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Lack of Website Causes Problem
Last spring, a professional colleague asked if I'd ever visited Christian House of Prayer. I told her I was unfamilair with this church of which she and her husband were members. Making a mental note to visit, I finally turned my thoughts toward a visit on June 3, but first to find it.
Finding a map to the church on Google but nothing about service times, I was unable to locate anything resembling a website. There a Google+ page (click on above hyperlink) but other than providing a map and directions, no other information about the church was given. A fully functional website is one of the basics churches must have these days!
Warm Greeting But Late Arrival
Arriving at the church at 10:30, the recalled start time based on my friend's discussion, I heard the music through the walls of the church from the parking lot. Upon entering I was warmly greeted by a man/woman team. Asking my name, and how I'd heard about them*, they then gave me a name badge and bulletin. At least four people greeted me before I reached my seat. There was sparse attendance, 30 or so, by the time the church finished filling up over the course of the hour. Attendees were well-dressed, much better than the average church I visit. The service was already in progress, having started at 10:00 a.m.
All of the singing was to soundtracks. The singers were five attractively dressed women in matching yellow gowns. The music was good, mostly praise songs, and the vocals were great, a form of black R&B gospel offerings. The music continued until around 11 a.m. Most of the attendees seemed familiar with the lyrics although I could not recognize any of the tunes. Every church has it's own culture, but I feel a one-hour musical service is a bit too long. There was much repetition in the songs, and the final song, Breath Into Me, was repeated so many times I lost count. The singers were led offstage by a small boy, a respectful touch. Many churches are completely finished with a full serving of Christian love, communion or eucharist, Bible study, and a sermon, in this amount of time, i.e. one-hour.
The next hour was consumed with prayer, an offering, and a lengthy meet n' greet. The prayer was delivered by a woman who strode back and forth in front of the podium invoking and repeating the various names of God (Father God, Lord God, God, etc.) with increasing volume. It was a wonderful prayer, one which many other churches could learn from. Before the offering there was a gracious time of welcome in which vistors were also asked to stand up and introduce themselves. Most church experts believe this practice to be hazardous as it tends to distance visiting guests. The call for the offering involved a long exhortation from a member, about giving, after which members formed lines going forward to deposit their offerings. A second offering for pastoral appreciation was also called. After this the women in yellow came back up and sang again. This section of the worship service ended with a meet n' greet seeming so long, I though church had let out. Less than 10 of the 30 worshipers came by to greet me.
The Third Hour
When Pastor Tobitha Lawrence, one of the five women singers dressed in yellow, finally settled in at the podium, people perked up and opened their Bibles or electronic devices with their Bibles on them. Pastor Lawrence is an articulate speaker and a real student of scripture. I enjoyed listening to her. Unfortunately, at about 12:20 p.m., after I took a quick picture of the pastor preaching, my second picture of the day, (see picture above) I heard a voice in my ear telling me not to take pictures. I've never been asked by any other Anchorage church not to take pictures but respected the request. I could see this was going to be a long service, and chose not to stay any longer. After I left this person followed me outside. We discussed his request. At this time I identified myself and the reason for my visit. He said he just didn't know what I was doing by taking pictures. I'll give Christian House of Prayer the benefit of the doubt, but thank the other Anchorage churches for their patience with me taking a picture or two.
In retrospect, I feel the service could have been shortened by an hour or even more. Clearly it's their church culture, not mine. They're duly proud of their church and should be. Their pastor is well-liked and articulate. They are raising money for a new church and proudly share those results weekly. This church could benefit from a fully functional website. Our community offers a diversity of beliefs, service styles, and choices of houses of worship for which I am duly thankful.
*Most church experts tend to agree it's friendlier for greeters to offer their name to a visitor, than to ask the visitor's name. Also, asking how guests found you is a bit self-serving and distancing. It's better to say, "We're glad you found us and hope you are blessed by worshiping with us."