A few posts ago, I had given an update on our church search and indicated that we would probably be staying at one of the churches for the foreseeable future. However, that has changed as my husband wanted to continue looking for a place since some of the things at the last one made us question (nothing major…just some small stuff). Anyway, we have gone to Crossroads Church for the past two weeks and have enjoyed it. We are meeting lots of new people there and have enjoyed both of the services we have been to; the music is good and familiar, the sermons have been great, the people are friendly and welcoming, a co-worker of my husband attends, etc. We’ll give it another few visits and have asked our questions of the staff. We have a few questions that we need to ask others at the church (other leaders that we haven’t emailed, etc.) and will be doing that soon. We’ll see what happens and where we are lead.
Several weeks ago (is it a month now?), I wrote about the proposed legislation in North Carolina establishing a county/state religion and the reasoning for that. You can find that post here. The proposed legislation was a result of an issue raised by citizens in a county in NC. They had filed a lawsuit against the county council (or similar legislative body of the county) because the members regularly used Christian prayers to begin or end meetings, etc. Ultimately the state legislation failed (it was basically left to die).
Today, in the Baltimore Sun, there is an article about essentially the same issue in Carroll County. Those county commissioners take turns ending the meeting through the usage of prayers, Christian prayers. This lawsuit has been filed by two very active and vocal opponents of the conservative commissioners (according to the Sun). One of the plaintiffs is a practicing Roman Catholic and the other does not participate in organized religion but does believe in God (though it is not clear if he is Christian). So, this is not a case of atheists filing suit because they are anti-Christian. While I will uphold the right of every individual in this country to have faith and to practice that faith, there has to be a line between the role of government and the role of faith. Government can not (and should not) be controlled by a faith and vice versa. Christ preached a message that was counter-cultural, to include the Roman Empire’s system of government that existed during his lifetime. Historically speaking, there are numerous examples of governments being controlled by a particular faith and particular faiths being controlled by governments. On both sides, they have generally taken down said country or government (though there could be exceptions). We need to learn from history and the examples that are provided in it and seek to do better and make wiser choices as a result of it.
My husband and I have been waiting for just about 9 months since being approved for adoption by our adoption agency. Thinking about that, if we had been able to have a biological child, we might have been having said child this month. Most of the time, I am able to go about life, work, home stuff, chores, errands, church, and so on without really thinking about the fact that we are still waiting for news that a birth family has selected us. But, there are moments, days, or even weeks that little things remind me that we are waiting. It could be seeing a pregnant woman, whether I know her or not, seeing a newborn baby, attending a baby shower, seeing a mom and child at the store, having a dream, hearing a song, seeing a picture, etc. It really could be anything and everything in those moments it is so hard to wait. There is nothing really that I can do about it. I can’t fix it. I can’t change it. I can’t make it happen sooner. And then I heard this song on the way home this afternoon from work. While it was originally from the movie “Fireproof” and about waiting for a change in the characters’ marriage to happen (though I haven’t seen the movie), it took on a whole different meaning. Of course, today was a good day, so I may not feel that way on a different day.
Recently, I’ve been intrigued by the goings on in the North Carolina state legislature. I’ve read several articles such as this one from the Washington Post blog. I find this absolutely ridiculous and I think it flies in the face of the US Constitution. To summarize, for those that haven’t read the articles or heard about what I’m talking about, two North Carolina state legislators introduced a resolution that would allow, if passed, local town, county, or even the state government to determine an official religion of their said town, county, or North Carolina. It is apparently a response to a lawsuit that was filed against the county commissioners of Rowan County, who either begin or end their meetings (depending on the article you read) with Christian prayer or say things like “In Jesus name, amen.” The state legislators say that their resolution is to support the county commissioners’ freedom of speech. Apparently, according to this article, the measure is dead in the state legislature. Even though the measure is dead (which is a good thing), I just can’t believe that it was introduced. According to the US Constitution, which was ratified by the states, federal law supersedes state law.
Now, this is where I come to the conclusion that we are repeating history rather than learning from it. In 1798, Virginia and Kentucky both said that the Alien and Sedition Acts were laws that were passed by Congress when Congress, supposedly, did not have the authority to pass such laws. This issue came up again in the 1830′s with the “Tariff of Abominations” and the resulting Nullification Crisis in which states said they were not going to follow the tariffs that Congress had passed. The question in all of these events was do states have the ability to not follow federal laws. One of the issues implied in this question is – Is the federal law constitutional? The Supreme Court is the entity charged with determining if a law is constitutional or not. So, if these laws have been determined to be constitutional by the Supreme Court (i.e., they have not been said to be unconstitutional), can the states decide to not follow those laws? Andrew Jackson, president during the Nullification Crisis, signed into law the Force Bill that authorized the use of federal troops against South Carolina if they still did not follow the tariffs (also passed a new tariff bill that lowered the tariffs to the satisfaction of South Carolina). Essentially, the issue of nullification helped to solidify, at least for some people, the states’ rights argument that would eventually lead to the Civil War. If the issue of federal law superseding state law has been decided many times over, both by the Supreme Court, and the Union’s winning of the Civil War, why is it continuing to come up? Why are people not learning from history?
As another point, and one I have posted about several times, representatives of municipal, state, or even the federal government can not, in their positions as representatives of that government, can not do things that would seem to favor one religion over another, or lack thereof. So, that means, while the Rowan County commissioners may be Christian in their own personal faith, they can not, in official capacities, pass laws, open meetings, or close meetings in such a way that would be seen to favor Christianity over any other religion or the lack of a religion, according to the US Constitution. Would they be ok with someone that is Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, pagan, or anything else opening or closing the commissioners meeting with that religion’s prayer or scripture reading? If it’s not ok for people of those religions to do that, then it is not ok for Christians to do that, as representatives of a government.
As I heard today, Christianity is not about being in control of the government. If we look at the example of Christ, he actually put himself as far away from the governmental officials and those that were in cahoots with the Roman government, etc. as he possibly could. He made it extremely clear that he was not on earth to become an earthly king and the people that wanted that earthly king were ultimately not able to let go of that idea to be able to pay attention to what he was really all about, loving people and leading them to a relationship with his father, God.
So, since my last post about the church search that my husband and I are currently in, we’ve visited two of the churches again. In addition to visiting again, we emailed the pastor at each church to ask several questions.
Some of our questions:
(1) What curriculum do you use for your children’s programs? What are the groupings (age ranges, etc.) for children’s classes? Are there background/security checks for teachers/helpers in the children’s classes?
(2) What denomination do you most closely align with? Why? (if non-denominational church)
(3) What is your view on women – egalitarian or complimentarian? Why?
(4) How does someone become a member of your church?
(5) Are there ministries that someone could be a part of or involved in before becoming a member? If so, what ministries are available?
So, on our second visit to Riva Trace, we heard most of the same musicians and singers during the music portion of the service, although there were a couple of different/new people in the mix. They were very good and tight in their song selection, parts to play/sing, etc. The worship pastor was the lead vocalist on two of the songs and clearly had no issue with giving the lead parts to the other two vocalists, both females. He also gave his acoustic guitar to another of the band members to play during one of the songs. We heard the senior pastor preach again, continuing the series we had heard on our previous visit. There were some announcements, and lots of information about the ministries of the church, meeting times, etc. in the bulletin.
We did email most of the questions listed above to the senior pastor, and received an answer from the children’s pastor answering our question about the curriculum used, age groupings, background checks, etc. We did not receive an answer to any of our other questions from anyone at Riva Trace.
We returned to ACC this morning (our previous visit was 3 weeks ago) and really liked everything about it. We were walking in to the service a few minutes before service was scheduled to start and the senior pastor was walking out of the auditorium area, passing us. He remembered my name and asked us if the associate pastor had returned our email answering our questions. In fact, the associate pastor and I had emailed back and forth a couple of times so that I was clear on my understanding of what his answers were to a couple of the questions (women and a question about Reformation Theology he had mentioned in his answer about denominational association). Additionally, we received an email from the children’s program director that gave us information about the curriculum used in the different age classes with links to the websites for them. Today, after the music portion of the service they had the time of tithing in which ushers pass baskets across the rows in the auditorium. Then, there was the time of communion, which apparently happens every week at this church. Ushers gave indication when it was time for each row to go up to the communion table to partake in the elements. After this, there was a video intro and then the associate pastor preached the message. It was quite good and was the second in the series “Plastic Jesus” that they started last week on Easter. While we have not yet heard the senior pastor preach a message at this church, this will likely be where we stay. It is extremely convenient, aligns in the essentials of Christianity, is very diverse in the congregation (gender, ethnicity, age, socio-economic status, etc.), is involved in the community, and so many other pros for us, not least of which was that he remembered my name!
As I start my Spring Break today, one of my friends posted an article about some elementary school that has apparently banned the use of the word Easter because it might infringe on the beliefs of some students. I have a lot of thoughts about this and felt the need to write about it here. First, some questions I asked myself when trying to figure out what I thought about this issue…
(1) What is the purpose of public education/public schools?
Many people have many opinions about public education and it’s purpose. Essentially, this is my opinion…public education in the United States is about teaching children, regardless of race/ethnicity, religious belief, gender, etc. It is also about making sure they learn what they need to know to be successful after their school career, whatever they do after school.
(2) Do we include lessons about the various holidays or religions throughout the year (religious and non-religious) in our curriculum? The easy answer is yes…but it is more involved than that.
This is much easier to do in the elementary classroom, in my understanding, than in the secondary classroom, based on curriculum objectives, etc. Curriculum in the secondary classroom, regardless of subject, is not based on the calendar (seasons, holidays, etc.), as much as it is or can be in the elementary classroom. However, because I teach social studies, it is very easy for me to include discussions of various beliefs in the context of historical events. For example, in the context of the portion of the second quarter unit about the Middle Ages, I discuss the Crusades and the Renaissance and Reformation.
(3) Should public schools be responsible for teaching about the holidays and religious beliefs?
While these topics might be included in various lessons, it should not be the responsibility of the public schools to teach students about religious beliefs, etc. That, in my opinion, is the responsibility of the parents in the home and the religious organization. Schools can not possibly teach reading, writing, mathematics, history, science, physical education, art, music, technology education, geography, world cultures, health, and the variety of subjects with all of the objectives and curriculum that accompany those subjects and also be expected to have time to teach about religious beliefs, manners, character education, etc. In addition to all of the teaching that we do, we also have to deal with the myriad social issues that our students bring to us (family issues, social issues with friends, bullying, etc.).
As a public school teacher and Christian, I can, and do, teach about various religious beliefs in the context of historical events covered in my curriculum. However, I do not use my position as a public school teacher, and a representative of the state government, to put any religious or political belief or position over another. While, as a Christian, I believe that belief in Christ is the only way to have eternal life, I can not assume that my students agree with this belief or that they have any belief at all.
All that being said, I really do think the banning of the word Easter is a bit ridiculous.
On a different, but somewhat related, note I really wish Christians would educate themselves about the history of the placement of Christmas and Easter on the calendar. While I get that the point of these holidays is not the specific date on the calendar, but is about the birth of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross and resurrection 3 days later, there is a serious lack of understanding about the historical reasoning for the placement of these holidays.
I’ve really always hated that term…church “shopping”…it just sounds so strange. And seeing as how I’ve never really had to do it, it just never really made sense to me. I mean, I attended the same church from my birth until I was 23 or 24 years old. At that time, my parents and I decided to try to find a church closer to our house (we had attended a church 30 minutes away from where we lived). So, my mom tried several different churches before she found the one we ended up at. My dad and I had continued to attend our previous church because we had some other duties that we needed to fulfill before leaving. Anyway, mom had essentially found the church we attended next, and this is the church that we have attended for the past 11 years until February 24th, when the church officially closed.
So now, my husband and I have been trying out several different churches much closer to our house and about the same distance (25 minutes) away from where we live but to the east rather than to the west (where our previous church was). As referenced in the post below, we are looking for several different things in our church search. We have attended a different church each of the past 3 weeks and we know that we can’t make a final decision based on only one visit per church. Here’s what we’ve experienced so far…please understand the below represents only my and my husband’s observations and opinions.
Riva Trace Baptist Church
We attended the 11 am service on Sunday, March 3rd. We pulled in the parking lot and found two very friendly parking lot attendants waving as all cars pulled in. We found a parking spot pretty easily and followed several people in to the main entrance of the church. There were two greeters at the main doors to the building holding the doors open for everyone. We found the sanctuary area of the church pretty easily and walked in, were greeted by another greeter passing out the bulletin for the morning. The sanctuary area had three main sections of chairs spread out over a pretty wide area. My husband estimates there was space for about 400-500 chairs. There was a permanent stage at the front of the sanctuary area with a baptismal area at the back of the stage area. They had two screens, one on each side of the stage area, for the slides for the song lyrics and sermon slides, etc. We also noticed there was a projector pointed at the back wall to display the song lyrics for the singers. There were two female vocalists and the worship leader who sang and played acoustic guitar, as well as a drummer, a keyboardist (also sang a few background vocals), another guitar player, and a bass player. Each of the vocalists lead a song during the main singing portion of the service. The church was highlighting a different ministry each month (or maybe week) and this week they highlighted the missions ministry. One of the associate pastors interviewed a woman that had participated in one of the mission trips the previous year. After this was the tithes and offering. They had ushers that passed the baskets and the band played some instrumental music during this time. Then, we sang the doxology. Then, the pastor gave his message about Jacob and Esau. At the end of the sermon, the pastor prayed and called up one of the elders. This service was the 25th anniversary of the pastor and his wife being at Riva Trace. The elder made a presentation of a framed art print (from the St. John’s Bible) of the 7 days of creation and prayed for the pastor and his family. they then invited everyone to a luncheon in honor of the pastor and his family. We did not attend the luncheon (would have been a little weird on our first Sunday!).
We did receive an email from the senior pastor and sent an email back asking several questions. One of our questions was about the children’s programs and the curriculum they use in the different age groups, etc. We received an email responding to this question from the children’s programs leader. Our other questions have not been answered as of yet.
We liked this church quite a lot. They have a lot of opportunities to get involved in a variety of ways and much of what they do seems to run rather well due to the number of staff positions they have as well as volunteers participating in the various ministry areas. They also have a pre-school open to the community. We really want to go back and visit this church again.
Bay Area Community Church
This was the second church and we attended on Sunday, March 10 at the 11 am service. Unbeknownst to us, at the time, a few of our friends from our previous church also attended this church on this particular Sunday. We pulled in to the church and saw a sign that said if you are a first time visitor, put your hazards on and a parking attendant will direct you to parking. We did, and the parking attendant at the entrance directed us to the next parking attendant, that pointed out the visitor parking area. There were at least 10 New Visitor designated parking spaces. We followed several other people into the church, past two greeters holding the doors open, and found the sanctuary. We received the bulletin from the greeter at the entrance to the sanctuary area (auditorium/gymnasium type) and found a seat. We were in the middle of the main section of chairs. There were approximately 500-600 chairs and we found out from one of our friends that they have squeezed in more chairs than were originally intended for the area. This church is growing at a crazy fast rate and they just simply don’t have the space to accommodate the growth. They are actually going to build a chapel space to accommodate the growth before completing their next phase of main building for their campus.
Anyway, the music portion of the service was the main worship leader (on staff) with an acoustic guitar. He led several songs, both older hymns and newer worship songs. There were three screens for the song lyrics, sermon slides, etc., one on each side of the stage and one in the center. We also noticed they had a display on the back wall (from ProPresenter) for the worship leader. It had the current slide and the next slide (which, if I was a vocalist on stage, would have been awesome). After the main singing part, they had the offering, passing the baskets. During this time they had a special song by an independent band called “Coincidence Maybe.” They were pretty good; just a guitar player/singer and a drummer. The senior pastor was out of town, so one of the other associate pastors gave the message. The message was called “He Is: The Way, The Truth, and The Life.” There was a video intro for the message produced by the church’s graphic arts department. The series they are in is called “He Is” and they are looking at the verses throughout the Bible that God or Jesus makes clear “I Am” statements. They had large HE IS letters across the stage (HE on the left, IS on the right). Anyway, after the sermon, the guy that was preaching and then they gave some announcements. We were dismissed and happened to see a few of our friends after the service and went to lunch with them.
While this church is very well-established, has many staff members, and also has many programs and opportunities to serve, we did not feel comfortable. We think it has to do with the size of the church and that there were so many chairs in a space that was not designed for that many chairs. We might try this church again, just to be sure and give it another opportunity when the full band is playing and the senior pastor is preaching, but this is at the bottom of our list right now.
Arundel Christian Church
This church has their own building about 5-7 minutes from our house, but is currently renovating that building and is meeting in the local high school’s auditorium during that reno. We found out today that it is because the sprinkler system had to be turned off, and the fire department won’t let them have services without a working sprinkler system. Anyway, we went to the 9 am service today. There was good signage directing us to the main entrance for the church as well as a couple of greeters at the main doors. There was a table for name tags (we did not stop) and we went in to the auditorium, after getting the bulletin from the greeter. The bulletin was a generic bulletin with an area for sermon notes, an envelope for tithes/offering, etc. Inserted into this was the prayer list for the church. It was nice to see that this information was shared with the larger church community. There were sections for Cancer Fighters, Deployed Troops, Other Health Concerns, Spiritual Matters, and Other. When we entered just before 9 am, the music was already playing. They had a full band playing on the stage of the auditorium with two screens for the lyrics, etc. The worship leader (on staff) played electric guitar and sang, along with a female vocalist. They had a drummer, keyboardist, acoustic guitar player, another electric guitar player, and a bass player. They sang several songs we knew. One of the associate pastors came up on stage after the main singing portion and talked about the time of tithing. He talked about the importance of tithing and several ushers came up each of the aisles to pass the baskets. During the tithing, the band played some instrumental music. Then, the same associate pastor, talked about communion. He instructed us that an usher would dismiss each row to participate in communion and that if we did not feel comfortable taking communion, to simply let others pass. It was very well organized and efficient. During communion, the band was playing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” Then, the youth pastor preached the sermon. They are currently in a series about “David, the Giant Slayer.” Today, the sermon was about labels; labels we or others place on us, and the different labels that God gives us. It was really quite good. After the sermon, the youth pastor prayer and another of the staff members gave some announcements. One of the announcements was that the senior pastor hosts an info session after the service. So, we went to that, we were the only ones there. Anyway, we spoke to the senior pastor for about 10-15 minutes and found out a little bit about the history of the church and we talked to him about our history (why we are looking for a church, etc.).
We liked this church and would also like to visit it again. It seems to have a lot of opportunities (although it’s a bit hard to tell based on the announcements today, lack of this in the bulletin, etc.). We do have some disagreements about their views on things like women in leadership positions (pastors and such), but they are about non-essential things, so we may be able to get over that if we are in agreement about the essential things. Anyway, this is one of our top 2 (out of the 3 we’ve been to!).