great article on my home church – a guy, Chris Thompson, who visits churches asking these questions… Searching: I’ve been looking for a church that feels relevant to me. In this quest I have visited and worshipped with many streams of religious persuasion.Assuming this may be an issue for many in Anchorage, I offer in this blog brief sketches of my visits. The criteria I use in evaluating my visits are:
• Is the church friendly and warm? Did I truly feel welcomed? • Was the main teaching relevant to my personal walk and was it delivered effectively? • Did the music merely entertain or did it deepen the worship experience? While not a stranger to Methodist churches, I’m not particularly drawn to them. It’s possible I’ve reacted to their seeming preoccupation with social gospel agendas, over the good news of Jesus Christ. These thoughts were perceptibly changed during my April 20 visit to St. John United Methodist – 1801 O’Malley Road – Anchorage (www.stjohneagle.org).
As you may already know, I’m put off by churches that do not warmly welcome visitors into their midst. For the first time in a long time, I’m pleased to note the quality of the welcome I received at St. John. I was greeted and welcomed three times before I reached my seat. An older parishioner and his wife sat down next to me. They introduced themselves after which, he asked if he could introduce me at the appropriate time. St. John’s time of sharing and introductions is not unlike the “happy bucks” time at my local Rotary club. This resulted in giving me a beautiful and natural feeling of community.
This congregation has created a beautiful sanctuary and meaningful church interior. Unlike some churches, they’ve invested on the inside rather than the outside. I found the sanctuary spacious and comfortable, accented by a beautiful 17 foot story-totem carved by a former pastor Davis Fison.
The senior pastor, David Beckett, was preparing to leave for their General Conference session in Texas. During the children’s story, he was asked to come forward and sit. And was then presented with a prayer shawl for the trip. The other ministers, and the children, were invited forward to pray for him and put their hands on him, during the prayer. I found this to be a profound display of love for their pastor.
This is a musical church that loves to sing recognizable hymns, old and new. Their musicians play the piano and organ well, plus there is a choir most weekends. However, the choir did not sing this day.
The pastor’s message was the second part of a two part series, “Why I Am a United Methodist.” A captivating speaker, Pastor Beckett is adept at speaking from the heart and connecting with the heart of the listener. Citing author Billy Coburn, who in a recent article noted Starbucks philosophy of addressing boredom, loneliness, and alienation by creating areas to recapture a sense of community for our lost informal public lives. Beckett noted we experience community in two places: home and work. Further quoting Coburn he added “Wouldn’t it be awesome if our churches were automatic “third space” places of community?” Beckett noted they are United Methodists “..because religion is of the heart, because the Bible is our Book, because religion is practical, because Christians are here to worship, witness, and grow. And because religion is not a private affair.” I found Beckett’s illustrations meaningful and to the point.
From a casual contact with this church at a Sunday morning service, I left with a compelling picture of their community, a church that will open its arms to all who come. Recently a Church Visit blog comment by gays looking for a church was noted. I am confident St. John would accept these individuals as children of God, even though this is not the official position of United Methodists. Pastor Beckett closed with the words of John Wesley, the key founder of Methodism, “Above all things, let your love abound. Let it extend to every child of man: Let it overflow to every child of God. By this let all know whose disciples you are because you love one another. Located at 1801 O’Malley Road, Anchorage, AK 99507 907-344-3025. Pastor is David Beckett. 222.stjohneagle.org