. The building is brand new and set to be officially dedicated an upcoming Saturday. It seems to fit the congregation well.

Citing the praise and singing we were having (and foreshadowing the praise later) one of the praise leaders talked about ‘crazy praise’. She explained how it seems crazy to praise at certain times. She said maybe the devil told you to be alone, to go in a corner, don’t get out of bed- BUT he is a liar. I felt like she was talking to me. I don’t believe as literally as some do in forces such as demons and angels. But I understand the feeling of being crushed beneath a weight you cannot explain. Depression is cruel and evil if anything ever was, and it does keep me in bed and alone at times. If I can pull myself out of bed to do something like go to a church, walk, see the sky, or just take a shower, it helps. If crazy praise means getting out of bed even when I don’t know why, I’m all for it and I say do it.

Later in the service the real crazy praise happened. If I’m not mistaken, COGIC is a variety of pentecostal. This means worship can get a little rowdy. At this church some people were jumping and dancing fast. A few were actually jogging around the room. No one fell down, (yes I’ve seen this) but amid the chaos there were some screaming babies. At that point I wondered if it wasn’t all a bit much. I’m torn because venting by making a lot if noise and dancing until very tired seems like it could work well for some people. But babies are intuitive and cry when others are crying. Since they don’t know English yet, you cannot explain what’s happening. So I felt bad about the babies.

The sermon was actually kind of interesting and unexpectedly thought provoking. It was about Moses and Pharaoh. I think I may have missed the central lesson though. It was about the plagues God unleashed on the Egyptians and how each one was meant as a direct blow to an Egyptian god. Example: Blood in the Nile River was against Hopi the river god. Moses keeps trying to get Pharaoh to listen to words but he will not, so Moses has to resort to deeds. This made me realize something. In this story God is something of a terrorist. I guess I should be more startled at a revelation like this, but Old-Testament-God is shown as kind of a brutal jerk. This time at least it’s directed at the enemies of Israel rather than, say, punishment of a citizen for saying ‘God’ aloud.

anticlimactic: After the service I kinda hung around a bit to see if anyone would engage me further. No one did though, which was a bit of a letdown.
During the service visitors were asked to sign visitor cards if we felt comfortable. I didn’t see them anywhere or I definitely would have done one. Someone should perhaps tell the pastor or lay leader to make them more obvious or announce their location.

Church #47, Wilborn Temple First Church of God in Christ

Date: 1/5/14

Church name/type: Wilborn Temple First COGIC (Church of God in Christ)

Pastor: Pastor Solomon Dees, although other leaders did most of the service and a guest Douglas H. did the sermon

Style of worship: exuberant praise was scattered throughout the service, mainly right before the sermon- sermon itself was sing-songish, rising to shouting- the end of service included prayer at the altar and communion

Overall Impression: The people seem really nice, although the message didn’t hold much for me.

Thoughts:
This is a predominantly black church and the service went very long. I was there around three hours. Still I found the way it was broken up to be optimal; we were never doing anything for too long and nothing became tedious. At least ten people greeted me before service, during service, and after service. There was a specific part of the service in which visitors were asked to stand and say a few words. They kind of spring this on you. They had asked for my name on one of the visitor cards but didn’t tell me what for, then after they read the cards they got aloud. This would not be an ideal place for anyone shy. Luckily I’m not very shy. While I was somewhat taken aback by the surprise request, I managed, saying my full name and describing my project in the briefest of terms.

The music at this church was very good. The sound was clear and the instruments were balanced well. I was actually able to understand the words to songs- the sound didn’t get lost in the space. This can be a concern in large old echoey church buildings. This building was previously a synagogue. The only features reminiscent of anything other than a Christian church are the six-point stars adorning an area at the front, and the square ceiling area set with colored glass tiles.

The message was given this week by a visiting pastor named Douglas whose last name I have forgotten. It was the same old stuff about new stuff. There were a lot of references to how Jesus can save you and give you what you need if you only ask. There was a focus on it being a new year with new beginnings. This was tied back into the fact that Jesus makes all things new and his forgiveness wipes away sin. All things I’ve heard before and they didn’t really speak to me in particular. There was a weird moment in the middle of the sermon when guest pastor compared God’s mercy to not doing too much “beating up on kids” so they “don’t get too bruised”…which I have to assume is a metaphor for a verbal scolding. Nobody advocates beating kids do they? I sure hope not. Pastors reeally need to pay attention to what they are saying. The rest of the sermon was the same clichés repeated and while there wasn’t much objectionable in it, they wasn’t anything outstanding as a great message either.

Cool communion points!: This was a first Sunday, the day on which Protestants usually do communion. For communion this time we all lined the center row and held hands. We were given a tiny plastic cup filled with juice and sealed over with foil. On top of the foil was a round wafer sealed in with a layer of clear plastic. Instant communion! This is great for germophobes because everyone gets their own little serving and no one is touching your food. This communion can go anywhere, won’t spoil easily and you don’t have to worry about wasting leftovers. While there is something gratifying in tearing a nice chunk of actual bread from a fresh loaf, in winter I’d like a higher degree of attention paid to preventing the spread of cold and flu. This style of communion seems just about right to me.