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I enjoy celebrating Easter in ways that bring glory to God, and de-emphasizes man. There is already too much "self" and not enough of God in much of today's religious expression. To this end, I visited three churches on Easter Sunday to experience the joy of “He is Risen”. The following a brief account of each of those services I visited.
Sunrise Service – Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church
A small but intense group of worshipers met in this beautiful south Anchorage church. Many Easter lilies covered the front of Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church. Starting at 7 a.m. we were led through a Lutheran liturgy form with singing, readings, prayers, an Easter sermon, and Holy Communion by Pastor Dan Bollerud. Personally, I loved the start of service call by Pastor Dan, “He is Risen”, to which the congregants answered, “He is Risen Indeed”. This was repeated twice more with increasing volume. What a testament to the Christian faith!
Other world religions cannot make this claim; only Christianity. At the end of the service, Pastor Dan invited all to a breakfast brunch served in the fellowship hall. I especially liked this service as it was attended by a small group of devotees, who like Christ’s disciples of old, experienced the fullness of His resurrection in the quietness of early morning.
Cornerstone Church – 9:30 a.m. Service
I was warmly greeted with a hug by long-time greeter Mary at this South Anchorage Church. She’s one of those unique individuals who learned my name at my first visit several years ago, and uses it every time I infrequently show up. It seems like she knows everyone’s name or will shortly. People like this are truly a gift to a church, generating much goodwill that adds to a church’s hospitality profile.
Cornerstone has an excellent musical group which plays primarily contemporary Christian music. I admire the manner in which this group has prayer each service, in a circle upfront, before the start of the service. Pastor Brad Sutter joined them in prayer this morning. The music was excellent and themed right. Joy Sutter’s solo “Alive” by Natalie Grant, was especially poignant.
There was little outward sign it was Easter in the church, except for groupings of candles in various lantern-type holders across the stage, but Pastor Sutter’s message changed that. Titled “Everything Changed” it was very listenable. If you would like to listen too, click HERE. (Be sure to click on the ARCHIVES tab and select Everything Changed. The date may be wrong but this is the sermon.) In his sermon Sutter talks about the various things in the world that changed due to Jesus’ resurrection. From the resurrection’s impact on Christ’s first followers to famous musicians such as Bach and Handel, scientists, education, social change, the reformation and so forth were covered. It was an interesting change of sermon model for the resurrection. This was an excellent service which drew me in.
Faith Christian Community – 11:00 a.m. Service
Faith’s sign advertising Easter service schedules had been out for about a month. A phalanx of helpful safety-jacketed parking volunteers were on hand to shepherd traffic from Wisconsin Avenue to Faith’s vast parking lots, eliminating potential traffic jams due to their many Easter services. Quickly finding a spot, I hurried in to not be late, but received neither greeting nor bulletin. The church was packed for the 11:00 a.m. service as I would have expected it to be.
What followed was a spectacle of sight and sound starting with onstage participants bringing out an assortment of “I Am” cards with key phases on the back tied to Bible quotes, e.g., “I Am” and on the reverse side“The Salt of the Earth”. I thought the "I Am" cards were great, but what followed was a half-hour of eardrum-unfriendly music (105+ decibels was clearly inappropriate for the numbers of small children and older adults present). The lyrics were spiritual, but loudness did not make them more spiritual. During this time the worship pastor did a scripture reading that was trashed by a musician playing over him to the extent I could barely hear the words. This annoying trend of playing music during scripture readings, or altar calls, etc. is seen in many churches today. Personally, I think it's tragic musicians feel the Word of God needs a soundtrack or a little extra emotional bump to get it down! Click HERE for the music portion of the service. I do believe Easter should be celebrated by shouting the ‘Good News’ from the housetops, but also believe music should set the tone for the service instead of being the service for a lengthy time.
There were several baptisms before the message, and a good sermon by Pastor Steve Holsinger. His theme was John 11, the story of Lazarus. He’s a relatively low-key speaker, but he had an important message, one of a series based on the theme “I Am”. To listen to Holsinger’s sermon CLICK HERE . To me this service was more about entertaining a large crowd in an uncomfortably warm auditorium, rather than an encounter with the Risen Christ on the anniversary of His resurrection.
After the service, I talked with the couple sitting beside me; they were divided as to the musical aspect of the service. She liked the music and its loudness. He felt the blasting of the music was too loud and inappropriate. In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the serious issues loud music poses for worshipers.
I’ve learned to expect the unexpected from Faith. I think they are a good church but after this service, I was also left with the feeling they were marketing a product instead of insightfully shepherding Christians. No one talked with me proactively at Faith or even gave me direct eye contact, but at Cornerstone and Christ Our Savior they did.
I don’t know if I was the only one in Anchorage that went out of their way to attend three Easter services, aside from church leaders of course, but it took half of my day to do so. I’m glad I did. No doubt I could have picked any combination of churches in Anchorage and come up with different results, but these were my choices. I’ll guess over 2,000 worshipers attended these three churches on Easter Sunday.
Several key lessons learned from these visits.
• Bigger is not necessarily better
• Loud music does not equate to better worship
• Guests can be ill-treated even at Easter
• Personal connection works best
• Hospitality wins out
• A smile and hello goes a long way
• Offerings are usually received without guests being excepted
• The “Still Small Voice” has the greatest impact
• Special signs announcing Easter services/times do work