Church #39, First Church in Albany

Date: 9/8/13

Church name/type: First Church in Albany, RCA (Reformed)

Pastor: Reverend John Paarlberg

Style of worship: Casual with structure, including lots of spoken participation and musical chairs style passing of the peace

Overall Impression: good, chatty

RCA churches are big in this area and the denomination seems to be a good one. It is called First Church because it was the first, existing before there was even an Albany! At the time this area was just a Dutch trading post. Of course the term ‘church’ refers to the group. No building from the 1600’s would look as good as the current structure looks.

As I normally do, I checked for a website first for the service time, which was clearly posted. The website looks pleasant and in good working order, with the sermon topic for this Sunday also up there. I cannot stress enough how good I think it is that churches have a nice functional website. My next three churches after this one do not have websites at all and I’m actually shocked that in this day and age a church would not bother with a website of any kind.

So parking was relatively easy to find, as was the church entrance and sanctuary. Before service started a woman in the row near me introduced herself and began asking me about myself. We chatted a little bit and she welcomed me upon discovering this was my first visit. I also got a chance to peruse the bulletin and read the little statement about the church. They included a bit about the community including not only a variety of ages and ethnicities but also different sexualities which are welcomed. As I understand it the RCA as a denomination is struggling with disagreement over the issue of homosexuality and gay membership. I hope eventually they work it out and come to the conclusion that First Church has come to; namely that loving someone who happens to share your gender is not intrinsically sinful.

The service went pretty much as I expected. I was able to easily follow the printed outline (another thing that a surprising number of churches fail to do). If it was my church I’d make the insert a different color for clarity, however I did figure that the middle paper was to be removed in order to follow the service. The sermon today was about creation. I heard the term “Book of Nature” for the first time. It seems to relate this idea that things in nature speak of God just as a written book does. I have encountered the idea before. The pastor was careful to state that this is not simply the equating of nature with God. Instead he contends that God had such an abundance of love that he made something outside himself that was good like he was. I’m not sure I’m totally following this metaphor, but it seems harmless enough- I mean it says God is full of love, which I strongly believe.

There was also some stuff in the sermon about taking care of God’s creation by taking care of the environment. We prayed for forgiveness that we treat earth’s resources so lightly and for the fact that we have pushed global warning along. This is nice to see from a church. Many Christian groups ignore or even deny environmental concerns. I have heard it reasoned that God created humans as special and being the center of attention, it is our right to use animals and the earth indiscriminately. I guess there are some who also believe God will eventually physically create a new earth for us if when we mess this one up. Anyway taking care of our surroundings strikes me as a better plan than making God build us a new planet.

After the sermon we took communion. This church has a long table set up in the center aisle for everyone to sit at during communion. Everyone doesn’t use it, but they could. Those who stay in place have an usher to bring them bread and juice. We were told that it’s usual to eat the bread immediately and take the juice as a group. I liked the instruction here. It made me feel like I knew just what to do. After church several people invited me to what they call ‘coffee and conversation’. I talked with several people and handed out some website cards. So overall it was a pretty nice Sunday.

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