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.

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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

Dear Mary...Guest Blog

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Edward Fudge, noted author, blogger, scholar, and theologian has kindly allowed me to share yesterday's guest post in his Good Friday Blog. This is awesome!
Edward Fudge's GraceEmail BlogEdward Fudge's GraceEmail BlogThe following guest article is by Shawn Rhem Sieve, a wife, mother, Jesus-follower, and exceptional writer, who grew up in my home church. This powerful piece is reprinted with deep appreciation from her blog at http://titlesarerestrictive.blogspot.com/2013/03/dear-mary.html . .

Friday, March 29, 2013

Dear Mary,

Some of the kids at church asked me why we Presbyterians don't talk about you much. I told them what a pastor once told me, that it's just not "our style." The kids wanted a better response than that. They wanted to know why their Catholic friends revere you so much, when the best shout-out you get from us is a 5th-grader representing you in the Christmas pageant. I explained the doctrine of immaculate conception, that our Catholic friends believe you were conceived without sin, which makes you extra special in their eyes. I told them about the itchy blazer I had to wear to mass in Catholic high school. Your feast day is my birthday, which meant four years of wearing the dreaded blazer on my birthday. Consequently, I think of you at each of my birthdays. I think of you at other times, too. Like today.

It's Holy Week. Again. Already. It comes faster each year. Wasn't it just yesterday that my sons were little enough to let their grandmother dress them in fussy sailor suits at Easter? Now, they grumble over having to wear shirts with collars. It seems as if I'll blink, and they'll be fathers themselves. Maybe. I always imagine they'll be old enough one day to plan my funeral with minimal grief--they'll be relieved that the old lady is finally moving on. You never know, though. Some mothers aren't so lucky. Some mothers plan their sons' funerals.

I wanted to tell you how much I love your song, the Magnificat. I'm glad you felt that kind of joy when you learned your role in this story. It's hard to picture, when you didn't even ask for that pregnancy. My children were planned, desired before their conception; they arrived when we were ready for them. Even so, when I learned for sure that the first one was on his way, I cried--not from joy, but a kind of loss. I knew that I'd ever after feel vulnerable, that my child's sorrows would matter more to me than my own sorrows. I wasn't wrong. It's really like that.

My boys were lost once, like yours was. They were very young, too small to be given freedom to leave the yard without me. When I realized they were missing--they'd been playing just outside the window and suddenly I couldn't find them anywhere--I called the police. The boys had gone down the street and into a neighbor's house. When I found them, I was angry. So relieved they were safe and shaking with that relief, but also angry.

You must have been proud of your son's work, of the things he made (whether or not he had real talent). When he left that work behind to travel and teach, you must have been anxious, even though you believed in what he was doing. As the authorities increasingly viewed him as seditious, you probably grew increasingly afraid. And then he was arrested, unfairly. The injustice is enough to send a mother over the edge, but even worse--he came so close to being released. He had more than a fifty-fifty chance. Who would have imagined the crowd would call for his death over a murderer's? I bet you thought the world had gone insane. And if you heard the crowd demanding his execution, saw the pack's blood thirst gaining momentum, how could you bear their malice?

When I was younger, I used to think about that Friday and how you stood close by. He'd been beaten, stripped, laughed at. Tortured. It lasted a long time, but you stood there. I used to think, "I couldn't do that. I couldn't watch my child suffer like that." Now I understand. You couldn't leave. You wanted to take his pain away, would have taken it on yourself in order to stop him from feeling it. But you couldn't. So you stayed, hoping he would find some comfort in your presence, wanting him to know you were near. No one bothered to write it down, but I picture you getting as close to him as you were allowed, touching him--if only his feet--when you could. That's where I'd have been, if I were you. And if the soldiers pushed me away, I'd probably scream, "I'm here! I'm still here!" and I'd be hoping he could hear my voice above all the other noise.

You would have wanted him to die quickly. You probably prayed that it would go faster; you must have willed your son to stop breathing already, so it can be over. When he died, I wonder how long you felt relieved before a different kind of pain started, the pain of a bereaved mother. Just a few seconds?

When he came back and made all those visits, I think you saw him. I bet he loved you a lot and understood that you needed to see him again, if only for a minute. No one bothered to write that down either, but I'm sure it happened. I hope when you did see him, that moment erased all the pain of those previous days. You probably hugged him very hard and then said, "Go -- see your friends! Don't worry about me!"

The kids at church asked what that special prayer is about you. Even though it's "not our style," I happen to know the "Hail Mary." I recited it for them. "Blessed among women" . . . I sure wouldn't have wanted to walk in your shoes. He would have needed a very special mother, someone with sharp wits who loved large. While I'm thinking about you, I wanted to say thank you for taking care of him all those years. Thank you for letting him go so that he could be ours rather than yours alone. Thank you, Mary, full of grace.

Peace,
from a Protestant admirer

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