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 #57, South Bethlehem United Methodist Church

Date: 5/25/14

Church name/type: South Bethlehem Church, UMC

Pastor: Mark Ledbetter

Style of worship: Formulaic but very friendly; probably a lot of room for creativity within the segments of service

Useful takeaways:
Children’s Moment: This was delivered by a layperson (or maybe a deacon or Deacon equivalent?) named Paul. He talked about parties and invitations He said heaven is going to be like a party. There may be people we don’t expect, but God loves us all and he’s the one sending the invitations. It was kind of a nice reminder that we need to be good to everyone, not just those we like or those we’d invite to a party.

The sermon was titled ‘We are not alone’ – that is, of course to say we always have God. This idea is a bit of a cliche and pastor didn’t delve too deeply into it except as something of a reminder. A more interesting bit to the sermon was an emphasis on allowing the world to see Christ in us every day in what we do. Pastor kind of spring-boarded off the children’s time message that we need to remember to show others goodness and qualities like: justice, kindness, compassion. He pointed out that there is no room in our lives for: bullying, racism, homophobic jokes, and slurs. And sometimes we must show love by saying hard things to loved ones when they make such hurtful remarks.
I have to say I really appreciate the depth of such a message. It is hard to teach others tolerance, just as it’s hard to hear it from others that we have been intolerant. I am actually kind of inspired hearing this message. It’s hard to explain why, but I guess as someone whose views have changed, I feel hopeful. Hopeful for myself and others, that we can continue to be shown new better ideas and accept them.

More along the lines of an item for awareness, this church is only a couple of turns off 9W, but it still manages to feel tucked away from everything; it has sudden rurality. The road I took to get to it has one sharp sharp turn, one steepish hill, and is narrow enough to be a candidate for one way if it was in the city. This is nothing the church could fix of course, but might be good info if you went say at Christmas in a snowstorm.

Church # 16, Slingerlands Community United Methodist

Date: 8/19/12

Church: Slingerlands Community UMC

Pastor: Pastor Laurel Phillips

Time Spent: 10-11:5am

Overall Impression: good, small, friendly

Type: United Methodist Church

Format summary: the usual- songs, prayer, scripture message and closing

Thoughts: What a good Sunday! I’m starting to realize how much appeal churches have when it’s sunny out and everyone is smiling. Another key to what I take from my project seems to be seasonal in nature. I guess the moral should be for churches to remember that people may be grumpy in winter and adjust accordingly. How to do it? I’ll gather more data for a future post.

Slingerlands community held their outdoor service the day I picked to show up. It was a beautiful day. The message had to do with the idea of webs and linkage. I participated in children’s time as an adult because there were only a few children. We created a pattern by each holding a portion of a long ribbon. It looked a little like a web, the takeaway point being, we are all connected.

The sermon was about David, Bathsheba, and Uriah the Hittite. Because I love this story I will tell it to you twice. The VeggieTales version goes like this:
King George loves rubber duckies. Duckies are his favorite thing in the world. He has an entire closet full of duckies, but he sees one of his subjects with a cute little duckie and he wants it. He wants it so bad, that he intentionally sends this subject into the front lines of the great pie wars hoping he will get ‘creamed’. Then he takes the duckie for himself. Meanwhile at front lines, his faithful subject does get creamed- by lots of pies! He becomes delirious, babbling to himself about pies. After all this happens, a self-proclaimed ‘slightly odd wise man’ named Melvin shows up. He tells King George a story about two men. The first man is rich and has many sheep. The second is poor with just one little lamb. The rich man has dinner guests over. Rather than slaughter one of his many sheep, he takes the lamb of the poor man and they eat that for dinner. King George is very upset about what the rich man did and asks for his identity so he can be punished. Melvin points out that King George has done the same as the rich man and in fact his story was just a metaphor. King George is sorry for what he’s done so, to make amends, he invites his subject over for a nice bubble bath and gives back his only duckie. This brings him out of his pie-delirium and all is well.

The bible version has a far less-happy ending I’m afraid. King George is King David. The duckie represents Bathsheba, a woman David actually knocks up. Problem is, she is married to Uriah and they haven’t slept together since he’s been at war for his king. So David and Bathsheba can’t even pretend that the resulting baby is Uriah’s. David offs Uriah by sending him into the thickest part of the fighting. With Uriah gone, David can take Bathsheba for his own. Here’s where the Melvin analog (Nathan) shows up. He tells the story about the sheep, knowing that David used to be a shepherd. It moves David to anger against the rich man’s cruelty. Nathan reveals his trick and David realizes he is in trouble with God. Nathan says, “You are forgiven. You will not die.” However God punishes David by taking the child Bathsheba is pregnant with. It does not live longer than a week.

Why do I love this story? Probably because of the amazingly good VeggieTales episode. Also it’s very juicy, like reading tabloids. Something about it really draws me in. The sermon points again to a web. Not of good feeling and humanity among all people this time, but of lies and murder. David let one sin lead to another. He became so stuck in what he wanted that it messed up his life. In some ways God is totally harsh in this story. God takes the baby that Bathsheba gives birth to. In other ways God is very lenient. He doesn’t harm David, even though he deserves death as punishment for murder. The way it works out is very old-school old testament. God’s mercy saves a king but kills an infant. Punishment is doled out to a person’s progeny instead of that person. I’m sure this portion of the story spoke much more clearly to audiences back in the day.

It kind of makes me wonder about the whole abortion debate. God killed a full term child already born because he was inconvenient. Maybe all the people who quote the old testament missed this part. It seems to me there should be a big group of religious folks pushing for the exact opposite of what they are now. Clearly the full grown adult life was more important to God than the baby.

Looking at it another way, maybe that’s just an instance of ‘God does everything’. Old testament explanations sometimes take the tack that whatever happened, God willed it for a reason. Did the baby look sick, then Nathan came along to explain why?

Either way it’s a pretty good story. And by good I obviously mean interesting. Because its totally NOT good for nearly everyone involved. No word on how Bathsheba felt about all this. She’s just a woman so maybe no one asked her. But that’s a post for another time.

Anything Else -?: I must fit in pretty well- the Pastor asked me how I’ve been even though we’d never met. Turns out that I look like someone else. That’s starting to happen now and then. I wonder if it’s something specifically nondescript about me or just my smile.

Church #14, First United Methodist Church

Date: 8/5/12

Church: First UMC Delmar

Pastor: preaching: Reverend Iona Dickinson

Time Spent: (oh I knew I forgot something, how long was I there?) 9:30-11am? I think?

Overall Impression: good, especially given that it’s a million degrees out and that makes me cranky

Type: United Methodist Church

Format: This church had no musical-chairs greeting time; I guess they might be nearing the size limit that would work for. The format had a lot of following along with group spoken parts, interspersed with single verses from the hymnal. This was only slightly confusing and I did pretty well once I realized the the format was actually wrapped around the bulletin full of other church announcements.

So, when I first walked in I thought maybe I made a mistake. The feel was so formal I thought maybe it was a different denomination. I’m used to a more relaxed feel in Methodist churches. It’s probably also related to the fact that I help a friend with youth events in Methodist churches and those are super relaxed. The First UMC building looked pretty and formal with stained glass windows and this stately organ music playing and people in kinda nice outfits. Well I went in and sat down. No one greeted me, but I came in almost exactly as the service started. And one woman smiled at me while I was giggling at the children’s time. The sermon was about being hungry for God and remembering to feed ourselves spiritually. One of the kids claimed he was hungry in his heart at lunchtime.

Anyway the format did have mostly components I recognized from other Methodist churches. And it was a communion week so I got some bread and juice. Methodists make no requirements on partaking in communion- zero. So you can always just show up and know that they’re cool with you eating with them.

After service one man near me immediately greeted me. I spoke with the pastor and was domino-cascade introduced to about five more people. I’m actually surprised I didn’t already know anyone as I tend to know Methodists here and there from the camp I used to be involved with. Everyone seemed pretty cool and open. And the pastor had a tiny little baby I got to hold. So this is my favorite church- or at least my favorite church baby.

Overall Feelings: Dressy formal looking, but still low-key. Everyone was happy to welcome me and low pressure to return. Just what I was hoping for from the now familiar Methodist church.