Observations of a non-American visiting Boston – Upside/downside of some churches

photo from the site of City Life
photo from the site of City Life Presbyterian

Last week sunday daughter Sas was with me here in Boston and we visited Citylife Presbyterian Church, a missionary church and part of the church-planting network of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Upside: Lots of young, Asian people, contemporary music (veeerry loud! boom boxes right next to my ears!) and very good, solid preaching by pastor Um, pastor since 2001. He has been preaching apparently through the book of Micah and this sermon was on the last chapter of the book: the primary tension in the bible between a just God and a loving God. Between a God of wrath and a God of forgiveness. The pastor’s point: for love to mean anything there must be anger as well. Anger in the sense of caring enough about someone that you cannot just condone his or her wrong actions. I thought he did a very good job of explaining and applying the biblical message of anger and love meeting in Jesus on the cross. It is not easy to preach that message without it being ‘cliché’ or unbalanced. Pastor Uhm did well, both my daughter and I thought. The whole series can be lisitened to here : sermons on Micah.

Downside: The congregation meets on the 4th floor of a chique hotel, which may make it hard for some people to enter. Also the church was not very welcoming I must say. No greeters, no coffee, no chatting except among the members. Afterwards, everybody went his or her merry way. Point of improvement!

parkstreetYesterday I went to the service at Park Street Church, an historic building and congregation in the heart of Boston.

Upside: The church has been around since the early 19th century and is well known for its community service. They minister weekly to the (many) homeless people, who hang around the Boston Common, across the street. Long- and short term missionaries are supported by the church in several countries. They combine relief work with gospel preaching. It is a fairly large congregation, with maybe as much as 500 people attending a service in the morning. The liturgy is traditional, but of high quality. Organ, choir and orchestra accompany the singing of traditional hymns. At the beginning, middle and end there is a solo of either choir and/or orchestra. The tempo of the service is high! The preaching is usually very good, thorough and biblical. Yesterday’s sermon was a little exemplary. Preaching about the 4 friends who lowered their paralyzed friend in front of Jesus, the pastor managed to develop a missional methodology in 4 points. Amusing, actually quite usefull, but slightly farfetched.

Downside: The church hall was freezing, with cold AC winds sweeping over me. Luckily I remembered from before and brought my sweater. The pastor shook hands at the door afterwards, but nobody else spoke to me. Everything is very orchestrated and at 12.30 there was an international fellowship, ( to which I couldn’t go), beforehand there was Sunday school. What to do with guests just coming in for the service is not written up in the handbook of the church. It seems over-organizing leaves little room for spontaneity.

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