Friday, May 18, 2018

Week Four: Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene

This past weekend I visited my mother for Mother's Day, which meant finding a church to go to out of the Cedar Rapids area. I like to sleep, so I decided to go to Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene in Moravia because they have a 6pm service.

The Church of the Nazarene describes itself as a "Wesleyan-Holiness" denomination. The denomination is the product of multiple mergers of smaller denominations that were part of the Methodist and Holiness movements.

Some positions and beliefs of the denomination include-

  • Belief in the Trinity
  • Use of the Protestant Bible 
  • An emphasis on grace, holiness, and Entire Sanctification/Christian Perfection
  • Baptism by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling
  • Communion with bread and grape juice
  • Total abstinence from alcohol and tobacco

Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene

The Church

I wasn't able to get a look at most of the building. The sanctuary/worship almost gave off a town hall vibe. The seats looked like auditorium or movie theater seats. In the front was a raised area with a projector screen and podium, and several seats facing the congregation (none of which were sat in when I was there).

The Service

The service began at 6pm with a hymn that was projected onto the screen. Only the piano was used, and it felt somehow out of place to sing such a traditional hymn in such a modern and secular looking place. I'm not sure if they always sing traditional hymns during the evening service or if it varies.

The church was maybe 10% full. The congregation has both a morning and evening service on Sunday, and I believe they are both different. so someone can go to both services if they choose. I would assume that the Sunday morning service usually has more people, as that is the service that has children's church running at the same time. It was also both Mother's Day and graduation weekend. In a small town that affects a good chunk of the congregation.

An offering was taken up for anyone who hadn't given in the morning, followed by another hymn. After that a mother came to the front with her three little girls to sing, "He's Still Working on Me." It was pretty adorable and definitely the highlight of the service.

The Sermon

This was definitely one of the more...interesting sermons I've heard. The pastor went off on a lot of tangents and it was difficult to keep up with him. The main message seemed to be:

  • The prophecies concerning the Messiah in the Old Testament are clearly fulfilled in Jesus. The Old Testament prophets didn't know exactly what the Messiah would be like or how the prophecies would be fulfilled, but we have the gift of hindsight.
  • The New Testament writers could see how the Old Testament prophecies show Jesus to be the Messiah, but couldn't see how their own writings would reveal a bigger picture for future generations.
  • We have the benefit of seeing how everything in the Bible fits together, but we don't know how exactly how or when the events concerning the 2nd Coming of Jesus will come to pass.
Now for a few of those tangents I mentioned-
  • After mentioning a specific prophecy in the Old Testament and commenting on how Jesus clearly fulfilled them, he would mention how he just couldn't believe that people didn't believe that people didn't believe in and accept Jesus as the Christ when he so clearly was. This happened multiple times. Either he was playing this up for dramatic effect or he genuinely doesn't understand why people may have trouble believing Biblical narratives.
  • He mentioned how bizarre it was that there were still Jewish people today who were waiting on the Messiah when it is clear that Jesus was the Messiah. He said these people were called "Messianic Jews." Couple of notes about that-
    • Messianic Jews are actually Christians who do believe that Jesus was the Messiah.
    • The New Testament uses quotes from the Old to prove that Jesus was fulfilling ancient prophecies. It can be easily argued that they are simply proof-texts.  When looking at the sources of the quotes and their contexts, it's not always clear how they're supposed to refer to a future Messiah. So it's actually pretty easy to see why someone wouldn't just accept Jesus as the Messiah.
  • The US embassy in Israel being moved to Jerusalem is Biblically significant...somehow. He mentioned how interesting (he started to say fun but corrected himself) it was that we could see the events predicted in here (pointing to the Bible) play out over there (the Middle East). No mention of the fact that people are dying, or anything that could be done to alleviate it. Just how interesting it is. 
  • After reminding people that people have been guessing at who the antichrist would be and have never been right, he gave the following examples he remembers hearing-
    • Osama bin Ladin (who he also referred to as Osama bin Hidin' and Osama bin Swimmin'), because he was shot in the head and thrown into the ocean.
    • Mikhail Gorbachev, because of his birthmark.
    • Anwar Sadat for reasons I can't remember.
Add all of this to the fact that the congregation would verbally express their agreement with the things he was saying...it was just a very bizarre experience.

Final Thoughts

After the service I talked a bit with an elderly woman who noticed I was visiting. She let me pick a couple of visitor gifts out of a basket, which was very kind of her. Other than that and the kids singing, this wasn't a particularly positive experience. The sermon pretty much ruined it for me.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Week Three: First Church of Christ, Scientist

Christian Science

Yesterday I attended a service at the local Christian Science church in town. Christian Science teaches that the material world is an illusion. God, being spirit, only created spiritual things. Because God is good, all of God's creation is therefore good. Negative things, such as illness, are therefore illusions. When we fix our thinking these illusions can be overcome and we can be healed. This has obviously caused problems. Christian Science followers may choose not use medical treatment, for themselves or their children. People (including children) have died from preventable causes because medical treatment wasn't sought.

Christian Science was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in the 19th century. Her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures is considered central to the faith. Both the Bible and Science and Health are considered to be the Pastor of the modern church. Because of this, sermons are simply passages read straight from both books.

A few other interesting beliefs and practices of Christian Science that I've been able to find-
  • Neither Jesus nor the Holy Spirit are considered to be God.
  • There are no paid clergy, at least at the local level. Two readers are elected from the congregation who read the passages from scripture and Science and Health.
  • There are no rituals, ordinances, or sacraments practiced. The words baptism and communion are used in a spiritual sense, and don't correspond to physical rituals.
  • The church is the publisher of the well-known Christian Science Moniter. I remember that newspaper being in our high school library.
  • Christian Science members can take classes to be certified as a "Christian Science Practitioner." For a small fee they "provide spiritual help that results in healing of all types of difficulties—physical, emotional, relationship, financial." (Source)

The Church (First Church of Christ, Scientist, Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

*Note: I was one of only 13 people at the church service. I chose not to take pictures because I already stood out like a sore thumb. I didn't take notes for the same reason*

The church building itself is adorable. After going to large, auditorium like services the past two weeks, it was nice to be in a church that actually looked like a church.  The sanctuary had about five rows of padded pews in three sections around a raised platform. The platform had two chairs and two podiums on it, one each for the First and Second readers.

When I entered the church an elderly gentleman greeted me and handed me a booklet with the "Bible Lesson" in it. The Bible lesson was basically an outline of most of what was read at the service.

The Service

The service began with a song. Something I found odd was that before each song was sung, the First Reader would read the entire first verse to the congregation. I can't think of a reason for doing this. There was an organist and a lead singer/cantor, which I thought was impressive for such a small congregation. 

Except for more hymns and a collection, the majority of the service was dedicated to the Bible lesson/sermon. Like I said above, these passages are considered to be the sermon itself, so there was no one to explain or give meaning to them. The week's lesson was on "Everlasting Punishment." The Second Reader would read different verses of the Bible, and the First reader would follow with verses read from Science and Health. This was repeated five times with different verses. I had a bit of a hard time following along. It was a lot of information to retain without being able to read along with them. I remember some of the following from the passages read from Science and Health. There was mention of God creating only spiritual things, because God is Spirit. God, being good, wouldn't create anything like hell. The effects of sin on a person are the punishment of sin. There was more, some of which I didn't feel had much to do with the subject at all. Without a subscription to the Bible lesson I don't have a way to refresh my memory.

We also said a version of the Lord's Prayer written by Mary Baker Eddy in Science and Health. The congregation would read the prayer itself, and the first reader would interject with the words written in italics.
"Our Father which art in heaven,
Our Father-Mother God, all-harmonious,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Adorable One
Thy kingdom come.
Thy kingdom is come; Thou art ever-present
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Enable us to know, — as in heaven, so on earth, —
God is omnipotent, supreme
Give us this day our daily bread;
Give us grace for to-day; feed the famished affections;
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And Love is reflected in love
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;
And God leadeth us not into temptation, but delivereth 
us from sin, disease, and death.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.
For God is infinite, all-power, all Life, Truth, Love,
over all, and All." (Source)
After the service, I went with the First Reader to the "Reading Room." I think each Christian Science church is expected to have a Reading Room associated with it. It included copies of books for sale or to borrow, and some past-dated issues of magazines that people were welcome to take. The church has a lot of regular publications. Besides the Christian Science Monitor and the Bible Lesson, they publish a weekly Christian Science Sentinal and monthly Christian Science Journal. I was able to pick up a couple of back-issues. 

I was able talk with some of the members after the service. One woman asked me if I had been "practicing Science long." It was such an odd phrase that it threw me off-guard. After looking it up it seems to be a common phrase used by people who follow the religion. One woman mentioned that their congregation used to be much larger, but the younger generation simply didn't gravitate towards it as much. 

Final Thoughts

The local congregation was very kind and welcoming. The service was...odd, but I did appreciate the silence and emphasis placed on listening and quiet as opposed loudness of the previous weeks. The religion as a whole I find to be dangerous. It's one thing to use spiritual practices in addition to medical care. It's another thing entirely to encourage people to avoid medical care altogether. It's not really surprising to me that this religion flourished when modern medical care was in its infancy.  It appears to be experiencing a pretty steep decline, both here in Cedar Rapids and worldwide. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Week Two: First Assembly of God

Cedar Rapids First Assembly of God

This week in my Year of Churches I went to an Assemblies of God church for the first time. I don't know a lot about the denomination, except that they are Pentecostal. They believe in a distinct "baptism of the Holy Spirit" (separate from water baptism, which is only symbolic for them), the evidence of which is shown by speaking in tongues (glossalalia). I'm really thankful that it doesn't appear to happen during their worship services, or at least it didn't when I was there.

The church building itself is an imposing concrete building. It's massive! Inside there was a narrow gathering space, definitely too small for the amount of people there. On of the space were the entrances to the sanctuary/auditorium. The other side had long hallways leading off of it towards classrooms, a smaller sanctuary/chapel, a gym, coffee shop, etc. There was a lot going on in that building.

I was greeted when I came in and given a small bulletin that looked a lot what I got last week at Veritas-full color and professionally designed. I am not going to get over how much it must cost to create and print those things alone.

The sanctuary looked like a larger version of the auditorium I was in last week at Veritas. Two things stood out. A lot of the rows had boxes of tissues under the last chair. Either there was a lot of crying, a lot of stuffy noses, or both. Maybe it was just a courtesy thing. Also, the drummer was imprisoned inside a plastic cage, maybe to help temper the sound?

The Service

Free the drummer!
The sanctuary was around 80% full by the time everyone was inside. Once again, there were very few kids. Elementary aged kids and younger were in their own areas. I think they even had an area for babies. I'm torn on this. On the one hand, it's really neat that the littles are able to have things fun for them and at their level. On the other hand, it almost feels like they aren't part of the "real" community. They get their own separate church services and sermons while the adults get theirs. It's just strange to me to not even see them. I personally prefer it when the kids at least start with the larger community before being dismissed to their own age-appropriate activities. At least that helps cement for everyone that this is one community.

The service started with three songs. The worship team sounded lovely and they were very earnest. Most of the people seemed to participate in the singing, and many raised their arms and swayed. The people closest to the stage seemed really into it. The head pastor came onto the stage and helped rile people up so more. During prayer it was common for people to yell "Amen!" or clap or cheer with something that spoke to them, which was common throughout the rest of the service.

The head pastor encouraged everyone to greet people, and to especially say hi to people you've never met or those who may be new. This greeting lasted several minutes and was probably the most enthusiastic (and sincere) as any I've ever seen. The congregants didn't just greet the people next to them; many left their seats and went around the sanctuary greeting people. The pastor also gave a shout out to newcomers and visitors in his opening remarks. 

There was also a collection taken up before the sermon. All of the ushers were men. It made me wonder if it was exclusively a guy thing or if men just seemed to sign up more than women. They passed around metal bowls for people to put in any offerings. People were also encouraged to put "Connect" cards into the metal bowls as they came around. These cards had different boxes to check for first-time visitors, people wanting info on baptism, to get more involved, etc. There were also little prayer request and praise report cards on the backs of the chairs. I'm assuming those were supposed to go in the offertory as well.


The Sermon

After that was a sermon by one of the other pastors (I would later learn there were five pastors). It lasted around a half hour and was on overcoming failure. He used Peter as an example of getting back up after failing. I'd give more info, but there honestly wasn't a lot of substance. It was delivered well and was engaging enough (I was never bored), but I kept waiting for him to move on. Basically, God wants us to get up after failing and not lose faith when we fail or life doesn't seem to right. It was very feel-good and felt more like a self-help talk than anything else. 

Again, there was a lot of clapping and verbal agreements during the sermon. The pastor would even encourage people to engage in it. That's definitely a big part of their culture.

He did say he was going to do something different and invited some people up to the front of the space. I forget what he called them, but they were basically going to pray with and over anyone who came forward and needed prayer after the service ended, especially people who were having trouble with failure. I thought that that was a sweet thing to offer to people. 


After the sermon he led a closing prayer and then the service was over. The music team started playing and singing a song again, but everyone just left instead of participating. I noticed this last week at Veritas too. It felt rude to leave while that was happening, so I stayed until they finished the song.

After the Service

I've decided that if churches have a guests' area then I'm going to check it out. In the gathering area (which was very crowded) I found a guests' area with "VIP" signs hanging above it and manned by a young adult man and woman. There were very excited after I told them that I'd never been there before. I got a packet of information and could choose between either a powerbank or coffee mug as their gift to me. You can never have too many mugs, and it is a really nice one. They also invited me to a monthly  newcomers dinner held at the head pastor's house. Very friendly and welcoming. I mentioned that I was just going around and checking out different churches. They suggested that it's best to go to a new church for a few weeks before passing judgement on it or deciding whether it would be a good church home, which I thought was a fair statement. 

One thing I noticed when looking through their website and the materials I was given- there was never a spot where they shared what they actually believed. The woman at the guests' center said they really love Jesus, but other than that I couldn't find anything. That could be on me. I did ask them a generic, "Tell me about your church" question, but never anything more specific than that.

This church was super welcoming and seems to have a heart for reaching outsiders. In the opening announcements the head pastor even encouraged women to take advantage of their "early-bird" pricing for a women's event in October to pay the way for a friend to go. It was a nice experience, but it does cater to a really specific type of spirituality. I have no idea if the sermons are usually so light or if it was just that week's topic.

Next Week's Plan: First Church of Christ, Scientist

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Year of Churches & Veritas Church

A Year of Churches

I've decided to do try something that I've wanted to do for a while. Each weekend for the next year, I'm going to try to attend a different church or place of worship. I've always been amazed by the variety of religions and opportunities for worship found in the Cedar Rapids area.  This isn't a unique idea. If you search "52 Churches in 52 Weeks" you'll find several people who have had the same idea, although we all seem to want to do it for different reasons.

Veritas Church

This week I had intended on attending an Assemblies of God church. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to sleep again last night. Once 3:00AM rolled around I said screw it and turned off my alarm, hoping to get some sleep. It turned out not to be a lost opportunity, however. After googling for churches with Sunday night services near me, I came across Veritas Church. I unfortunately didn't get any pictures today, but will hopefully be able to drive past the building sometime this week and get a picture of the buidling.

Veritas is a relatively new church to the Cedar Rapids area. According to the history section of their website they are an outgrowth of Veritas Church in Iowa City, although the Cedar Rapids location is now it's own autonomous church. It seems like they might have some connection to Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, as both of the Veritas churches run their own Salt Company college ministries (anyone who went to ISU will recognize that name). Their beliefs seem like pretty standard nondenominational/evangelical fare. I've seen that same type of wording used on different websites, but I'm not sure where it comes from.
 

First Impressions

The church is located in downtown Cedar Rapids. Other than the name on the door, there is nothing about the building itself that says "church."  I got to the 4:30 service about 15 minutes early. There were two friendly young adults outside who held the doors open for everyone who came. They were very friendly and welcomed me to the church.

When I first entered I was unsure of where I should go, but then noticed a large sign with directions to the different parts of the building. It didn't take long for me to realize that the auditorium is where I needed to go. To the left was the kids check in area. A bit forward and to the right was a large information desk. The entrance to the auditorium had a basket filled with pages people could write sermon notes on, as well as a small bulletin. 

Full color bulletin. I wonder
what their printing costs
are each week?
Back of the bulletin.
The auditorium was filled with people chatting. I quickly realized that there was a cafe around the corner from the door I entered in. About a quarter of the attendees came in to the auditorium with a coffee or iced drink. About half of the people there came in with their own Bibles. The congregation skewed younger, although all ages were present. There were very few kids or babies in the auditorium. I assume most of them were at their own kids' service.

It was a very open and inviting atmosphere, all things considered. It is odd to me personally to drink coffee during worship, or even to call the worship area an auditorium (although that's certainly what it looked like). 

The Serivce

A 2-minute countdown began on the two large screens on the stage, which signified to everyone that the service would start soon. A band and choir were on stage by the time the two minutes were up, and promptly started an opening praise and worship style song. That lasted maybe 10 minutes, after which a sermon was given. 

The Sermon

They were on a series called "Arise" and were going through the book of Jonah. This particular sermon was based almost entirely on Jonah 1:4-6. Emphasis was placed on the fact that the pagans were praying to their gods and in need of help, while a prophet of God was sleeping when they asked him for help. He used that to talk about the need for Christians to truly see and be aware of people in their hardships instead of sleeping like Jonah, and of the importance of being right with God in order to be a blessing to others. The message was presented very well and lasted maybe a half hour. People seemed to be mostly engaged. Those that had their own Bibles were following along in them, and the verses were projected on the screen as well. I believe he was using the Revised Standard Version of the Bible as it matched my Bible word for word.

Baptisms

I was fortunate enough to be there on a day they were doing baptisms. After the sermon, video played featuring the testimonies of those about to be baptized. Afterwards, the children from the kids' area were brought in to watch and people were invited to gather around the large metal trough filled with water. It was also projected onto the screens so everyone could see. 

The band and choir played during all of the baptisms. As each person sat in the metal trough, the person baptizing them appeared to talk with them for awhile, although I'm not sure about what. After they were done talking the baptizer would quickly lay the person back into the tub and pull them up again. It was very neat to witness such a special event in the lives of so many people. According to the pastor, 40 people were baptized between all three of the worship services that day. Quite impressive!

Ending

The service closed with more praise and worship and a short prayer. The congregation sung "How Great Thou Art" a capella, which was quite lovely. I noticed that there was no collection during the service, but rather a "Tithes and Offerings" box on the door leading out of the auditorium. There also wasn't any sort of communion, although their website states that they believe in doing it. It must not be done every Sunday. The total service lasted about 75 minutes.

Final Thoughts

The service was lovely. The music was exceptionally well done. I'm always a little wary with praise and worship style music. It can be so geared towards hitting people on an emotional level that it verges on being manipulative. But it didn't seem to reach that point here. I was impressed with the sermon. Despite it's length it never seemed to drag, and the pastor did an excellent job both explaining what was going on in the text and applying it to our modern lives. He even brought up the Septuagint!

I am used to ritual when I worship, so it was kind of jarring for me to not have any formal beginning or ending to the service, or any formal prayers or gestures. It was also very laid back. Almost everyone, including the leadership, were in jeans. That's great for me, as it made it really easy to just show up "as I was." It was a little strange watching someone in jeans baptizing people, but I suppose I'm so used to vestments that anything casual is bound to look out of place.

All in all, a very positive experience!

Friday, October 31, 2014

7 Quick Takes, Halloweenie Edition

It's my favorite (secular) holiday, quickly followed by my two of my favorite holy days!  All in all, it's a good few days.
It vants to suck your blood and destroy your garden

1. Vampire Deer
Well, they're real guys. In case you needed another thing for your nope file, there are apparently fanged deer in Afghanistan.  The article doesn't explicitly state that they will suck your blood for sustenance, but I think we can all figure out what they do when the sun goes down.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

5 Things that Scared Me as a Child

I was a very paranoid child, and in honor of Halloween I've decided to give you all a list of the things that used to scare me. Used to scare me. These things are totally not frightening anymore now that I am a grown up.  Totally. Not. Frightening.
There is literally no difference between the two

Dolls
There I was, an innocent little five year old channel surfing in the living room.  Little Green Platypus came upon a delightful movie about a doll.  It was even called Child's Play!  Perfect, right?  Suddenly every doll I came across was possessed by a serial killer.  All of my dolls were suspect.  This became complicated by the fact that both my mother and grandmother had a large collection of dolls, many of which had their home in my bedroom.  They didn't stay there for long after that.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Seven Quick Takes Friday

*Generic comment about what a week it's been

One thing I missed about the blogosphere was Jennifer Fulwiler's Seven Quick Takes Friday.

1. I finally got my car, Brett*, back from the doctors.  His health had been steadily declining for months ever since the ill-fated road trip.  Apparently, it's not a good thing when smoke starts coming out of your vents.

2. This is a picture of River



















3. My father came up to help me with the car, and while here we took an afternoon trip to Decorah.  We stopped by the Ice Cave.  Parts of the cave stay icy year-round.  Apparently you can just go right on in.  I'd love to go back with some hiking boots and explore with a group of people*.