We intended, when we set out to the Valley Assembly of God this week, to compare and contrast coffee bars outside the main service. Our friend Elaine was planning to come to play along on the home game, but the parking lot is so large, and we didn’t see her truck when we pulled up, that I called and told her we’d meet her in “The Link.” A few years ago, I was invited by an editing client to come visit, and she’d mentioned that they had a coffee-shop kind of thing where the service was piped in, so this seemed like the next place to go after Southside’s “other room.” (I will have to ask Mrs. Baldwini if their coffee shop thing has a name–during the sermon, the pastor refers to it as “the other room,” which makes me suspect it does not). It wasn’t evident when we walked in the door where the “The Link” might be, so we asked an usher, who pointed us to the Information Desk. If you haven’t been in a really large church lately, you would probably be, as I was, taken aback by the site of a large information desk. The desk is quite like the ones at the mall, or the bookstore, complete with a large sign that says, “Information,” and a number of facilities maps in plexiglass holders for easy reference.
As it turns out, it’s been more than a year since the Valley Assembly discontinued their “Link” program, and the Information guy and I shared a sheepish moment, and he suggested we go into the main service, which we did. Fortunately, the lovely Elaine missed her alarm and took some well-deserved late-morning sleep, instead having to look for us in the auditorium of 800+ people (I guesstimate that it seats 1,200 when it’s full).
We expected we might run into the gal and her family I know from there, but I didn’t really expect to end up in the exact same section of the nave. It was kind of nice to see a friendly face after so many services of not knowing anyone, and we had an enjoyable time talking to them about the project after the service.
Farmergirl was wholly unprepared for some of the more charismatic elements of the service, and was taken aback when a woman several rows behind us said, “Amen, Amen, that’s right, amen” in response to every other sentence during the sermon. Michael and I were a little surprised that she was the only one (at least on our side of the auditorium). The stage area was a bit crowded this morning, as they’re planning for a production of The Passion later this week, and the 30 member choir, 12 seated instruments, two drummers, three guitarists, 5 vocal leaders, and the keyboardist were all pushed forward on the stage, in front of the set.
Somewhere along the way to becoming an Episcopalian, I didn’t ever learn to cross myself. This is probably because we were in a really pretty low-church setting, and since Michael was just coming off finishing a degree in theology, I’m sure we asked really practical questions like how the politics of 12th century England dovetailed with the rise of the Anglican tradition . . . but we seemed to have missed out on some of the more common practices. Michael refuses to do it at all, on the grounds that wars have been fought over which way (up, down, left, right or up, down, right, left), and I never quite figured out which way or when, so I just don’t. Farmergirl actually received instruction when she became an acolyte, although she informs me her fellow acolyte, the priest’s son and her good friend, teased her on this point. Whenever she points to some gap in her education like this, I blame it on homeschooling, as if she’d get this kind of instruction in school.
Anyway, the congregation at the Valley Assembly of God does not practice self-crossing, but they do quite a bit of hand-raising, which has the same problem as crossing one’s self, in terms of the newbie, visitor, or liturgical fish out of water: when does one raise one’s hands?
There are a couple of places that seem fairly universal:
During singing, especially when singing the words hosanna, praise, worthy, or anywhere the music crescendos.
But this doesn’t answer any of the nuance questions: which way do you raise your hands? Like you’re Superman, about to take off? Like a “here I am” at the universe? More of a hold-up pose? Or a praying for rain? Palms up? Palms out? Does it depend on the relative proximity of the persons standing nearest you? (This particular point did not seem to factor into the handraising in the choir).
For how long does one hold up one’s hands? The duration of the song? Until they are fatigued?
Are there inappropriate places where raising one’s hands would be thought out of place? (I have been to a number of services in my life where I can’t imagine that any hand raising would be out of line, and others where the regulars bristled at the hand raising or clapping of visitors). In a few of those services, I’ve felt terribly out of place, as I’m not a hand raiser, or much of a clapper.
Michael was rather tickled with the sermon (on Acts 4–he points out that he thinks this a favourite of pentecostal churches), and said he appreciated the craft. You’ll be able to view/listen to the sermon in a week or two, available on the Valley Assembly of God website in the Media Center. I was again taken aback by how much current-day contemporary music (from the past decade) I haven’t been exposed to. Farmergirl thought the whole thing was too loud (and she’s right–I sent her to the ladies room to stuff a little tissue in her ears).
The disconcerting thing about the music (aside from so much of it being new to me) is that so many churches change how they sing the music, but don’t update their powerpoint/projection to reflect what the worship team and congregation are singing. There was one whole song where everyone was singing the same set of pronouns (second person), and we were still singing the original set (third person). The musicians on stage have two screens on the back wall with the words, so–at least in theory–we were all looking at the same set of words. This probably points to at least a bit of the reason I’ve never embraced the charismatic traditions–I have a hard time going with that kind of flow and not experiencing at least a little cognitive dissonance.
We’ve decided to skip Easter this year, so we’re in search of an Eastern Orthodox church for next week. Since we’ll likely run into incense, we’ve already decided against the tiny Sts. Cyril & Methodius down the hill on Evergreen, and are considering Holy Trinity figuring there’s likely to be incense, and a space large enough to accommodate that will be preferable to being cooped up with it. Another possibility is St. Gregorios Malankara Syrian Orthodox Mission which has interesting historical ties to the Episcopal Holy Trinity.