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Faith Presbyterian was selected as my Church Visits church on Palm Sunday because it listed at the top of a Google search of Anchorage churches offering Palm Sunday services. They meet at Tanglewood Golf Chalet on Brayton Drive in South Anchorage. Although technically a Palm Sunday service, it clearly was not in the traditional sense.
I came in through a knot of people in the foyer, was not greeted, and found a seat. Before the service a gentleman came over, handed me a bulletin, CLICK HERE TO VIEW and said “You missed a bulletin. You’re going to need that.” Music was playing as I entered, played by a woman at an electronic piano. The room was very noisy with people talking noisily so one could barely hear the hymns being played. The atmosphere did not seem reverent, and was most unlike church. The nameless and unannounced leader then took the podium and said it was “Time to quiet our hearts”. Clearly it was too late for his announcement of being quiet. After church, I discovered this person was Pastor John Jones who was listed in the bulletin, along with four other men as Elders. People in the congregation dressed a bit more formally than most other churches I visit.
Visitors were not welcomed or greeted, with the exception of a missionary to India who was pointed out and commented upon. The bulletin was key to the service as the readings, prayers, and scripture references were all included. Page 13 of the bulletin contained a very good and helpful section for parents (see below). There were many small children in the audience and I liked this approach, a first in my many Anchorage church visits.
A Note for Parents of “Little Theologians”
At Faith, we love having our children with us during the worship service! As they listen and sing and stand, we believe that they are really being ministered to by God’s grace. You are not imposing on the body as you help your children to make it through an entire service (we try to finish by 12:15). The small disruptions that children bring to a worship service are most often reminders to the body (and the pastor) of Jesus‘ deep affection for “little theologians.”
That said, if you prefer, we do offer a safe nursery downstairs for children age 4 and under (and for particularly wiggly children!). You are more than welcome to take advantage of this.
Our elders believe that one gauge of a good sermon is its clarity to “little theologians!” Here are some ways you can help the pastor speak to your children.
1. Let your child see you open your Bible to the sermon text:
2. After the pastor prays, whisper to your child the proposition of the sermon:
Jesus enters Jerusalem as a willing participant in God’s plan.
3. Gently alert your child each time the pastor begins a new main point. For older children, tell them that each main point will say something about sin, and something about Jesus. The main points are:
A. There is a plan.
B. Jesus, the willing participant.
C. The glorious role of a disciple.
4. The pastor will announce the conclusion of the sermon; help your child to recognize this (they may be very ready!) and encourage them to listen carefully.
What happened next was unprecedented in all of my Anchorage church visits. The pastor continued onstage and single-handedly led all portions of the service until its conclusion, 1¼ hours later. Church is a meeting of the body of believers, and it’s very telling when only one person is seen for such a length of time. Had I read their website closely I would have discovered that the VISIT FAITH section clearly described the entire service for a prospective visitor. Jones’ sermon was a good one and very Biblical. However, he kept concluding his sermon for over ten minutes. A sermon recording is not available, with February 12, 2012’s sermon by him, one of five on iTunes, being the latest available. This congregation is allied with the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA).
During the offering Faith’s small choir beautifully sang while it was received. Visitors were not excepted from giving to the offering, a visitor-friendly gesture. Their website, as of this writing, is woefully out-of-date with the worship bulletin from April 8, 2012 being the latest posted. The Easter Schedule is still present plus the worship bulletins from March 11, 2012 to April 8, 2012.
Faith appears to be a solid Bible-believing church with a serious worship service, definitely not contemporary Christian. To me it was not visitor-friendly in any aspect of their service. Faith’s website presents their MISSION as:
At Faith, our expectation for the Christian life is that Jesus Christ will impel us into our neighborhoods and city with the message of His gospel of grace displayed in our words and our actions. We have such hope in the life and message of Jesus that we expect His gospel to touch not only just neighborhoods and city but, through this contact, to move out into the entire world.
As a first-time guest, I did not feel the focus of this stated mission. In fact, only one person talked with me, and that when I asked who the speaker was. Their website, unlike most of Anchorage church websites, uses the technique of munging to eliminate spam. For example their website lists the following if you're trying to contact an elder.
"Contact a specific elder, or you can email all of the elders at: elder (at) faithanchorage (dot) org."
Many people won't know the above means:email@example.com.
A number of church writers, and technical experts say this really doesn't stop spam, and is confusing for users. I believe only a fraction of people trying to contact the church by email would know this.
I liked Faith’s focus on the Word, their traditional liturgy, and concern for their children. But during my visit, I did feel like a nameless/faceless person in their midst. A few visitors will acculturate over time, but can defect when the reality of what they've accepted hits them. However, usually, the average guest decides in 5-8 minutes whether or not to return to a new church.
I really missed the Palms for Palm Sunday. Just because a church is on top of the Google search for Palm Sunday in Anchorage doesn't mean they believe in using this tiny symbol of Christian faith.