Thursday, December 27, 2012

Our Church Visiting Adventures - Part 1

Marty and I have begun a little adventure.  We’ve taken to visiting other neighborhood churches – once every 6 weeks or so.  Why?  Because we’ve a desire to discover how our neighbors are worshipping, to see what we can learn from those of like faith, to develop a better connection with others in our community, and, paraphrasing my husband - to get a look at the faces of the other believers with whom we will spend eternity. 

Last Sunday we visited a big, old church on the corner of the square of a tiny town a few minutes from here.  The church looked so beautiful in its Christmas finery – deep, deep windowsills that were decorated with greens and thoughtful figurines; paper angels made by the children of the church hanging from the lights; an unusual crèche of what looked like cornhusk figures flanked by rows of white and red poinsettias; a gorgeous Christmas tree in the corner covered with lights and Chrismons – symbols of Christ.

The theme for the day seemed to be light – sunlight pouring in the gorgeous old stained glass windows, a Sunday school lesson from John 1 on the Light of the world and excerpts from Ephesians on being the children of the Light, the minister’s prayer on the beauty and reality of Christ’s light, and the reminder of the hope of His coming in the lighting of the Advent candles.

The message for the day encompassed a short skit and concluding comments by the pastor.  It was called “The Bethlehem Shepherds” – a dialogue between two shepherds – an old man recounting the story to his grandson of the night 30 years before when angels came to announce the birth of the Savior.  He told his grandson of the wonder he experienced and then began to trace the themes of shepherds and lambs through the Scriptures – of Abram who was called to sacrifice his “lamb;” of David, a shepherd of Bethlehem, who cared for a flock of sheep and later a flock of people; and lastly, the importance of the lambs of the Passover. 

The pastor concluded the message by reminding us of the significance of the rest of the story – that Christmas means nothing without the events of Easter.  By way of illustration he shared a tradition his boyhood church practiced in Pittsburgh.  Each year, the people of the church bought a fresh and beautiful Christmas tree and dressed it for Advent.  After Christmastime, they stripped the tree of its decorations and discarded it – all but two branches of the tree.  Those two braches were fashioned together to form a cross and put away.  During Lent that cross was brought out and displayed as a poignant reminder that Christ’s birth and death were intrinsically linked.  What a precious reminder that our Savior was, indeed, born to die.

We appreciated our time of worship with others of like faith and look forward to our continuing adventure.  In the meantime, there’s no place like home . . .

P.S. – A few “housekeeping” ideas we noticed:
- One of the announcements was a reminder that any Sunday in which there are fresh cut flowers in altar vases you are welcome to take them after services to “gift” others.  Whether to share them with someone who is ill or as a way to encourage and/or witness to someone, you were directed to see the individual that would give you a tin can for that very purpose.
- As first-time visitors we were encouraged to pick up a free book as we left the sanctuary.  We were given a copy of The Purpose of Christmas by Rick Warren.  Whether this is a through-the-year practice, I don’t know - but what a great idea to get various great books into the hands of others!

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