Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Vacation part 7, in which we go to Church

Though we could see 6-7 steeples from our balcony, it was rather difficult to find a non-LDS church in St. George. I was glad that Tara had done the research before we got there! As it was, and mostly based on their web site, we decided to check out Desert Springs Church.

Of course we got up earlier than we needed to, so after breakfast, we went to a local park, which the kids loved (of course).

Then we headed to the church. I had been unable to find the place just based on its street address, but their web page had clear enough directions (as an aside, if your church doesn't have easily read directions readily available on your website, you're doing yourself a big disservice). So we found it easily.

I think I'd forgotten how nerve-wracking it is to visit a new church. Will they single us out? Will they preach hellfire and damnation upon us (I visited a church once where it was obvious that we were the "sinners" and that pastor did everything he could do to convert us and happily announced after his second "eyes-closed-and-heads-bowed" altar call that everyone raised their hands (after nobody had raised their hands for the first one, the one in which he asked if anyone wanted to make a first time confession of faith). Will we be able to find our way around? Will our kids fit in? Etc.

The church building was a converted office building with clear signage directing us to the parking area. I parked somewhere then noticed the "visitor parking sign." I almost backed out and parked elsewhere but then I realized that we were visitors so I might as well park in that space. It might not have been so clear where we were to go in, but for a couple of details: a) that's where everyone else was going, and b) there was a greeter in a Hawaiian shirt shaking people's hands and opening the door for them.

We went into a rather crowded lobby with a video screen flashing announcements and a couple of comfortable-looking couches or chairs. Across the lobby was a table in front of a nursery sign. It looked like this was a sign-in table, so we went there and found out that this was the sign-in for the older kids' area. The nursery sign-in was in the nursery. So we took the kids in there, and they found toys to play with right away.

We milled around for a little bit, but then we heard music start, so we headed out in search of the service. Nobody (except for stragglers) was left in the lobby, so we went through double doors into the room where the service was. It wasn't a big room, but it was pretty full. Tara's mom had already gone in and sat near the front, so we made our way there. Someone handed us a sheaf of papers (mostly announcements of what's going on in the life of their church plus various sign-ups for Vacation Bible School and other events). Included was a very brief outline of the sermon (complete with fill-in-the-blanks).

The service began with their worship leader with an acoustic guitar and his friend with some congas (or some other hand-played percussion thingys; in the wild, I can't tell a conga from a bongo). Between two songs, he dropped the bombshell that this would be his last Sunday leading worship; he's apparently graduating from college and will be taking a job at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas. Hopefully without an ATM on the side of its building.

Then came the most awkward moment in the service... the time to greet one another. We stood in front of our chairs while the people around us stuck out their hands and told us their names. Finally a young woman (maybe her name was Brandy? I don't really remember) came over and actually talked to us and engaged us. I was really glad she came and alleviated the awkwardness.

Then they took up an offering while the pastor rambled on about something (I got the idea that someone else usually does announcements during the offering). I don't remember what he was talking about. There was one bit about them having a gift for any first-time visitors, but we didn't even consider it. I figure it's really for the ones from nearby who might potentially come back.

After the offering, he began his sermon, the last in a series called "Happy Matters." I was a little afraid that we'd ended up in a name-it-and-claim-it church, but that was simply the hook for a series on the Beatitudes. He was very personable and it was obvious by his preaching style that he was "one of the guys" - he preached in a very chatty, conversational tone. By now I don't remember much of what was said, except that he was a big NASCAR fan and St. George got a new In-N-Out Burger franchise recently and he and someone else went and practically camped out to eat there. He also told us what it was like trying to plant a church in St. George (from Michigan) - how he spent days on the phone trying to get churches to financially support their dream and mission.

Then, all of a sudden, the sermon was over, the service was over, and people were rushing for the doors. We collected the kids from the nursery, where a volunteer (?) asked if we'd fill out some information sheets "so they'd know if the boys were allergic to anything" but we didn't fill anything out since we were just there on vacation.

Overall impression: they've probably been fighting an uphill battle planting a church in the LDS stronghold of Utah. The congregation was of all ages, from little ones to older. It seemed like a typical "Seeker" service - we were a little disappointed that it wasn't a little more postmodern in its flavor. They could (generally) use a little work in greeting and making outsiders feel welcome. And it would have been nice to see a little bit of fellowship following the service; they all seemed to rush out pretty fast. But God was praised and the word of God was proclaimed; they certainly got that right.


Anonymous said...

what is a "name it and claim it" church?

The Thief said...

They're usually a part of the Word of Faith movement. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_of_Faith seems to be a pretty fair treatment of them.

I'm not a big fan of the theology of the movement and especially not of most of the celebrity "faces" in it.