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I've visited First Presbyterian, a downtown church, many times over the years, commenting in this blog after those visits. In fact, FPC was the very first church I reviewed when this blog premiered almost five years ago. My previously-stated general feelings have been that they are reserved, cool, unfriendly to the average visitor, and not a great church for a first visit.
Most recently I visited First Presbyterian on December 23 for the 11 a.m. service. Upon entering I was greeted by two “good mornings” and handed a bulletin. Even the “Passing of the Peace” did not dispel my feelings of being an outsider. The members warmly greeted each other with friendly hugs, and energetic greetings, but I received perfunctory handshakes only.
My first impression was of a greatly diminished congregation from my previous visits, less than 100. That day being the final Sunday before Advent, I was eagerly looking forward to the lighting of the Advent candles. Unfortunately, they were already lit, with the exception of the Christ candle in the center. A family did come forward at the appropriate time to do a reading and lighting of that candle.
In previous visits, the choir was huge, but this Sunday there were only seventeen choir members present. They presented several musical selections which were nice, but merely a shadow of previous years.
I was surprised about the children’s story which related to Advent, the candles, and what the children were doing to get ready for Christmas. The woman presenting the story lost the kids when she switched to using adult language, which might have totally averted the tussling between the two boys in the back, almost under the altar. In my experience, the children’s story can be more powerful than the regular sermon. To me it was a lost opportunity.
First Presby is under interim leadership. The senior pastor gave a sermon embracing an extensive review of internet courtship. He linked it to God’s speaking through the prophets, which resulted in the abuse of the prophets by the hearers. He further likened it to human love letters from God. For me, the sermon lacked impact because it was totally read. The pastor abruptly ended his sermon by saying “…in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
During the liturgy there were periods of uncertainty when people didn't know whether to stand or sit. Before this visit, I attempted to connect with either the interim pastor and his assistant over the internet, but when I clicked on their names on First Presby's website, I was dumped into the Yukon Presbytery website, an extremely unfriendly Web gesture. I didn't pursue it further; previous emails to the Executive Presbyter have gone unanswered. This is the same issue my next blog post addresses. Many Anchorage churches or church organizations hide behind centralized email addresses so that communications to a specific person may never reach them.
The special music of flute and violin was very pleasing to hear, two days before Christmas. This is a beautiful church with great potential for being one of Anchorage's premier churches, but they are still not visitor friendly. In fact, there was no mention of visitors or guests at all. This church needs lots of energy from new clergy to survive, which I hope they do.