Today I went to First Presbyterian Church in Ogden, part of the Presbyterian Church USA. How was my first time in a Presbyterian church?
First Presbyterian Church is located in downtown Ogden. The church is a brick building that is more modern in design.
The interior was quite interesting. It was a sleek, modern design offset with traditional elements. Blocky shapes and straight lines, open undecorated spaces, mixed with traditional stained glass windows and lit candles. The people who designed this church designed it well seamlessly mixing modern and traditional design. I feel this really accented the type of faith these people have which blends modernity with tradition.
Overall, the building was amazingly beautiful and felt very homey. Well done for atmosphere, First Presbyterian, well done.
As soon as we walked in the door, we were greeted by several people. One lady who was handing out programs asked if we'd ever been then told us welcome and that there would be a present for us afterward. She then came and sat with us showing us the hymns and just helping us follow along with the service, which I thought was really sweet.
A number of people came over and introduced themselves to us, one of them was an old professor I had met a in college. They seemed genuinely happy that we were there and I didn't get the feeling from anybody that they were just playing nice, but that we weren't welcome. They seem like a very genuine and inclusive bunch.
The service was a very traditional Reformed service just like I was expecting. Basically what that means is that it took some of the structure of the Catholic Mass, but stripped it of the pageantry and structured prayers and ritual elements, focusing instead on preaching and impromptu prayer and simple ritual.
The service began with a few announcements, and they presented us visitors with goody bags, which I really thought was cute.
The service then moved into a musical introduction. The musical was quite beautiful for one reason, they mixed traditional organ/piano music with that of a live bell orchestra. The opening hymn was a duet with the piano and a woman tapping the bells. The song was called, "Celtic Farewell" and definitely had an Irish feel to it. I was very moved by this and that alone made the trip worth it.
Afterward there was a call to worship and an opening hymn followed by a confession. At the end of the confession, the associate pastor gave a pronouncement of pardon saying, "You don't have to seek out God's forgiveness. It has has already been done for you. There is nothing you have to do to. Just believe it, because this is the good news of the Gospel."
They then exchanged the Peace like Catholics do. This means turning to your neighbor and offering them a sign of peace, such as a handshake, etc. This is one of my favorite Christian traditions because it offers warmth and community in the service which I feel is important.
The pastor then gave a heartfelt prayer over concerns of the world and concerns of the local congregation. Afterwards there was a reading from the Old Testament. The reading was from Ezekiel and talked about God being the true shepherd.
After the reading, there was a musical number called "10,000 reasons." This number was done entirely with bells. This time they had about a dozen people up in the front of the church each playing one or two bells. The musical number was quite beautiful.
They then read a New Testament scripture from the Gospel of John, the famous passage where Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd.
A sermon followed, more on that later. After the sermon, they recited the Nicene Creed and then took up an offering as the bell orchestra played another song, "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho." There was then a final hymn and prayer before dismissal.
The service what I expected it to be. What really elevated it to a truly beautiful service were the bells. I highly recommend you check out First Presbyterian for the bell orchestra alone.
The message was simple, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, we should be his sheep, we should remember that our leaders should serve the people not the other way around, and that Jesus is the only true way.
I have always hated the imagery of us as sheep following Jesus. The pastor even brought up the very reason I take issue with it. In his own words, "Remember, sheep are dumb." Now the pastor wasn't saying we need to be dumb, but rather we need to trust in the Shepherd because he's wiser than we are. But I take particular issue with being sheep blindly following someone because we are dumb.
A lot of New Testament imagery encourages Christians to be dumb and naive. Jesus tells people to be like children or to follow him as the Good Shepherd. I don't like this because when taken at face value, it says that you shouldn't think critically. You should be simple, just accept what's taught to you, don't question it. If you do, you're a lost sheep and need rescuing. This is a manipulative message and in the wrong hands has dire consequences. Because God is never the one actually leading these flocks, it's man with their own agendas who are leading these flocks. People listen to them because they are speaking for God, but if the people blindly follow these men and their interpretations of scripture without question, we have seen just how disastrous it can become.
I am not saying Christians are in large part dumb and naive. That's certainly not the case and many are well respected scholars. But the idealization of being dumb and naive is found within the pages of the Bible and enshrined in Christianity. This is not a positive message and one that should be examined more carefully by Christians.
I really enjoyed my time at First Presbyterian. The people were so warm and welcoming, the service enriching, and the atmosphere elegant. In spite of my issues with the message of the Good Shepherd, I really loved the service and would definitely return.
I'm really enjoying this blog, it's opened so many lines of communication and doors I never expected to see. I want to thank all of you for reading it.
I have not decided where I am going this next week, but I will let you know.
In other news, I will be leaving the country for a year starting in August. I landed a job in China. Therefore I will not be able to continue this blog through the end of the year as was my intention. That being said, I am still dedicated to getting 52 faiths in by the time I leave. This means there will be many more weeks with multiple services in them. I hope you enjoy my journey as I amp up the pace with these churches.
Expect 4 different churches for the Christian Holy Week. I will be doing one for Palm Sunday, one for Maundy Thursday, one for Good Friday, one for Holy Saturday, and one for Easter Sunday.
Can't wait for this experience. Until next time, peace be with you.