This weekend we continued our family adventure of trying out different church experiences. This time we visited High Rock Church in Arlington Heights, which says on its sign that it is an evangelical covenant church. We were looking for something more like Dave’s childhood experience of contemporary worship (i.e. rock band on stage) with evangelical theology.
I feel a bit like the Mystery Worshiper from the Ship of Fools website, as I have a lot of my own thoughts about the worship experience, but the point of this is really for the kids to experience different things, so I’m going to try to bite my tongue and focus on their reactions.
We came into the church and were offered stick-on name tags which the greeters at the door made for us. We found a pew and looked up to see a band set-up where the altar used to be (High Rock purchased an old church from a different denomination). There was an altar in front of the band, covered with candles, flowers, bread and wine, and a pulpit in front of the altar. The service started with a pastor offering about 10 minutes of announcements and an opening prayer. Then the band played 2 or 3 songs. Then the lead pastor offered a sermon. Then we had Communion, and 3 more songs, and closing prayer.
So: afterwards, over Thai food in downtown Arlington, we asked the kids what they thought. Their first reaction was that the sermon was way too long. (Dave timed it at 40 minutes.) I noticed the kids were quiet and polite for the first 30 min, then at the 35 minute mark all heck broke loose in our pew with a “he’s in my personal space” poking battle between siblings. Yes, I got to be the Mom with the totally misbehaving kids — right in front of the pastor. They also thought the sermon made them feel a bit scolded for being bad Christians (the theme of the sermon was that anyone can be a fan of Jesus, but Jesus calls us into deeper, life changing, discipleship).
Their section reaction was that they loved the music. They sang along with the words on the screen and found the simple tunes easy to follow. (For myself, I found the songs a little too simple — 2 chords and 3 notes — but the kids didn’t mind this at all. Also, I noticed that Episcopalians are not the only ones who have trouble getting congregants to sing. I think my kids might have been the loudest singers present.)
I asked what they thought about Communion. Lucy noted that the pastor said the words of institution (This is my body.. this is my blood…) as part of his sermon, simply turning around to break the bread and lift up the cup from the altar behind him, and not as a separate prayer. This was not Ok with her. She thought it needed more careful attention and an actual blessing of some kind. I was tickled to notice Lucy seems consistent in her preference for a more high church style (as at the Monastery), since she thought the Communion prayer should have been “fancier and more important”. This didn’t bother the boys as much (although, as noted above, we were all a bit distracted at that point in the sermon anyway) who seem to prefer a lower church style.
In sum: the kids thought the bad was the sermon which was way too long and seemed scolding to the kids, but the good was fun music that was easy to sing and the projection screen which made it easy to follow the service.
Ok, I will just mention two (other) things I noticed. First, all the announcements were about ways to learn more about that congregation (i.e. new member classes) or join a Bible study. None were about mission/outreach activities, and I didn’t see any mission activities listed in the bulletin or welcome materials. That seemed quite different from Redeemer. The other thing that stood out for me was how racially diverse the congregation was. There were many African-Americans as well as Asian-Americans in the pews, and several inter-racial families. It did strike me that this sister church of ours, just a few miles away, seems to do a better job of reflecting the nature of its neighborhood. Food for prayer!
Our next visit will be to a Unitarian church. We thought this would be a good choice as many of our kids’ friends are Unitarian (perhaps because we live so close to Follen Church) so they can see what that is like.