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

UMC Chugiak – A Worthwhile Drive

Sunday, October 6 saw me wending my way north on the Old Glenn Highway in Chugiak. It was a beautiful day for a drive from my Turnagain neighborhood to the north. The object of my visit was The United Methodist Church of Chugiak . Unassuming from the highway, this church offers an attractive sanctuary with outstanding views of Mt. McKinley (weather permitting). The church is built on multiple levels with the sanctuary being on the top level. The lower levels offer a gym and multipurpose rooms.UMC Chugiak's Beautiful Sanctuary - Choir at Anthem TimeUMC Chugiak's Beautiful Sanctuary - Choir at Anthem Time

I was cheerfully greeted by a middle-aged man as I walked in from the parking lot, something out of the ordinary on my church visits. There was no one greeting on the lower entry level as I entered, but I was given a smile and a bulletin as I entered the sanctuary on the upper level. Other than that, no one greeted me in this church prior to the “Passing of the Peace” at the end of the service.

The service was a bit late getting started but was finally kicked off by a cheerful woman who artfully gave 10 minutes of announcements. One item of interest was the announcement that the church was moving toward allowing the neighborhood children, in the adjoining trailer park, to use the church gym for afterschool recreational activities.

The service, like most UMC churches, follows a set liturgical pattern. For newcomers the service was easy to follow. The various components of the liturgy were interspersed by a variety of hymns. The choir appeared out of the audience and beautifully rendered an anthem called “One at the Feast”.

A children’s story was given by Pastor Carlos Rapanut. The children seemed to enjoy it and participated throughout. This church offers a table in the back of the sanctuary for young ones to work on quiet activities during the sermon, shepherded by several church women. A first for me, it seemed like a good solution for restless children during the service.

Pastor Carlos is an excellent speaker, and gave an excellent sermon this morning, “Eat”, the 4th in a series he titles “Rhythms”. You can listen to this sermon by clicking here. Less than half of Anchorage area churches make their sermons available by audio recordings of them. What a wonderful practice this is!

When Pastor Carlos transitioned into the communion portion of the service, he explained we would be following the communion readings in the hymnal. He noted he would be reciting the pastoral portion of the reading in a Philippine dialect, while the congregation would be reciting their portion in English. I found this to be very interesting as we did have the English reading in front of us. The communion service proceeded as normal but it seemed infused with something extra. Maybe it was the fact that it was World Communion Sunday, but it was there.

At the end of the service they have a Passing of the Peace when folks greet each other. Although I was not deluged by greetings, several people did more than just greet me, wondering where I was from, how long I’d been in Alaska, etc. It was a warm time. A kind woman sought me out and recognized my visit with a small cake in a cloth sack. This cake turned out to be a tasty gift, and cemented a pleasant memory of my visit to Chugiak UMC. In all my Anchorage area church visits, I believe I’ve only received 3 or 4 food treats, and a couple of books. To be effective, a church must use members who can identify and approach guests. It’s a wonderful practice.

Pastor Carlos was greeting people after the service on the lower level. Initially he did not recognize me from a chance meeting several years ago but soon did. I’ve asked him to contribute Advent and Lenten reflections previously on this blog, and they have been wonderful.

This congregation is fortunate in having a congenial and articulate pastor. Overall I was left with a strong feeling of community in this church, something many larger churches have a difficult time in achieving. If you are looking for a church, I highly recommend you give Chugiak UMC a visit.

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