Memorable church signs

August 17, 2012

I’m not sure when it became common for churches in this country to display clever – or not so clever – sayings on the signs in front of their buildings. When I was younger, I’m sure all most of them showed were service times, the name of the pastor, and possibly the title of the sermon for the upcoming Sunday.

By sometime in the mid-90’s, those supposed-to-be-clever sayings had become so common that I really appreciated this one:

SIGN BROKEN
MESSAGE INSIDE

I liked it so much I took a picture of it, and then started taking pictures of other church signs I particularly liked. It’s a very small collection – if I had had a camera with me yesterday, the picture I would have taken would be only the fourth one.

I’m not actually sure where those pictures are, since that was back when I used a traditional (i.e. non-digital) camera, and the prints are no doubt in a box somewhere. But I think the second sign was something like this:

LOOKING FOR A SIGN FROM GOD?
HERE IT IS

It was probably intended just to be eye-catching, but I found it somewhat thought-provoking as well. What would constitute a sign from God? God can use just about anything – including church signs – to turn our attention in a certain direction, but none of them can stand alone as communication from God. That takes the Spirit’s work within us. Certainly one primary avenue of communication is in the context of the local church, so those words on a church sign seemed quite appropriate to me.

The third one was more clever/cute than thought-provoking, and some might see it as making light of a serious subject, but I liked it:

FREE TRIP TO HEAVEN
DETAILS INSIDE

I don’t know how many non-Christians would ever be motivated to go inside and ask for details, but I think it’s one of the better instances I’ve seen of using an idea/phrase from popular culture to make a point about faith in Christ.

My new favorite sign is the one I saw two days ago on the way to a job interview. (Today is my last day at the company I have worked at since October 2004.) The sign looked quite unremarkable at first glance, but the last word caught my attention and made me look a second time to read it correctly.

JESUS KNOWS ME
THIS I LOVE

When I got home and Googled the phrase, I realized that it was not nearly as original as I had thought at first. There is a song by that name that apparently is fairly popular. I don’t care much for the song itself, but I like these two lines very much. The familiar song “Jesus Loves Me” is so closely associated in my mind with young children that it is hard for me to separate it from a child’s necessarily rather unformed view of God and his love.

But to say that Jesus knows me – and know that he still loves me, even knowing what I’m really like – is indeed something special.


What’s in a worship service? (Part 5)

July 4, 2012

I am somewhat hesitant to write about “what I’d like to have in a worship service,” because I think there is already too much emphasis, in many churches, on shaping worship services to meet people’s preferences. The point of worship is not what I want, or how I feel about the experience, but about God and turning our focus from ourselves to God.

There are, however, certain practices in a worship service can help or hinder our attempts to focus on God. I’m not suggesting trying to go out and change a church’s worship traditions – even those of my own church. (I happen to be the chair of the worship committee, but at this point the committee does little more than make sure we know who’s doing the music, Scripture readings, etc. for each Sunday. And I’m not going to try to use my position to push my own preferences. Though I might try to plant a few seeds if we get talking about possible changes…)

The things I suggest here are a mix of what I learned in classes at college (as a Bible major), what I have seen done in different churches, and what I have heard or read in books on the subject.

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What’s in a worship service (Part 4)

July 2, 2012

Of all the different kinds of churches I have attended and worshiped at, I feel most at home in a Presbyterian worship service. I don’t know how much that has to do with the fact that it is similar in its general form to the worship services at the Congregational church I grew up in, how much my 23 years of being Presbyterian, how much with the way its nature matches my personality, and how much it is the excellent features of the worship service itself.

One of the first things I learned about Presbyterianism, back when I switched to that tradition from the Baptist churches I had attended before I got married, is that in many ways they are a “middle way.” There is an excellent book on the subject by Harry Hassell, Presbyterians – People of the Middle Way. Taking a position between two extremes is not always the right approach, because sometimes one “extreme” is right and the other is extremely wrong. But in many aspects of religious belief and practice, there is much wisdom to be gleaned from both ends of the spectrum, and a middle position borrows from both while avoiding the errors of focusing too much on one to the exclusion of the other.

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What’s in a worship service? (Part 3)

June 29, 2012

I remember hearing about house churches when I was a teenager. The New Testament tells about Christians meeting in one another’s homes, and I knew that in countries where Christians are persecuted people would generally have to meet in homes. I heard of new churches that were started by someone inviting people to worship in their home. But it always seemed to be assumed that when possible, a church building was the normal and preferred gathering place.

Sometime in the past decade or so I began to hear about people who gathered in house churches by choice. One occasional commenter at WorldMag Community always writes very critically about “institutional churches” when the subject comes up. While his tone often strikes me as uncharitable, some of his points are worth considering.

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What’s in a worship service? (Part 2)

June 26, 2012

As many different churches as I visited as a child and young adult, I never had occasion to visit an Eastern Orthodox church. I didn’t know anyone who attended one, and the only time I lived near one was the year when I was teaching Spanish at a Christian school in Levittown, PA. I walked or drove past it often, and wondered what it was like.

My curiosity didn’t extend to actually visiting it, however. The school where I taught had a list of acceptable churches for its teachers to attend. I don’t remember whether all the churches on the list were Baptist, but an Eastern Orthodox church would most certainly not have been acceptable.

After I married and became a Presbyterian, I had more contact with people from other Christian traditions. The church we attended in Langhorne participated in ecumenical activities with other churches in town (with the notable exception of the fundamentalist Baptist church I had attended previously). I remember discussing church and theology with the priest of the Episcopal church on Good Friday during the Walk behind the Cross, and one year I attended a Saturday retreat held at the Friends meeting-house and getting to know some Roman Catholics.

I also read a lot, and I was particularly intrigued by accounts I read of former evangelicals who had converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. I couldn’t imagine following their example, but I understood some of the factors that seemed to motivate them.

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What’s in a worship service? (Part 1)

June 24, 2012

Note: this first post is an introduction to the subject of different sorts of worship services. In the last nine days, I have attended three very different worship services – one at an Eastern Orthodox church, one at a house church, and one at the Presbyterian church where my husband is pastor.

There are a number of similarities, starting with the most important: at all three we worshiped the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There was singing at all three services, there were Scripture readings, there was prayer, and there was a sermon. But in other ways they were quite different. In subsequent posts, I will go into more detail about each one.

I don’t remember a time when going to church was not a part of my life. Or when I did not know that there were different ways to “do church.” From the time I was an infant, my father took me (and my older sister) to Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford, CT. But we also attended ecumenical services for h0lidays such as Thanksgiving, and while on vacation we attended other kinds of churches.

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Community and transcendence

February 19, 2012

I read a very interesting essay in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Alain de Botton writes about the loss of a sense of community that people once had from church membership and involvement, and how he envisions a secular version of that community spirit.

Identifying community meals and rituals as elements that enable perfect strangers to establish community in the context of religious meetings, he speculates on how those elements might be used without the religious context. He describes  “an ideal restaurant of the future, an Agape Restaurant” where people come together without regard for social class, family background, professional status, or ethnic background.

Rather than leave people to figure out for themselves how to engage one another in meaningful conversation, there would be written guidelines on how to behave, what happens when, and what kind of things to talk about. People would know that it was safe to open themselves up and talk about things that they usually kept to themselves or their closest friends.

I can’t say it couldn’t happen, but I am skeptical. The basis for community among believers is not communal meals or rituals, though those certainly help foster community. What draws people together from different walks of life, and creates a place where they do not need to posture or pretend, is transcendence.

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