After my previous visit to a Methodist service, I decided that the guest preacher there might make a difference whether I had a real understanding of what was typical. So I came back for a second visit on the first week of the new minister's service. I won't repeat the notes on the sanctuary since it hadn't changed.
Liturgy/Worship and Methodist particulars
The second visit to this church gave me a clearer picture of what is normal at a Methodist service. Again, the passing of the peace began the service, and the Doxology continued in the same mid-service place as before. The minister did wear robes and a stole, so it may be that traditional vestments are still included by Methodists at times. (And again, I don't see this as being too large a matter, all things considered.)
This time -- despite it being a communion service -- there was no creed at all. Recall that in my last visit the Apostle's Creed was labeled as an "Affirmation of Faith", bypassing the acknowledgement of its place in church history and the church universal that would be accomplished with its standard title. It seems that the Methodists do not hold it important to confess one or another of the historic Christian creeds, and skipping the creed entirely seems acceptable among Methodists. Again, there was only one Bible reading, and again it was from the Old Testament. So it seems that having only one Bible reading is nothing unusual at Methodist services, and again it is nothing unusual to skip reading from the New Testament entirely. I found myself wondering how many weeks they might go between times the New Testament was read and preached. I also wondered if the minister always picked Bible passages to suit his own thoughts, or whether there was any regular "read through the Bible / preach through the Bible" expectation like the lectionary.
This time the service included communion. With communion there was time taken for confession and
forgiveness -- and it was structured that way in the hymnal so that confession was part of the communion service. It seems
that the Methodists consider confession and absolution to be a
particular feature of a communion service, rather than a standard part
of any service. The communion portion of the service was described as "service of word and table" in the bulletin, where my own church would have called the entire service "the service of word and sacrament" (referring to the whole service, not just the Lord's Supper). If that title is any indication, then Methodists do not view communion as a sacrament. I'm not sure whether Methodists have a category for "sacraments". I'm also not sure whether they were serving wine or grape juice for communion. I could see that they were using a loaf of leavened bread.
There were some things that I had not recognized as regular features during my previous visit, but a second visit showed that these were standard things. One is that the congregation applauded the choir during the service. Another was an altar call at the end of the service. (I didn't notice anyone going forward either time. While we're on the topic, the one issuing the call didn't sound as though he seriously expected anyone to come forward.)
This service contained a little more prayer than the previous one,
though the minister still didn't present individual prayer requests
during the service.
The sermon this week was about how Christians should step forward in faith. The sermon text was God's call to Abram. Much to my relief, the whole self-congratulation theme of the previous sermon at this church was not part of this week's sermon. The "distance from other Christians" comment in the sermon was this time a mention of Calvinists: "I'm not a Calvinist, I don't believe that God has every moment of our lives scripted." It was fairly tame as far as the tone: it wasn't done in a disparaging way. Again, the main theme was about what we do; the main assurance of God's love was a promise of his presence when we move forward in faith.
One thing in the sermon took me by surprise, which came up when the new minister asked people to define in their minds what Christianity is. He probably offered a half-dozen or more options rhetorically, and closed by saying it was all of those and so much more. But I don't think the words "grace" or "forgiveness" came up at any point during his list. (I was thinking along in my mind as he asked about how to define Christianity, and my thoughts at the moment were "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit". That is the foundation for where we start, and the present reality in which we live. And again the outreach we bring for the world and the future is "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit". At any rate that was the basic train of thought while listening to the rhetorical questions roll by.)
People seemed warmer this week, friendlier. I'm not sure if it's because a few people recognized me from before, or whether the congregation was in better spirits now that their new minister had arrived. Though, speaking of the new minister's first week, normally I'd expect a pastor's installation to be the matter of a special service, attended by whoever supervises pastors in the area, also attended by the pastors of the neighboring churches, and honored with a welcoming potluck. Here the minister introduced his family, himself and his credentials during the regular worship service, and I found no mention of a special service for the installation. I wasn't sure whether the congregation had any say in the selection of the minister, considering that his credentials were presented at his first service as if that might not have been known to them in advance.
Back at my home service again
The sermon was about not getting caught up in sins (self-righteousness, arrogance, harshness, etc) when we see someone else sin, following Paul's comments on correcting others with gentleness and respect, but instead how we should not become weary in doing good. The most Lutheran part of the sermon was the frank admission that sin is
something that applies to us, temptation likewise, and so needs to be
addressed. (I wonder whether the pastors think to themselves, "restore with gentleness and respect" about the sermons they preach when they address common temptations.) This sermon had some good tips for godly living, and about not getting caught up in the temptation to point fingers. In general there was a little too much assumption that "let us do good to all people" works out to "volunteering at the church or donating to the church". The sermon didn't have the focus I'd have expected from a Lutheran view of that passage, about Christ restoring us with gentleness and respect, how we thank him and praise him for that gentleness and respect, and how we pass along his grace to others with that same gentleness and respect. So with the almost exclusive focus on avoiding sin and doing good works (and the disappointing view of good works as equivalent to church activities), it was not a particularly Lutheran sermon, I suppose.