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The day before Super Bowl, I noticed a posting on the Faith Matters page in the Anchorage Daily News. It said that Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church was having a Super Bowl inspired/formatted service. I couldn’t resist seeing this so I went. This church, located in my previous neighborhood of Oceanview, is easy to locate on Old Seward Highway close to where it rejoins the Seward Highway.
Super Bowl Sunday is problematic for many pastors as many of their flock prefer to worship their televisions and pre-game coverage, over their God and King. In fact, I Googled Anchorage churches for Super Bowl-inspired services and found only this one listed.
Arriving before the posted 10:30 a.m. service start I received neither a greeting or a bulletin, despite the six or so people gabbing in the church lobby. Finding a seat in the fifth-row of this beautiful, almost empty church, I was offered a noisemaker after a few minutes by a cheerful woman who passed by. Ultimately I counted no more than 35 who attended this service. The A-frame style church is quite lovely, graced by a huge stylistic stained glass cross on the wall behind the altar.
The service commenced on time with the 'opening rally song' led by athletically-attired youth waving pom-poms. In each “quarter” of the service there was a period of a 'Word from Our Sponsors', which were announcements of coming activities. Had I received a bulletin, it would have been significantly easier for me to follow the service. However, no guest should have to do the work of the church members, finding bulletins, seeking greetings, and locating restrooms. These first impressions add up to the decision guests make about making a return visit. Those decisions are made 5-8 minutes after arriving.
The service being broken into “quarters” worked for me, with each quarter having a lesson and music of some sort. The pastoral message was quite good and inspired by the biblical reading of John the Baptist and Herod. My “take away” from the sermon was the pastor’s assertion “The calling of a Christian is that whatever happens, God is with you. If this is the only place you come to worship God, you’re missing it.”
I definitely liked the youth being involved. The church choir, composed of many of those present, was quite good with their upbeat musical selection. My eyebrow was definitely raised with the rendering of Bobby Bare’s old chestnut, “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life”. The prayers of the people also represented the many missing snow machiners, those out and about, the tragically missing Ms. Koenig, plus individual petitions, etc. I’m always deeply impressed with prayers which link with individual members, as it should be. The taking of the offering did not give guests a break, a visitor-friendly gesture.
The 4th quarter was a sending out into the world accompanied by an upbeat sending hymn. All were invited to the after-church potluck. I counted no more than 6 youth/young adults. In tune with my recent posts with why youth and young adults are leaving the church, I’m more aware of their presence/absence. Congregants blew their noisemakers at the close of the service.
I applaud Christ Our Savior’s attempt to reshape Super Bowl Sunday into something members might come out for. With all the build-up, I do not think they achieved their goal, but I’m glad they tried. I talked with Pastor Bollerud after the service, something I rarely do with any pastor of churches I visit. Too many pastor’s get defensive and try to explain away every detail of what didn’t work. From that discussion, I understand he’s tried to cultivate guest-friendly skills and abilities with his flock, something many pastors do not even attempt.
Had I received a bulletin before the service, I would have found it very guest-friendly. There was even a wonderful note about cell phones! “Leave them on, just turn off the ringer…We are in the year of Mark, where everything happens Right Now. Feel free to text, tweet, facebook or blog during the service to let your friends know what is happening in worship and inviting them to join you next Sunday.” Their Communion practice and policy was described in the bulletin, leaving no doubt as to it’s openness. I applaud them for being so detailed and open. Pastor Bollerud is an articulate, enlightened pastor who knows what it takes. But like Moses, during the Israelites battle with the Amalekites, who needed his arms supported so the Israelites could prevail, good pastors also need their arms supported by their parishioners so they can similarly prevail.
Well-known and respected theologian Walter Brueggemann, penned a poem about Super Bowl Sunday in his book, Prayers for a Privileged People. Although it may offend some Christian football worshipers, I find it appropriate for this occasion.
Super Bowl Sunday
"The world of fast money,
And loud talk,
And much hype
Is upon us.
We praise huge men whose names will linger only briefly.
We will eat and drink,
And gamble and laugh,
And cheer and hiss,
And marvel and then yawn.
We show up, most of us, for such a circus,
And such an indulgence.
Loud clashing bodies,
Violence within rules,
And money and merchandise and music.
And you -- today like every day –
You govern and watch and summon:
You are glad when there is joy in the earth,
But you notice our liturgies of disregard and
Our litanies of selves made too big,
Our fascination with machismo power,
And lust for bodies and for big bucks.
And around you gather today, as every day,
Elsewhere uninvited, but noticed acutely by you,
Those disabled and gone feeble,
Those alone and failed,
Those uninvited and shamed.
And you whose gift is more than “super,”
Overflowing, abundant, adequate, all sufficient.
The day of preoccupation with creature comforts writ large.
We pause to be mindful of our creatureliness,
Our commonality with all that is small and vulnerable exposed,
Your creatures called to obedience and praise.
Give us some distance from the noise,
Some reserve about the loud success of the day,
That we may remember that our life consists
Not in things we consume
But in neighbors we embrace.
Be our good neighbor that we may practice
Your neighborly generosity all through our needy neighborhood."
Taken from by Walter Brueggemann's Prayers for a Privileged People.