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Earlier this year, in February, I visited University Baptist Church on busy E. Tudor Rd. Overall it was a fairly good visit giving me a positive view of one of our area Baptist Churches.
The congregation has quite a number of Palauan members, with seemingly interconnected family roots. Their interim pastor is Jeff Anderson of Wayland Baptist University. This day there was also a guest preacher, Pastor Jake, a Palauan from California.
I was greeted warmly at the front door by a young woman who introduced herself and shook my hand. Surprisingly, four to five "good mornings" were spoken to me before I reached my seat. However, it did seem to end there. Very little recognition of guests was made going forward aside from a brief general "good morning" by Pastor Jeff, who did not introduce himself. He didn't greet any visitors who might have been there.
The only extreme visitor-friendly act, was the pastor inviting all forward to the front of the church to witness a baptism and take pictures. This would also have been an excellent time for the pastor to more fully describe the Baptist doctrine of baptism for members and guests, but it didn't happen.
As I entered that morning, a piano was being beautifully played. There was a loud buzz of conversation by members talking, seemingly trying to outdo the piano, which I found extremely disconcerting. I feel there should be a quiet time before the church service when the mind is drawn away from the things of the world, and focuses on matters of God, Christ, and the Spirit. A musical group of about 12 singers or instrumentalists pleasingly performed a set contemporary Christian songs. Several beautiful Palauan songs were also sung, one in unison and one in harmony. Both songs sounded great!
My eyes were drawn to the number of flower bouquets on all the walls and in front of the pulpit. I believe I counted 8! This may be purely cultural or preference by a particular congregational leader, but it lent what I thought was an overly feminine touch to the decor of the church, something that might be distancing to men members or guests.
Offering, No One Exempted
Good church practice exempts guests from feeling they have to give. This was not pointed out to guests. This church's practice is to stand and sing during the taking of the offering. I felt a bit awkward standing and doing that. That was a first for me in all my church visits. Normally the offering is taken when people are seated and there are purses to fumble with, checks to write, and envelopes to stuff.
Pastor Jake's sermon was based on Nehemiah 6. He mentioned his sermon points first, a great practice. I always enjoy Tim Keller's use of this technique. He asked us to stand for the reading of the scripture "in respect for the Word". Unfortunately, he lost me with a multitude of sermon illustrations and a confusing array of texts, one after another. After a while I could no longer see the sermon points in his sermon. Finally, he didn't review his sermon points in closing and kept closing his sermon for what seemed a long time. I'm sure this guest speaker was loved and respected, but he did lose me. After five years of visiting Anchorage churches, I find most guest speakers unexciting. But once in a while a real gem shows up.
Altar Call & Exit
Pastor Jeff ended the service with the traditional Baptist altar call. Several people in the church wished me goodbye as I left, including Pastor Jeff. The woman at the door, and her husband, thanked me for coming. This would not be an uncomfortable church to visit, but there are a few rough spots in their service.
* According the church bulletin, this sign is slated for replacement. It badly needs an attractive replacement including University Park's website address.