Church Visits

Visiting Churches: Chris Thompson (stainedglass) is an amateur Alaskan biblical scholar and student of religion, especially as it relates to popular culture. He regularly attends national and regional American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature events to interact with and learn from worldwide religion scholars. Through unannounced mystery visits to churches in Anchorage and South-Central Alaska, he observes how guests (visitors) are treated during this initial church visit. Research indicates guests first visit perceptions affects further spiritual growth and religious attitudes as they search for a church home. Chris' church visits focus primarily on Christian churches. This blog contains accounts of those visits, and related posts about religion in culture. Chris looks for the following in his visits:

•Genuine welcome, true Christian hospitality

•Friendliness and warmth

•Effective, well-delivered, Bible-based, main teaching

•Music deepening the worship, not just entertainment

Google map of churches Chris Thompson has visited.

Follow my Church Visits posts on Twitter

Chris Thompson’s email: churchvisits@gmail.com

Significant 2013 Church Visits Posts

Top Ten Issues Local Churches Must Address in 2013

Ten Things Churches Did That Blew Me Away In 2012

Guest Post: Why Theology Matters to Musicians

Church Visits: Easter asks for our joy, not our spending - 4/19/2014 1:17 pm

Church Visits: What do millennials look for in worship? - 4/11/2014 10:29 pm

Church Visits: Visits to 2 churches leave 2 different impressions - 4/4/2014 9:19 pm

Church Visits: Research underscores deeper church attendance issues - 3/28/2014 9:19 pm

Church Visits: It's time we get back to observing the Sabbath - 3/21/2014 8:30 pm

Church Visits: Look deeper into Lent than just 'give-ups' - 3/14/2014 10:37 pm

First Congregational Church Revisit: Not Bad - Room to Grow - 3/14/2014 11:23 am

Church Visits: Pastors mark start of Lent by taking ashes to the people - 3/8/2014 10:56 am

Blue Christmas Services: New Anchorage Tradition?

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Blue Christmas and/or Longest Night services are proliferating in the Anchorage church community. These non-traditional services usually coincide with Winter Solstice. They can offer relief from the overt commercialism that has overtaken a Christian tradition and perverted it. In our community many struggle with issues of literal and spiritual darkness, grief, or depression, especially during the dark solstice period.

In this blog just before solstice (click here), I mentioned those few Blue Christmas/Longest Night services I was able to locate in our publicity-shy church community. I attended the service at St Mark Lutheran as it was one of the services announced in ADN’s Matters of Faith listings in Saturday’s paper. St Mark Lutheran, Blue Christmas Liturgy Booklet Illustration by Jan L. RichardsonSt Mark Lutheran, Blue Christmas Liturgy Booklet Illustration by Jan L. Richardson

It turns out I was greeted by the pastor in the lobby and handed a liturgy booklet, with a beautiful cover, for their service titled “When Christmas Hurts: 2012 Liturgy for the Longest Night”. At the time I did not realize it was Rev. Carol George, St. Mark’s pastor, greeting me. It would have been appropriate for her to have used her name in greeting me. This sometimes happens in churches, but should not. Guests, especially first time attenders, should always be greeted warmly by any pastor in any church. I believe pastors are often following the wisdom of some outworn book or article advising pastors to be scarce before or after the service to keep up the mystery. This is not and should not be true!

The service followed a liturgical form, all read by the pastor or another woman reader. The music, beautifully rendered on harp by Dr. LiuHsiu, and flute by Christine Reichman, was individual verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” interspersed among the various readings by the leader, reader, and the congregation.

During the portion of the liturgy where the four Advent candles were lit, an opportunity was given to speak out the names of people who had died, and name losses, aloud or in our hearts. The leader read:

Each of us comes bearing our own hurts, sorrows, broken places. I want to invite each of you to offer your personal wound to the God who loves each of us deeply and wants to carry our pain. God waits patiently, gently calling out. “Give me your pain, come to me…, all who labor and are heavy laden, I will refresh you!”

Toward the end of the service, participants were invited to come up and light an individual candle in front. The candle lighting was made difficult by the use of a hard-to-operate mechanical lighter. The woman in front of me finally picked up a candle, lit it from another, and lit her individual candle, handing it to me when she was done. It would have been far simpler to have made tapers available for this meaningful part of the service. People were also invited to come forward for a blessing at the altar.

The service was lightly attended by twenty-five or thirty people. With only four women leading the service, I felt it lacked a male presence which might be a deterrent to some men attending in the future. Gender leadership balance is always an important consideration for all worshipers. This was a relatively somber service. There was little conversation and no one spoke to me, even though I recognized a face or two among those present. The lengthy readings, while good, for me were hard to follow. I kept longing for a few sentences, unscripted, that spoke to my heart. I probably would not attend this particular service in the future but still agree with the concept of Blue Christmas/Longest Night services. Scout one out next year for a meaningful experience during Advent.



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