Church #7, Mount Moriah Church

Date: 2/26/12

Church: Mount Moriah Church

Pastor: Pastor Jesse Holt (youth pastor)

Time Spent: 11am-1pm

Overall Impression: Seems fine

Type: No idea. This place could be any brand of Christianity for all I can tell in terms of denomination. I did however manage to scare up a few descriptors from the literature I was given:

The regular pastors have training from the Faith School of Theology and Zion Bible Institute and International Bible Institute and Seminary. The church beliefs are described by a series of bible quotes from the new testament I’m not going to run though. The service is described as Spirit-filled, with brief explanations of tongues, lifting hands, and falling under the power.

*Update* 10/6/13 This church has no denomination and considers itself independent, however it originally formed out of an apparent difference of opinion and subsequent splitting of an Assemblies of God congregation into two groups following the introduction of new church leadership.

Format: songs, invitation to prayer up front with laying of hands, extensive prayer to the internet viewer (yeah services are on the web via church website), announcements, black history month presentation, offering, youth speakers, sermon

Thoughts: Ok before I go on, what is the deal with the word ‘corporate’? I have never ever heard the word corporate used to describe anything that wasn’t an extensive business. But this year in my project I have heard it used at three different churches to describe group worship. What is the deal? Is this some kind of take-back-the-english-language movement I don’t know about? Anyone who can enlighten me, please leave a comment.

So back to the church. I arrived in the middle of something. It was 10:55am, I should have been on time. Turned out to be bible study in the worship space. Way to confuse me, but ok that’s fine. I was greeted EXACTLY THE RIGHT AMOUNT. Listen up and I’ll give you the formula. In order to greet someone (like me anyway) new exactly right, the greeters should give a 4-6 minute window between greetings. Each new person said hello to me about six minutes after the last one did. This let me relax between greetings and helped me remember the names better. Also it served to show me that each one didn’t just follow suit, but saw I was new and decided on their own to greet me. The greeting length is important too. The interaction was limited to saying hello, welcome, and one or two questions about me, after which I was left alone. This interaction showed that the person was interested in me, but wasn’t so clingy as to become creepy. This is the style of greeting I advise, based on me and what I like. Seems like it might work for others as well, but I can’t be 100% sure, as I’m not everyone else.

The rest of the service was good, if long. Another unusual Sunday I suppose. The regular pastor was not there and there were the youth speakers and the black history presentation. The congregation seemed boisterous, culturally mixed, noisy, and there were lots of kids around. Mentally, I had a big reaction to the youth speakers. It wasn’t anything they said in their short message. It just sometimes happens when I think about how neat it would have been to participate in church stuff meant only for youth when I was a youth myself. I get angry about it. Nothing much was available like that when I was younger. I felt different from others, but in church you are supposed to feel good about yourself and love everyone. That’s what I took from my religious upbringing- mainly love others. But most of those I went to school with came from exactly the same Catholic background I did. And so many of them seemed to not get the loving others part. I have no idea if youth activities with the church would have reflected the way it was in school or the getting along part. I feel like the discrepancy between the two has affected me even as an adult. But that won’t change just because I’m upset. So I suppose it makes me just hope that the experience for these kids and young adults in this church can be a really positive one such as I didn’t get.

The rest of the message was given by the youth pastor. It ran a little long but had a lot of really accessible ideas:

Integrity was a key point. A quote from R. Buckminster Fuller ,”Integrity is the essence of everything successful.” A quote from the pastor, “Integrity means taking responsibility for what God wants for you.” The idea of wholeness as one of the synonyms for integrity was touched as well. “One needs to be whole first before doing for others.”

It is a good idea not to wear yourself out. Integrity also means doing enough but not doing too much. I like it, it’s easy to understand and makes good sense.

Overall Feelings: Wish I could have stayed after service. I was basically starving for lunch and left in a hurry.

Church #6, Solid Rock Church

Date: 2/19/12

Church: Solid Rock Church

Pastor: Pastor Justin Metcalf

Time Spent: 10:30am – 12:15pm

Overall Impression: Mixed

Type: As I am finding is common, no denomination was claimed. The Pastor made mention to me of a Pentecostal tradition and their website specifies that they are a group that came from an overcrowded Pentecostal church in Rensselaer.
9/23/13 Update: I checked further into this denomination and it is part of UPCI- United Pentecostal Church International.

Format: I was distracted from the format by my other observations and didn’t write it down. From memory it went: Music, prayer, sermon, communion, closing

Thoughts: Wow, this church is going to be hard to describe. I was surprised so many times by things good and bad. Very first impression -no bulletin. Then three or four people saw that I was new and greeted me warmly but briefly enough so as not to be overwhelming. I was also offered a copy of the new testament and a visitor form. I used the new testament copy as service went, but gave it back afterwards as I already have several at home. The music was going and I was thinking about my project and what kind of people attended this church and how much they really believed what was being said; the kind of things I sometimes think about during these Sunday services. One of the greeters came up to me to take away the visitor form. Well I hadn’t filled it in yet. But he was very insistent. I thought “Maybe he wants that little clipboard it’s on?” so I gave it back. He took it, noticed I hadn’t written on it and said, “You didn’t fill it out.” Then followed an exchange in which he tried to convince me to finish writing on it, came back three minutes later to take it, looked at it again and realized I hadn’t included contact info, and tried to get that from me. I said, “I’m not comfortable giving that out.” He said, “We wouldn’t share it with anyone.” All this going on while the band and church is still singing praise music. Finally he took the paper as it was and went away. I wish I’d said something afterwards to the guy or the pastor. I got the vibe that he really didn’t have ANY idea how uncomfortable he was making me.

There were a lot of other bits that were noticeable which I will outline briefly.

1) The music sounded good. Combo was: guitar, bass, drum set, keyboard. The musicians all seemed talented and I like the blend of the four instruments.

2) Lots of Christianese. Maybe at some point in the future I will give Christianese a whole post to itself. Christianese is made up of words or phrases that sound normal, but mean something extra in the context of Christianity. Most used phrase today was “God will physically touch us”. That’s weirds right? It almost makes God sound dirty. Or is he a regular person that who could put his hand on our shoulder? In fact I’m pretty sure this one just means the opposite of what it says. God is not really a physical being, so we must be ‘touched’ by Him in some way emotionally or mentally.

3) This church does a charitable project new each month. This month was a Habitat for Humanity build. Next month is probably going to be a food pantry project.

4) Prayer time was not open to congregation requests, but it did require us to hold hands and it was very noisy. Lot’s of people exclaiming ‘yes Lord’ or ‘Amen’.

5) The sermon message was a bit simplistic. A lot of it was just use of single words or phrases. It went something like… “God is not ‘no’. God is ‘yes’. Say ‘yes and amen'” Then everyone said -yes and amen. Lots of repeating phrases after the pastor. I was almost reminded of Sunday #3. But there was a couple little gems there too. Pastor said that it is easy for us to go to a doctor who we hardly know and have faith he will make us well. Why is it harder to have faith in God who we do know? And he mentioned rhema and logos. Which I had to look up. Both are translated as ‘word’, but they have a slight difference in use. Rhema means ‘spoken word’. Logos has something of a broader definition. Sometimes it can mean ‘written word’. It is also used to mean language or even discourse. That makes logos feel like it represents not the actual sounds of a word, but the thought going on behind the word. And logos can mean specifically ‘word of God’.

6) Communion! I haven’t actually shared a communion since my project began. Not all churches do it, not all do it every Sunday, and not all allow casual visitors to partake. The pastor mentioned that any can come have communion, so this church is open to anyone having it. It was grape juice and cracker style. (I think the cracker was actually matzoh!) Everyone filed up front, took some and wandered back to their seat. Then we all ate and drank at the same time.

After service was done I waited around for the pastor to say hello. I introduced myself and my project. He gave me props for my courage (he didn’t say props) and asked if there was anything he could do for me. I was surprised because usually pastors either say “cool!” or offer things which they have thought of that might help. Being asked what I actually wanted made me feel like he didn’t just see me as some lost sheep that needed directing, but possibly a smart individual who is capable of finding stuff out herself. Since I assumed he’d be open to it, I asked for prayer. I got some prayer. I also got a book called (don’t laugh) Christianese. It was a gift. I’m going to have to read it for my next Sunday off.

Overall Feelings: Still mixed. They seem nice, enthusiastic, and oblivious to the couple of weird things that are gonna turn people off.

Church #5 Bethlehem Community

Date: 2/12/12

Church: Bethlehem Community Church

Pastor: This Sunday it was Pastor David Eames.

Time Spent: 10:00 – 11:30am with a little extra thrown in talking to some friends

Overall Impression: Good, but bigger than I’m used to

Type: According to the website, this church began as, and I suspect still considers itself, an interdenominational church. I’m not sure what denominations it is between. It has an evangelical feel to it. I’m not entirely sure how pastors are selected, hired, called or whatever. All of the pastors listed on the website are male and several of them have degrees in theology from seminary colleges. There was also a section describing leaders which made a distinction between elders (male) and deaconesses (female). I couldn’t make out if one is meant to ‘outrank’ the other or what. I’m sure there is a set of rules and regulations for all this stuff that isn’t going to be available to the casual web surfer.

Format: Music, announcements, more music, appeal for money for charity type project, sermon, music

Thoughts: So I gotta be honest, there were a lot of things working against my liking this one. It was a particularly down Sunday for me from the get-go. For some reason (or several) I was just bummed out when I got up that morning. That might be the reason the music wasn’t really doing much for me. I also suspect the gymnasium which doubled as the worship space might have had some poor acoustics going on. I wasn’t greeted at all this time, except in a cursory way by the woman handing out bulletins. This I think I can safely say was due to the enormous number of people in attendance; too many to recognize a new visitor. And to be fair, the woman who sat next to me struck up a short conversation with me after the service in which she found out I was new and invited me back.

I can’t say the sermon interested me much. It was pretty short owing to the choir and the charity appeal taking time away. A couple of friends of mine who I met afterwards said that it was unusual in its brevity. I did get a few little nuggets of awesome from it though. He said that “every church has problems because every church has people”. This is a wonderful idea to hear from a pastor. Many churches fail to recognize that they might have issues going on that could be improved upon. Just recognizing the need to consider problems is a great thing. I wish more churches would acknowledge this idea. I also noticed Pastor Eames can get kinda shouty. A few people responded with ‘amen’ or ‘yes’, but not in a widespread way. And he’s funny. He told an amusing joke about a painter which I will retell later on.

After the service I got some extra info on the church from my two friends who attend there. We had a bit of good talk before I went on home. I’m not really sure if I would have stayed long if they hadn’t been around. The pastor kinda disappeared afterwards- I think there was a meeting he had to go lead? And it was a whole huge mess of people, which can sometimes make me nervous. I don’t love big crowds.

Overall Feelings: Eh, s’okay I guess. The size thing might be a detriment to my returning. As I said I’m not in love with big crowds. Other than that it wasn’t really problematic.

Oh yeah, that joke:

So a house painter is looking for work. He gets connected with a church that is in some serious need of paint. He strikes a particularly good bargain which will compensate him well and make the church happy too. He gets his supplies ready and shows up to start the job. Once he gets out of his vehicle he realizes the church is much bigger than he originally thought. It has a whole extra wing- he isn’t going to have enough paint! What can he do? He decides it won’t hurt anyone if he just adds some water to the paint to stretch it. As he starts working, the beautiful sunny day begins to cloud over and become threatening. Dark clouds fill the sky and thunder and lighting rumble and crash. He knows he’s in trouble with the man upstairs, so he gets down on his knees and prays, “God what should I do?” God’s voice comes down from heaven, “REPAINT! AND THIN NO MORE!”

Church #2, King’s Chapel in Glenmont

Date: 1/8/12

Church: King’s Chapel, Glenmont

Pastor: Lou Giampaglia

Time Spent: 10am-12noon

Overall Impression: Impressive Depth

Type: I can’t make out a denomination that this church calls itself, but it also doesn’t go by “non-denominational” which is a term that seems to be becoming a buzzword. It’s possible they want to avoid the classification because the term “non-denominational” is almost becoming a denomination itself.

According to the history, it is an outgrowth of Westerlo Baptist Church in the late 90’s, but there’s no mention of current affiliation, and I’m not entirely sure how to group it. (possibly that is the point- touchĂ©!)

Format: Opening song, announcements, more songs, sermon, closing song and prayer

Thoughts: The first thing that grabbed me was the warmth. Now I’m a sucker for good lighting, acoustics, and actual warmth, so it’s possible this fuzzy feeling was just a lucky combination. But it felt nice in there. I notice from the bulletin that this church collects food and clothing in association with a food pantry and a rescue mission, maybe I should consider shopping for non-perishables and driving them over. It is right next to my usual grocery store. The people seem nice, cool, they are obviously close to each other. I was greeted only once, but that’s ok. If one is greeted too many times into a new place it can become overwhelming. And it’s not like I felt snubbed. Actually the opposite. After the service I introduced myself to the pastor and he intro’d me to his wife. While talking with her I put my hand in my pocket and discovered I locked my keys in my car. She offered to let me use her tripleA to unlock it, but I didn’t need to since Dan was down the street. It was kinda funny in a stupid (like of all the dumb things I could do!) way.

The sermon was really my favorite part. The pastor touched on a lot of different aspects of the reading for that day. It was from Genesis 15- actually it might have been the whole chapter. Here are the parts of the sermon that struck me enough to record in my notebook.

Covenant is an important theme in this part of Genesis. The idea of covenant is throughout the bible. There is an implicit one with Adam- take care of the earth and Eve and don’t eat that fruit. Noah was given the rainbow as sign of the covenant when God told him he wouldn’t flood the earth again. Marriage is a covenant. Grace is a covenant.

The pastor did an interesting thing (I think) in relating Genesis opening to the gospels. The words God says to the three in the garden can be interpreted as relating to Jesus’ death. He says to the serpent (evil/devil) ‘He will crush your head’. Jesus crushes sin and gets rid of it. He also says ‘You will bruise his heel’. Jesus was busied and wounded in his death. This interpretation makes the Genesis verses almost a prophesy and I hadn’t heard it that way before.

There’s lots of good imagery in this chapter. Abram (later renamed Abraham by God) was from Ur, a place where he probably worshipped the moon. God came to him, brought him out, and then promised to give him really awesome things, including lots of lands and descendants. God speaks to him and takes him outside, telling him to look up. “Number the stars. So shall your descendants be.” He promises him so many grandchildren great-grandchildren, etc, that he wouldn’t be able to count them. And he told him in a way that had him focus on a night sky with the moon in it. A moon that probably never promised all these things to him. And we know from later chapters that God keeps his promise. The other important thing about Abram is that he believes God before it was even accomplished. That’s why we call Abram one of the faithful.

An interesting thing the pastor talked about was old testament agreements. The covenant Abram makes is like others made at that time with animal sacrifices. An animal was cut in half and those making the promise walked between the halves as a sign that they agreed. It was a way of saying, “I’ll keep my promise, if not may I be sliced in half like these animals.” If I understood the message correctly, in this case God made the necessary pass through the animal halves as fire and smoke.

Another point that was called into use was the idea of faith vs. works. The message was that faith is the important one because True Faith brings works. I think I can disagree with this one in practice, because I feel it is part of myself to require motivation actually doing good works and I don’t think it is lack of true faith. But that’s probably another longer discussion.

I also had some difficulty with a question we were posed: Given the choice, would you choose the best thing in your life or Jesus? Well the best thing in my life is my family. I don’t think it would ever come to me choosing to give them up in order to obtain Jesus. Also I wouldn’t. So I think the question wasn’t a great one, but I think I understand the point. Jesus is pretty important.

Overall Feelings: Nice place you got there!
I could go back. And I might, if I get a free week- say one in which I try attending a service that is no longer in service. I’d be a bit late of course, but I get the feeling they wouldn’t mind.

first Church Visit, Delmar Full Gospel Church

Date: 1/1/12

Church: Delmar Full Gospel Church

Pastor: David Gericke

Time Spent: 10am – 12:45pm (includes coffee and bagels after service)

Overall Impression: Good.

Type: this church is an independent one, however the pastor is affiliated with MFI.

*Update 10/6/13 The church was born out of a bible study in 1981. It is not a part of any denomination.

Format: Service opens with musical praise/worship, then a sermon, then prayer with people available to pray with/for you

Thoughts: I was really nervous to start my project. I didn’t know how people would receive my notion of exploring all the area churches. I shouldn’t have been worried, as most of them simply offered to pray that God would lead me. I take that as a complement and a nonjudgmental way of offering support to me even though I was clearly not clamoring for membership. I was mildly surprised by the pastor who warned/advised me that I wouldn’t find a real connection the way I was going about it. Everyone else seemed cool with the idea, and I wasn’t feeling pressured.

I was greeted no less than six times on my way in and inside. Some asked questions about me, others just said ‘Happy New Year’. The praise portion of the service was easy to follow and words to all songs were displayed on screens at the front of the church. There was a very small amount of singing/speaking in tongues. I’ve been exposed to that before and it was very unobtrusive and didn’t bother me. The sermon was about fasting, which is a project this particular church is doing all week long. The pastor suggested fasting food as much as we are called to by God, but to consider other fasts as well. Examples being: Facebook, TV, sarcasm, video games, or texting. In each case we should use the time freed to us to spend with God. He also cautioned that fasting is not meant to entice God to speak or more readily grant our prayers. It is more for us to change our ways and let us experience God through this change. He told a story of a woman called to fast of her criticisms. After the sermon, I talked with a couple more people who came up to greet me, but my best conversation was with a woman who I happened to sit down next to. She was new to this church by several months and considered it home. She spoke about something she has struggled with that sounded major, and she seemed to feel difficulty from this, but it sounds like things are improving. Her manner was really frank and I felt comfortable speaking with her. I said I didn’t know what I’d find with my project but was hoping it would turn out really beneficial to me. We spoke briefly about grace vs. works (one of my favorite topics) and she said she was coming from a place where the focus was on works and she felt grace was left out of the picture. She came newly to the church and wanted to jump in and get going helping out but was told by a member to take it easy for a while and let grace come to her and let the church be for her. I can remember a time I attended a church that needed its members to volunteer and keep doing and doing and I sorely needed a break which was not given to me. I also know that through works we share the goodness that we have and it isn’t good to refrain from works all the time. I guess what I’m saying is that you need both, and it may take effort to remember both. To me grace means- pay attention! God loves you and doesn’t need you to achieve a specific number of good things to earn that love. And works means- It really helps others when you do good things for them, so try to do that if you are able.

Overall Feelings: I felt good after this service. Kind of energized and ready to explore some more. It’s really freeing to not have the burden of others expecting me back again and wondering what to say to them if I return after many months absence. I tend to struggle with guilt on a lot of different levels and aspects of my life, and it’s nice to think I may be able to go into a place and honestly say I won’t be back and feel fine with that. The one negative I see already is that I probably won’t remember most of these people’s names if I do get to see them again.