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.

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.

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.

Church #63, Trinity United Methodist

Date: 9/14/14

Church name/type: Trinity UMC, United Methodist Church

Pastor: Jeffrey Matthews

Style of worship: structured with a follow-along bulletin and musical chairs style greeting time

Useful takeaways:
So I’ve actually been inside this church before. It was for a youth function back when I was more involved with youth groups. The service this day (and in summer) was held in a small chapel off the main sanctuary. There were probably between 20 and 50 people in attendance.

Music was good, being provided by acoustic guitar or pipe organ (the chapel had its own organ!) The group songs went through every verse and nearly everyone was singing, which I happen to like. I mean, if you’re going to sing, why stop at verse two?

We heard an interesting take on the story of Don Quixote. Pastor described him as a man who wanted a better world. He spoke of an impossible dream. This theme was also applied to the future of the church. It was unclear if Pastor meant the future of Christianity or Methodism in general or specifically Trinity Church, or perhaps Trinity Church the building. We heard it is nearing the 81st anniversary of the building. The pastor recounted some of the history leading up to the creation of the current building. It was actually the second rebuilding of a church that was lost to fire twice. During the building of Trinity, the congregation worshipped in a space that was a Jewish Temple called Beth Emeth. (That building is actually the current location of Wilborn Temple, church #47 on this blog!)

The last thing in my notes was a prayer wish that on the edge of the possibility of war we all remember to see each other everywhere as people; brothers and sisters. It’s a good wish of ever I heard one.

Problems/Improvements: None I can detect, besides the vague feeling of uncertainty implied by the sermon. Is this church’s future in question or was I just reading too much into an introspective sermon?

Church #62, (First) Israel African Methodist Episcopal Church

Date: 8/17/14

Church name/type: “First” Israel AME church (also searchable without the word first), part of the AME denomination, also member of the five FOCUS churches in Albany who together serve the inner city with educational programs, food and lodging

Pastor: Usual pastor seems to be named Reverend Smart. On this day we heard a guest pastor; Reverend Jimpson.

Style of worship: structured but not over-formal

Useful takeaways:
On this day I found my way into a pre-service coffee hour and talked with a few friendly people. During the service they have a visitors greeting time called “warm welcome”. I got smiles, handshakes and hugs. The teen sitting directly in front of me turned immediately to give me a big hug which made me super happy.

The musical instrumentation included drums, guitar, sax, and organ. I’m seeing a trend in churches with predominantly black membership; the music is often more modern and upbeat, falling into categories more like rock and jazz. Many denominations from European traditions use older, more solemn styles of music. I think I prefer the modern.

A piece I liked from the sermon was the idea of clearing away rubble in our lives. In particular, some items listed that we may want to be rid of included: self-pity, jealousy, and picking out single bible verses. This last one is interesting in that it suggests we shouldn’t rely on a bible verse alone without understanding the context around it. The point is one I often feel the need to make myself and it’s good to hear churches acknowledge it.

Problems/Improvements: Both the website and the printed material had errors. The website states that church service begins at 11am, I was told in fact it has started at 10am for quite some time now. Also there was an event advertised in the bulletin as “lunch and a word” purporting to be some form of bible lesson with free lunch. The location and date were listed wrongly.

Because of these errors I had to return on 8/17 to catch church, (having missed it entirely the first time a couple weeks prior) and was unable to attend any sort of lesson they may have had accompanying lunch.

Church #61, Mater Christi

Date: 7/20/14

Church name/type: Mater Christi, Roman Catholic Church- formed from the merger of St Teresa of Avila and St Catherine of Siena in 2009

Pastor: Father Kenneth Doyle

Style of worship: Short formally structured mass

Useful takeaways:
So this church is pretty full, and has a decent mix of ages and ethnicities. I think I see some Philipinos and (I think) some folks from Pakistan or India.

The sermon was on the parable of the wheat and the weeds (or tares). The priest took the usual interpretation of this story and related that it spoke of final judgement. The story describes the farmer collecting the wheat and tares then separating them after the harvest into a pile to save and a pile to be burnt. So those not accepted into heaven are relegated to fire in this metaphor. Father Doyle made a point of cautioning us not to see this story as a source of fear. He reasoned that God created us as a sort of project, hoping we would turn out successfully. If the project was a massive failure God could scrap it at any time. We therefore think most people do make it to heaven. We are always working to be good and when we do sin, we repent of that sin and keep trying.

Interestingly, this brings up something I mentioned in a past post. Repentance in certain Protestant churches is seen as a big one-time occurrence. It is supposed to be the massive life changing event of accepting Jesus. The Catholic idea of repentance seems to be simply the admission of wrongdoing- the equivalent of a confession. I find the Catholic version of repentance more realistic. I myself feel like I am continually working to not commit wrongs. Goodness doesn’t just flow from me via knowing Christ. I still yell, I still misjudge others, I still react in anger. I know I have to face that and continue trying to do better. That, to me, is repentance.

I was literally four minutes late and the mass was basically in full swing when I arrived. Seems like they could hold off five minutes because it’s summer and people run late.

Again no coffee hour to hang around and get to know anybody. Am I weird for wanting one?