October 24, 2007

Praise at St. Luke's

The vestibule is empty. It is very quiet. Perhaps they are praying. Hit the sanctuary and stepped back. A wake is in progress. No, it is not, they haven’t started service. The pianist is playing. A few people are in their seats. The usher has given me a program and envelope. Where is everybody? Where is Alice?

Take my customary seat in the back. “You can move closer to the front.” “Oh, I’m just fine.” Peruse the bulletin. This church is IN Ripley. It is not in Nutbush or any part of Hayward County. Gee! Just how big is Ripley? Seems you cross into Hayward and then double back into Ripley. I later learned that the original church had burned and this is a new building. There is an activity building behind it. The sanctuary is modern; shades of mauve or dusty rose pew cushions and rug, chandeliers, working mikes. A mural of a country baptism is behind the pulpit (where GFB’s pipe organ would be), flanked by large, framed copies of the Church Covenant and the Ten Commandments.

Everything you needed was inside the church bulletin; sheet music, responsive reading, order of service. And the service is divided into 6 parts: Piano Prelude; Worship Through Preparation; Worship Through Participation; Worship Through Stewardship; Worship Through Proclamation; and Worship Through Discipleship. It’s the service as I know it: Devotions, Call to Worship, Responsive Reading, Announcements and Offering, Sermon, and Benediction. Two collections. I’d come in on the Piano Prelude and, like every good church everywhere, people were late. They knew that the actual service begins around 11:30 a.m.

The bulletin clearly tells you to “Bring Your Bible Every Sunday.” Good thing I’d brought mine. Not a Bible or hymnal are anywhere in sight. You don’t know the songs? Tough. Fortunately, I knew them, though not word for word. And I sat a few times when they were standing. But I figured it out. Stand when the Bible is read. Two offerings are collected. The Consecrated Offering threw me though. I went to put my envelope in the plate and was told to hold it for the next offering. Okaaay.

The choir, in mauve/dusty pink robes, consisted of about 12 people, including children. There was a bona fide artiste in the choir. The girl could sang. A pianist and an organist. The organist later sang “He’s An On-Time God,” with a little preaching thrown in.

There were about 50 to 60 people in attendance, all up front, and the church is over half empty. I know some people are in the kitchen. It's Men and Women's Day. I held down the rear. Visitors are being welcomed. I absolutely hate the having to get up and introduce yourself piece. But I’m the only one so I can't sit and act like I belong there. In the pastor’s remarks, I’m welcomed and told that I could move closer. I give him a big grin in acknowledgement. I’m not moving.

Pastor Strickland will celebrate his 28th anniversary with St. Luke’s in November. His First Lady sat on Deaconess Row. Don’t let that get back to GFB. She, too, had on a snazzy hat. That must be a requirement for the First Lady’s of the land. 2 Corinthians 12: 1-12 was the basis for the sermon but Reverend Strickland hit every theme that could be covered within the course of a year. He made the announcement that there would be a deacon and trustee meeting in November, with a church meeting to follow. I chuckled when he said, “If you aren’t a member of the church, you don’t need to be here.” That’s telling them.

All in all, it was a good service. I felt comfortable. A gentleman came up afterwards to introduce himself. He lives in Beltsville. Had come home for his 50th class reunion and would be driving back in the morning. I've lived in the DC area all my life. Never met him or his wife. I come to Ripley and meet somebody from Beltsville? I met the Rev and First Lady, as well as the former First Lady. They were very warm and welcoming people. The pianist lived in New York for several years and came back to take over his mother’s position as Minister of Music. Talked my ears off.

I didn’t stay for the Men and Women’s Day program or the food. That might have been a major mistake; haven’t had home-cooked food since I’ve been here. Emily's Restaurant doesn't count. I had to get back to see about my housemate and my phone. But I got my praise on and am mighty thankful that I did.

I leave you with the words that the church secretary gave at the end of her announcements: “Let us learn to use things and not people; Let us learn to love people and not things.”

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