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

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.

More churches, nobody home.

Today (3/2/14) was meant to be a visit to First Methodist Church of Rensselaer. It shows up in a web search, appears to have a service at 11am, and a pastor, and a phone number, and the website in question even has the number ‘2014’ on it, like it was updated two months ago at most. So I arrived where my GPS said to go, parked nearby and tried to find it. It’s a small, but still churchy looking building of brick labelled with signage declaring it “First Methodist”. The door opened when I pushed it, and I went in.

The place was completely deserted. No one at all was around. I checked upstairs and found a sanctuary in decent shape except a chip in one wall. Oh yeah, did I mention it was also filled with stuff like some kind of giant storage closet? I then checked downstairs and found another gathering spot with moveable chairs and a basic altar. Still not a soul around. I called out “Hello, hello?” hoping not to startle the caretaker or whoever opened the building. Nothing. It’s not like I accidentally opened a locked door, that door really wasn’t shut at all. And when I entered the building it felt warm inside; someone had the heat going. I find myself totally baffled. After heading home I tried the church phone number. It was out of service. I’m wondering if I should change the blog name from TheChurchProject to DerelictChurchProject. I just keep finding these apparently deserted churches.

Church #50, White Couch Albany

Date: 2/9/14

Church name/type: White Couch Albany, a non-denominational church with origins stemming from a mixture of Southern Baptist and Assemblies of God groups

Pastor: Pastor Mike

Style of worship: A message about communion was bookended by music. I’m told this format is not usual and that it was light on music this time.

Overall Impression: neutral

I had heard this place was fresh and new and different, so I had some expectations going in; however I just didn’t get any sort of vibe from the place. It just felt kind of flat. Maybe it’s the new building, or the snowy lack of attendance. Or the fact that I came at the end of the year and found the doors closed. Yeah I tried to attend this church once before at the very end of the year. Unfortunately for me they had no service that day, and no notice on the website to explain this. They couldn’t even leave a note on the door? So maybe I was annoyed with them from the get-go. I’ll start again and try to examine what I did find at this church.

On arrival in my car I found several young adults in the parking lot with shovels. They motioned me inside with smiles. I had come at exactly 11am, but the service was not quite starting and I took a seat. The rest was rather straight-forward. We exchanged high-fives at greeting time rather than the standard handshake. We had communion together by filing up front. That was just a little weird because we were instructed to come up as we felt led…no one really went out of order however.

The main point of this service was the sermon. It was really a description of communion and what communion represents. To me it was sort of like hearing the Catholic liturgy with explanation breaks. Every Catholic knows the story of Jesus serving bread and wine and calling it body and blood. It’s imbedded in what the priest recites every. single. week. Even the part describing Jesus as the lamb of a new covenant in blood. And the bit about this new Lamb’s blood taking away the sin of the world. Heck, I can sing it in Latin even. But for the unfamiliar, I will assume this was an interesting sermon. I liked the fact that pastor made mention of the Last Supper as a Passover meal. That is what the bible calls it. Thematically Jesus’ death is seen as a parallel to what happened at the original Passover. In both cases a lamb was slain and the blood saves the children of God. As to the idea that Jesus was celebrating a Seder with his disciples- I have heard that’s not quite correct. It seems like the Seder used today was not yet solidified into it’s current form when Jesus was on earth. So whatever Jesus usually did for the anniversary of Passover, it would have been rudimentary at best compared to a Seder today.

Of course, there are some scholars who think the juxtaposition of the Last Supper with Passover was retconned by the writers of the gospels to make the point more fully about Jesus making a second covenant. I guess I’m ok with that. Sometimes I wonder if I let biblical scholarship chip away at the bible, what will be left? But then again, God made us to be able to think, and that’s important if one is actually interested in the truth. I think learning more about this stuff can actually make my faith stronger. Jesus could certainly have made a comparison to Passover without necessarily using the anniversary of that day. Plenty of things could be different about the specifics in the bible and I would still love the stories. I guess that’s the best thing I got from this week’s service. It made me reexamine what I love about the stories and realize all over again that changing beliefs will not wreck me or my faith. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if Jesus was having Passover as his last meal. It doesn’t even matter to me if Jesus died to save the world or just to save twelve men from execution. That’s powerful. He asked us to remember it and we do.

Negatives?: There was one odd bit. We were listening to the in-depth story of The Last Supper. It was probably around the part where Jesus’ death takes away our sins. Pastor explained as kind of a one-off that when we sin it makes Jesus sad. This was meant as a reason to not sin and it even seemed like the pastor was getting a little bit emotional as he spoke about it. I find it somewhat odd to hear a statement like this. The way Jesus feels about us should be the last reason not to sin. The first reason should be the other person we are hurting and the second reason should be the damage we are doing to ourselves. If Jesus is so kind and awesome and one-with-God, he can handle Himself to be alright even when we are sinning. I feel like this reason serves as a guilt inducement and very little else. So that was at least kinda strange.

Church #49, New Horizons Christian Church

Date: 1/26/13

Church name/type: New Horizons Christian Church, a full gospel pentecostal church

Pastor: David Traynham

Style of worship: Praise first, talking (prayer and sermon) after

Overall Impression: I’m very torn. The people all seemed warm and friendly. The message from the sermon was a little off the deep end.

I liked the music. The taking-your-seat music is just prerecorded game-show-sounding worship music. But the actual praise music was much better. One rather talented praise leader played keyboard and sang. At the same time he directed the congregation what lines to sing before they came up. The music was also displayed on screens at the front of the room. I used to hate those screens, but they are definitely an improvement over nothing, which is what I’ve been getting from churches lately.

Everyone who said hello to me before service, after, and in between was very friendly and huggy. No one seemed clingy and a few people even asked about my project; the usual lead-in of course was ‘How did you find us?’ I gave out several website cards. Pastor David also noticed I was new and said hello.

When it was time for the sermon things began to take an odd turn. The title was: There’s a War Going On. Well ok. Based on the title this could be about several things: actual war, war in ourselves to do right, war to find the resources to help those in need… But no, this was a sermon mostly about the end times. The end times are happening now! Or so I was told by Pastor David. We are aware that the end times are in progress because of all the floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and the danger from the Olympics. And the shootings at schools, on the streets, in churches, and in malls. And all the laws being passed that are anti-God. I gotta admit I am sooo not with pastor on this. Natural disasters happen all the time. Shootings happen pretty often as well, except in places like Australia where gun restrictions are tighter. I guess I really have no idea what anti-God laws are being referenced here so I cannot speak to this one. My biggest problem with all the descriptive world ending talk is that it felt more like fear-mongering than anything else. Some of the descriptions of people killing and maiming others were pretty graphic. I came to church unafraid, was made to understand I should be afraid, and then was told I did not need to be afraid. But for someone listening and believing it all, how would they not be afraid? We heard that the end times are already happening, that everyone will be marked with a number in order to buy and sell. Good Christians who refuse would then starve. And if they did manage to not starve they would face beheading by a gillotine or some type of laser. I don’t have to make this up, it was all in the sermon.

In addition to thematic scariness, there were a number of stand alone statements that I found dubious. I’ll list them out and respond.

1) The anti-Christ will come from the office of the Roman Catholic Pope. The current Pope is just so liberal after all.
(I strongly disagree that the new Pope is problematic. He reaches out to the marginalized, making headlines doing so. That actually seems very pro-Christ.)

2) Religion has sent more people to hell than heroin or prostitutes.
(This statement was in a message about backsliders. Does this mean atheists have the advantage over churchgoers because they can’t slide back to anything?)

3) The world argues with the bible not by good arguments but by loudness of voice.
(This sounds like a stab at either biblical scholarship or non-Christians pointing out the bible’s contradictory nature. Guess what? The bible is contradictory.)

4) I don’t agree with them, but I have no problem with Hitler or Saddam Hussein. God has an end time plan.
(Just because God has a plan doesn’t mean we can forget about anything happening on earth. We still have to live here.)

5) People say – ‘Jesus has been coming back for years and isn’t back yet? Let’s live it up!’
(Does anyone really say this? I am skeptical that this is the way it works inside anyone’s mind. This also feels like a very weird statement to make given the fact that Pastor David’s advice to his grandson regarding death was not to worry and just enjoy life.)

And finally there were some dichotomies that I felt needed to be presented as much grayer. Pastor David contends that all was chaos for the Israelites before Moses came down from the mountain with the ten commandments. Similarly, all is supposedly chaos within us before we are saved. I see that as too simplistic. It does not account for any kind of conscience until a person is introduced to Jesus (or Moses?). I know people who are and were capable of knowing right from wrong before being told about Jesus. We also heard from Pastor David about people who hurt others- killers and shooters. Pastor says they are selfish and suggests selfishness as the primary and perhaps only motivation for these events. This ignores many other factors including: depression, desperation, and mental illness -just to name a few. We heard how the current generation is the “un-generation” because of all the things they are not. Listed in 2nd Timothy 3:2-7 are these descriptors: selfish, proud, boastful, disobedient to parents, unthankful and unholy. This paints youngsters with pretty broad strokes. Should I assume those in church (like the pastor’s grandson) are exempt from these descriptors? We also heard that ‘flesh’ would love to blow someone’s brains out or sleep with someone’s wife. I have never thought either of these things. I am sure there are people who have never thought these things. We are not barely restrained animals keeping from murdering others because of Jesus. There is no reason to frame our impulses this way, even for those who deal with strong impulses. It seems like simply more scare tactics. To me that is a horrible way of bringing people to Jesus.

Any good stuff?: There was a portion of the message that reminded us that we are not here to judge others. We were told to remember that others belong to God and they have a purpose. Just because we do not know their purpose, we don’t get to treat them badly. So I guess that’s. Something.

Church #48, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church

Date: 1/19/14

Church name/type: Mount Zion Missionary Baptist, unclear if there is any further affiliation

Pastor: Dr Robert Bradly

Style of worship: Songs were sprinkled throughout the service, which had a regular and straightforward format. It included scripture, prayer and collective reading as well as sermon and call to the altar for group prayer.

Overall Impression: I actually really liked it.

I arrived early this time and followed someone inside. I asked about the sanctuary and was directed up some stairs. Inside a bible study was happening so I sat a little back and tried to be quiet and respectful. The young woman leading the study took a second to say hello and handed me a book of the study material so I could follow along. The lesson was from Luke 14; the story of the wedding guests. We talked about the section in which Jesus instructs us to take the lowest spot at dinner, that we might be exalted to the highest spot. It warns that those seeking the highest spot will be downsized to the lowest spot. It’s a pretty standard Catholic lesson in humility and not seeking prestige, so it was not unfamiliar to me. I probably could have contributed if there’d been anything standing out to me. After the lesson was done several of the bible study membership approached me to say hello and welcome. Then they left me alone. They were very relaxed and low-key, which I like.

Once the service started a woman seated near me told me to come and sit by her; she’d tell me what was going on. I decided to take her up on this so I moved. (Minutes later, after I had decided to leave it in the other seat until the service ended, someone brought my warm hat to me from the seat I’d left.) My new friend’s name was Anna, and she told me what to expect at several key junctures of the service. Because of this and the format being listed in the church handout, I really had no trouble following along. At one point we were asked as a group for witness. This was more like news and updates. The sermon followed, continuing a few verses more into Luke.

The next part of Luke is again about a wedding feast. A man has invited a group of his friends to a wedding feast, but none of them show up. When he sends servants to them to ask what’s up, they beg off for various reasons. The host then sends his servants out to find anyone out in the street and bring them in as guests. One of the points that stood out to me in the sermon was the idea that this message relates to us today by representing the kingdom of God. We have to reach out to the people we don’t expect. We can’t only invite those we think belong. This is a strong message of accepting others and I really like it.

After the service a few more people came up to me to unobtrusively say hello. There was a bake sale in the basement so I hung around a bit and talked with a couple of the church members. They seem really nice. And they had what I’d consider the right balance of engaging me and leaving me alone. Everyone was warm but no one was pushy. Even during greeting time for visitors I didn’t feel forced- it was more ‘stand if you want to’.

Conclusion: I should come back here at some point.

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.

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 clichĂ©s 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.

Church #46, Saint Francis of Assissi, South End Community

Date: 12/1/13

Church name/type: Saint Francis of Assissi, South End Community, Roman Catholic

Pastor: Deacon Ray Sullivan and guest pastor I can’t guess at the spelling of his name.

Style of worship: short Catholic mass, formal with casual add-ins

Overall Impression: Seems like a nice place

The church was easy to find and enter; the building was warm and up-kept. It was a smaller space I might call a chapel. The interior was white, with green and golden tan and small stained glass windows close to the floor. One cool noticeable was what looked like a ‘1000 paper cranes’ mobile. One of the things I love abut the Catholic Church is it’s ability to borrow from other traditions. Many of our holidays are placed at a certain time of year because the early church borrowed from holidays already being celebrated. The 1000 paper cranes is often a symbol of the wish for peace, but can be vague enough to represent any wish one makes deep in one’s heart. It’s not the first time I’ve seen these cranes in a Catholic Church and I for one, like them.

I was greeted warmly at this church by smiles and ‘good morning’s both at the beginning of mass and at the passing of the peace. The church membership seems a friendly bunch. Although there was no coffee hour after mass, several people came up to me to say hello and chat briefly.

The sermon was fairly short. It was in regards to advent. The church season of advent is the expectation of Christmas. But how can we anticipate with excitement, a thing that is happened and over? It is ridiculous to try and manufacture this feeling. So what can we do with this time? The suggestion was to get a ‘checkup for the soul’. We should ask ourselves- how are we grateful? -how are we spoiled? I like the thoughtful nature of this sermon’s questions. I struggle with the question of how I’m doing and if I’m a positive force in the world. I think there are times church should make us comfortable and times it should make us uncomfortable. For instance we shouldn’t be content with helping only ourselves. We shouldn’t be content with sitting at home when we could be volunteering. I’m not the best at this, so I’m glad the church keeps reminding me to seek to do better.

Church #45, Powerhouse City of Deliverance, part two

So this church had so much going on I decided to put it in two installments. I will now continue.

Beliefs: This church did not mention or claim a bigger group that they are a member of, such as a denomination. Instead they read a series of faith statements before the sermon. Here are the ones I managed to write down:
We believe the bible is infallible.
We believe in the trinity.
We believe Christ will return.
We believe repentance and faith save us from sin.
We believe the Holy Spirit is needed for salvation.
We believe in baptism with the Holy Spirit.
We believe in the ministry outlined in Ephesians. (Anyone know what this is?)

In addition the church recited the Apostles Creed together, so they must believe in that.

Pre-sermon: After a call for ‘testimonies’ several people came up and shared positive news. At other churches this section might be called praises or joys.

Sermon: So I had some trouble understanding parts of the sermon, mostly because of the acoustics in this church but also partly because I had some difficulty with the dialect of the pastor and copastor. The church membership is mostly Black, and the some of the speech patterns are less familiar to me. Properly stated, this is an probably example of African American Vernacular English, which has usage differences as well as pronunciation differences from what ever dialectic category I fall under. Now that you’ve had your linguistics lesson for today, let’s continue with the parts of the sermon I was able to catch.

The sermon started with 2 ways evil/problems may enter your life. The first is by God, the second through sin. The example for God causing evil is the story of Job. I have mixed feelings about blaming God for problems. I’ve encountered the idea before in the following form; God tests us by giving us hard things to experience and it is through this that we grow. I get that it’s mechanism for people to understand their problems by, but I’m not sure it squares well with the how I feel about God being all about love.

The second way for evil to enter your life is through sin. This does make some sense to me. Making mistakes in life can lead to a string of problems. Saying sin leads to evil is another way of saying this. Explaining the two reasons for evil are better than a single blanket reason. If the explanation doesn’t go too far into specifics this leaves it up to the individual to decide if there are changes that need to be made or if it’s an opportunity for growth. Of course I’m interpreting very broadly here about both these interpretations of sin. The nice thing about this sermon was that it wasn’t that specific about what falls into the categories, so I could be more metaphorical in my interpretation.

The only other things I wrote in my notes were a couple of statements that spoke to me. The first went, “Don’t look at me like I’m God, I’m human.” This is a great thing to put in a sermon. Pastors have whatever power leadership brings. It’s a good sign when a leader, especially a religious leader, acknowledges their own humanity and propensity to failure. Sometimes the opposite happens and a religious leader claims exclusive access to God and them runs with it, convincing others to follow into negative stuff. Looking at Jesus, who did claim access to God, I notice even he empowered others to access God. I’m thinking of the times he told his disciples to heal others, pray for miracles and give money to those in need.

The second cool thing that was said was, “God’s gonna free you from religion.” This was a week in which I felt God nudging me, and this was one of the bits that drove that home. I do feel like we are constricted by religion. I do feel that what I’m looking for, what I’d really like to find in my project, is less religion and more of a feeling; a sense that this is ok and I can be myself with those who will not care about my quirks or find my thought processes too odd. I want something indescribable. When I think about the word religion it feels like a thing that is all too often filled with rules and gestures that are empty. Pastor says God’s gonna free me from this. Well, I sure hope that’s right.

Church #45, Powerhouse City of Deliverance, part one

Date: 11/17/13

Church name/type: Powerhouse City of Deliverance, Pentecostal

Pastor: Pastor Evan and Copastor Patterson

Style of worship: Loud fun music with lots of dancing and jumping. The sermon was interrupted by spontaneous song several times.

Overall Impression: actually I liked it

History in Brief:
This church was in neither the phone book or any websites I could find. Digging around online I did find a bit about the building’s history. It was originally the German Evangelical Protestant Church. At some point it was referred to as just Evangelical Protestant Church. (The sign outside still bears this name and old, incorrect times of worship.) Later it was used by a UCC group. Currently it is used by the Powerhouse group, which is Pentecostal.

I arrived at the time advertised on the sign; 10:30. Instead of a church service about to start I found people inside serving breakfast. They invited me to eat so I did. I took a seat and asked about church. I was told church starts at 11:30 with prayer and 12:00ish for the actual service and that breakfast is served to anyone who shows up between 9am and 11am. I had a bit of conversation with some ladies who were sitting around having breakfast. We spoke a bit about my project and they asked me what I was looking for and what I’d found. During the conversation I said that I was disappointed with some churches for failing to show me friendliness or take much notice of me at all. This was notably the case in my visit to the Catholic Church closest to my house. One of the women told me I shouldn’t look for friendliness per se because:
“You don’t know where they’re coming from or what they’ve got going on.” Which I think I can agree with in general. If someone is hurting I can’t expect friendliness to be the first thing on their mind. I don’t expect this would ever be true for an entire church, but I get what she was saying. The other woman (who turned out to the copastor) said we need to be the ones who reach out to others and make what God wants a reality.- “It’s all on us to show that love,” she told me.
I also talked for a few minutes with some guys who wandered in for breakfast. They were trying to decide what to do with their morning and whether to include church or not. They seemed nice. While I was there one woman I met offered first me and then the three guys help if we needed it. That’s a huge blanket statement to make and she did seem sincere. Clearly this church wants to be able to help others. One visit isn’t enough to tell me how much help this church is really able to give, but the free breakfast seems like a nice way to go.

Praise portion:
So the service starts with something a woman told me was “intercessory prayer”. Instead of a formal prayer this felt much more like a preparatory space cleansing. Church members walked up and down the aisles and sides and front of the church chanting words and phrases and sometimes clapping. Most of what they said was in English but I noticed some of it was in tongues. (Those unclear on tongues: it’s a spiritual language some Christian groups believe in. The words don’t mean anything in any earthly language and those unfamiliar with tongues may perceive it as gibberish.) The chanting went on for at least twenty minutes and sometime rose to a modest shout. I was unclear on whether the prayer was meant to be participatory for everyone so I stayed in my seat.
After a while the band started to strum a little and a group of people assembled up front began to sing. The instrumentation was drums, guitar and keyboard and the music…if music rocks do you call it rock? I’m not a genre expert but it was very intense. The first song was one I recognized, so I sang along. After this I was unfamiliar with the music, but I did some clapping.
The acoustics in the room were rather bad, giving the music a blurry quality. I had great difficulty understanding the words of songs I didn’t already know. Also the sound was cranked right up to eleven, so it permeated my entire body from all sides it seemed. I did enjoy the music, and being unable to hear the lyrics left me free to think whatever thoughts came to me. It was weirdly relaxing and I found myself wandering about a string of ideas regarding secular music, worship, prayer, and God’s existence.
The most unusual part was the frenzy of the worship team. They sang loudly when there were words and at other times danced; quite fast sometimes. The dance involved a lot of stomping and shaking. The floor was moving and everything was full of energy. One woman actually collapsed on the floor. This must happen occasionally because no one made a big deal about it and someone brought a white cloth and placed it around her.

Part two of this church description will be up next week.

Church #44, St Paul’s Episcopal Church

Date: 9/3/13

Church name/type:St Paul’s Church, Episcopal

Pastor: just for today it was Father Leslie Hughs

Style of worship: Formal with some chanted elements

Overall Impression: Seems just fine!

I had a little trouble figuring out the entrance. This is one of those buildings where the sanctuary isn’t obvious and there are hallways leading to other rooms near it. I went into the sanctuary and got a little treat listening to choir practice. They were very nice, a capella, sounding angelic in the echoey space. The space itself was tall with white angular pillars against muted gray stone. It had a nice clean, almost Fortress of Solitude vibe. The organ and choir area were veiled by a wall of bronze spiderweb depicting a cross with sunlight pouring both from it and onto it.

Service went about how I expected, although slightly more formal than I realized. A man I met afterwards said he was almost put off by the ‘high church’ aspect of it all, until coffee hour when he really got to know some friendly people. I wasn’t fooled by the discrepancy. There are some churches that maintain a high formality level inside the sanctuary and then flip to an easy-going chatty bunch over coffee. This week was like that. I felt very much among peers at this place. At the coffee hour, at least six people began conversations with me out of the blue. I really love it when church membership is on the ball about greeting newcomers. Overall it was a pretty nice church and among my favorites.

Anything else?: I wish I’d spoken with long-haired guy. He made me so happy because he looked super comfortable. I like churches that seem good with members showing their own style rather than just “standard church look”. And being comfortable and being who you are are things more churches should endorse.