The worship space was reassuringly Christian, with crosses displayed and seasonal dressings on the pulpit. The sanctuary also gave some thought to beauty with its stained glass windows. The projection screens did detract from the otherwise beautiful and timeless interior, in a way.
Liturgy and worship; Methodist particulars?
My previous notes on worship services have had a separate heading for worship and for things particular to a denomination. With the guest preacher at this service, I'm not sure it would be right to assume any Methodist particulars from attending this service, so I'm grouping it all together here. (Though I'm fairly sure the sermon's reference to the brave circuit riders of the frontier days was a Methodist particular, as each denomination had their own approach to getting through the frontier days.)
The service was not one that I would recognize as the standard liturgy. The worship service began with greeting and passing the peace, so it was familiar that far. There was no confession, no assurance of God's forgiveness at the start of the service (or anywhere in the service, for that matter). The congregation confessed the Apostles' Creed, but without acknowledging it as the Apostles' Creed; it was titled "Affirmation of Faith".
There was one Scripture reading (as opposed to the three-readings-plus-a-Psalm that I'm used to) and it was drawn from the Old Testament. That is to say, it was a worship service in which the words of the gospel were not read at all. Neither was there any reading from the New Testament, where I'm accustomed to two New Testament readings. Jesus was worked into the sermon briefly though not in a major way, and Jesus was also in some of the hymns and the "Affirmation of Faith".
There was no communion; I'm not sure how often Methodists celebrate the Lord's Supper. The offering was noted as "Tithes and Offerings" as if the Old Testament command to tithe were considered to be applicable.
In my mind, I couldn't reconcile the fact that there were liturgical colors on the pulpit with the fact that the Scripture reading showed no sign of following a liturgical reading calendar. Considering that there was a guest preacher, I left that as a question for some other day.
The hymns / songs
During the service, the plainest reassurances of God's love were in one of the earlier hymns. In general, the hymns were singable and had decent tunes. The Doxology was sung in the middle of the service: not where I would expect it, though still welcome. The closing hymn was the biggest surprise. It is a song that I strongly doubt would ever be included in a Lutheran hymnal. (I checked a couple of Lutheran hymnals and it is definitely not included in those.) It was literally the end of the service, and the closing hymn had the closing words
A Charge to Keep I HaveThe tune wasn't bad, but the content and the timing -- having eternal condemnation as the last thing in the song or the service -- just wouldn't be done. It's a longstanding Lutheran standard that, when condemnation is mentioned, it is not the final word. The final word is hope in Jesus and trust in God's goodness, as is typical of the majority of books of the New Testament. So it was interesting to see a hymn that closed with such words, and to see it placed so that the entire service closed with such words. It did follow the same pattern as the other differences I've seen about whether grace is considered as important to Methodists as it is to Lutherans.
"Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall for ever die."
The sermon was about acting in faith and hope for the future; the text was Joshua crossing the Jordan. The sermon was mainly about not giving up, about moving forward to a new future. The sermon was largely geared toward their current situation of being between pastors. The preacher did manage to include assurances of God's presence wherever we go, though the main point was about not giving up or being complacent with standing still and settling.
I found the sermon unusual this way -- and it may have been the guest preacher or the occasion of being between pastors: There was more ... I'd have to call it self-congratulation ... than I can recall hearing in another Christian service before. The preacher assured the congregation time and again that their church was known in the community as one that prayed. And, again, the preacher assured the congregation that their church was known in the community as "the church that cares". (I've never heard that this particular congregation has any particular reputation; my own either for that matter. So I chalked up those comments as mostly cheerleading, more about building a positive self-image or encouraging them through the transition than anything else.) I didn't know what the congregation might have gone through during the transition, or whether this was something just for the awkward in-between times.
The sermon included the sadly obligatory "distancing ourselves from the others" (disparaging others) comments that you hear in so many churches, my own included. This particular church congratulated itself on being a congregation where everyone is welcome, "unlike some churches where that wouldn't be true, where they don't accept people who aren't like them" (met with nods and murmurs from the pews). Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to ask the preacher what exactly was the subtitled translation there; the reception line after the service was quick-moving so there was no chance to ask. In liberal Lutheran churches a phrase like that would have been in reference to the debates over homosexuality and a disparagement that conservative churches would ask abstinence of a homosexual, but I'm not sure if that's the translation in those particular Methodist circles.
The congregation prayed twice during the service, briefly. Rather than mentioning specific people and circumstances during their prayers, those were found in the prayers section of the bulletin. There were no details on what the individual prayer concerns might be. They did pray the Lord's Prayer during the service.
The leaders were dressed in street clothes, without a stole or robes. While the preacher didn't wear a robe, the acolyte did; I wondered why the difference. (I can't imagine the dress code matters much, I mention it more from curiosity.) The only thing that I didn't expect was that they had an official song leader for the songs during the service. A woman with a clear and easy-to-follow voice stood in the front by a mic and led the songs. All in all, there was nothing too unexpected in the leadership. I would likely get a clearer idea of their leadership if I visit again after their new minister is installed.
The people seemed a little standoffish, though I don't know whether it was because of my having hit the earliest service, and I didn't see any coffee pots around. (That's a sure sign it wasn't a Lutheran service: no coffee pot that I could see.)
And back at my home service
I was very glad to hear my pastor skip the common reference in the sermon to how different we are from other groups (read between the lines: better). I really wasn't up for that twice in a day. Though it may have been because the sermon text was on Paul's warnings about biting and devouring each other with evil talk.
Paul's warning is really on-target for me in particular as I try a delicate task of visiting different services, and hoping to give a fair hearing to each. There is no way that a single visit to a church can do it justice, and our differences cause me to spend much of the service getting adjusted to what the current congregation is doing, rather than being able to see it for itself. I'll admit plainly that my visit to the church without any New Testament readings, a sermon that was 90+% exhortation, together with that particular closing hymn left me fighting a strongly unfavorable impression. But it was a guest preacher, I keep reminding myself. I have seen some guest preachers at my own church that were far more questionable than that. It would definitely be unfair of me to draw too many conclusions from this one service, and I'd like to visit the same church again sometime. (Which is the topic of the next post ...)