Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Can a Blog Cure Cancer?

Readers of The Aldersgate Gazette represent the top tier of pastors, theologians, seminary faculty and other people with way too much time on their hands. AG is pleased to present its first Readers’ Poll to compile a picture of the typical Gazette connoisseur.

The primary purpose is to provide a marketing profile so that we can make gobs of money. Also, one editor mentioned some baloney about the mission of Jesus and serving our readers.

You are invited to participate by completing the survey between now and May 20, 2007. A report will appear in the Gazette on May 25, and will include representative responses from our readers.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The 2007 Readers' Poll has been completed. Look for the results on May 25.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Pastor Finds Empty Church on Easter Sunday

Gerald Calvin, Staff Writer

As she does every Sunday morning at around 9:00, Joanna Terry was putting the finishing touches on her sermon. This Easter sermon was to be a mixture of joy and sorrow for the pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Seattle. The church is an old one and has been serving downtown Seattle for 82 years. Like many other downtown churches across the land, however, the congregation of St. John’s has experienced a steady decline.

The sermon Terry was to preach this Easter morning was the one to announce the death of the church. She would tell the people that their service to the community was laudable, but the time had come to let go. There was no more life in the church.

Terry never preached that sermon. She arrived about ten minutes before the service--her usual time--in order to avoid the inevitable distractions of parishioners telling her about burnt out light bulbs or dirty restrooms. Something seemed odd, however, as she approached. There were even fewer cars than usual in the parking lot. She did not see the car of the head usher, and wondered if anyone had even opened the front door to the church.

Terry pulled on her robe as she entered the sanctuary. She stopped immediately, stunned. She checked her watch, and indeed, it was nearly 10:00am, the start time for worship. But no one, not one soul, not even old Mrs. Parker, a woman who had sat in the same pew every Sunday for 73 years, was present. The building was completely empty.

The 47-year-old pastor looked around and finally saw a well-dressed man standing near the piano. He said to her, “I’ll bet you are looking for your people. Well, they aren’t here.” He nodded toward the front door and said, “They all left. I’ve never seen a bunch of folks with so much energy. They were alive.” Terry said that the man emphasized the word “alive” so sharply that a chill went down her spine.

The man continued, “Don’t you remember how they told you they were going to leave this place? At that last meeting they said they were tired of waiting around for the leaders to do something about the Gospel, and they were just going to go.”

Terry says she did remember something like that, but, as she went back to her office, she tried to figure out what to do next. Her seminary training never prepared her for anything like this. She called her good friend and colleague, Carl Goodrich, a pastor in a nearby suburb.

“I told Carl he would never believe what had just happened,” Terry said in an interview later that day. “And, of course, he didn’t believe it. He came right over to see for himself. We walked around in that big empty sanctuary. Nothing was left but Emma Townsend’s sweater.”

Mondays are Terry’s days off, and when Tuesday comes, she is not sure what she will do. “I suppose I’ll go back to the office,” she said. “I’ll just do what I know how to do. And there is a report I need to finish.” She paused, and her eyes misted over. “Maybe they’ll come back and see me.”

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Basketball Defeats Jesus in Overtime

Luc Richard Limoges, Staff Writer

The heavy thump-thump-thump of the basketball has overtaken the sound of the pipe organ as the most-heard sound at Rolling Meadows United Methodist Church in the suburbs of Portland. The church council voted to eliminate one of its worship services because the service was interfering with one of the four weekly open gym sessions.

Last Fall, when the church embarked on a new, third service of worship on Sunday afternoons, some members argued that is was “only fair” that the church also add a time for playing basketball. The only time convenient for the basketball players turned out to be 9:30 on Sunday mornings, right during the first service of worship. Conflicts were immediate and intense.

“My wife kept nagging me about missing worship,” said Rob Cornerstone, one of the gym rats. “I told her that when I’m out there all by myself in the gym, lining up a three-point shot, I feel God’s presence. I don’t need worship for that.”

Another basketball player, Tony Marzipan, not only stopped attending worship, but brought two of his sons with him to the court. “This is family time,” said Marzipan. “I’d rather have my boys with me than in some strange church listening to a lame sermon.”

Perhaps the most critical defection from the worship service is the church’s pastor, John Passe. Passe, who is also the president of Trailblazer Power, a fan club of the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, took a lot of heat from his personnel committee for missing the early service. He has a defense, though.

“One of my mentors is the great preacher Fred Craddock,” said Passe. “Craddock says that a minister is not obligated to be everywhere. I lead two services on Sunday. Isn’t that enough?”

The church has also lost a staff member to the change. Associate Pastor Jon Kim resigned when Passe insisted Kim lead and preach at every 9:30 service. Kim, also a rabid basketball player, decided he would quit rather than miss the chance to play ball.

Eventually, the church council decided to take up the matter. A number of members argued that worship should clearly take precedence over a game. The personnel chairperson said that Passe was an employee and should be ordered to attend worship.

Passe, though, had the last word. He produced a chart that showed the average attendance at the basketball sessions compared to worship services. Since 2002, the attendance of the basketball players was more than twice that of the worshipers. The council voted to cancel the early worship service by a margin of 30-2.

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