Today I went to Alpine Church's Riverdale Campus. What was it like visiting this nondenominational Evangelical church?
Alpine's Riverdale Campus (church) is a very modern building with an industrial feel.
The outside of the church is decorated simply with the name of the church and a large wooden cross.
The parking lot was filled with cars and tons of people streaming into the building. I was amazed with how many people were there. This church so far, with the exception of the LDS church I attended, had the most people I've seen.
The entryway of the church is quite modern and quite lovely. There are tables by the door with free copies of the Bible that include the NIV (New International Version) and the NLT (New Living Translation). I took the NLT as I don't have a copy of that one yet. There is also a fireplace lounge with plush leather couches to sit on and bookshelves full of books to study. Along the wall is a coffee bar with lots of free coffee of various kinds held in self-serve dispensers. The coffee bar was adorned with a number of crosses and a sign that said "Pursue God" which seems to be the theme of this church.
I grabbed a cup of coffee and headed into the chapel. The chapel was a modern room with chairs lined along in rows and a stage with a live band playing against a modern background of blue lit glass panels.
Overall, the atmosphere was warm, welcoming, and modern. I loved the look of the building. It's quite different from other churches I've been to, yet has very familiar elements to it.
As I mentioned previously, there were a lot of people there. When we arrived, the service was just barely beginning, but there were people still coming in the building, grabbing coffee, herding their children to Sunday school, heading into the chapel.
Nobody came up and greeted us personally with the exception of my cousin after the service. That being said, the people were very warm and friendly. I didn't feel any judgmental stares, nobody seemed to wonder what we were doing there. The people were a diverse crowd. There were people with multicolored hair, people in conservative dress, people in casual clothing, multiple races, some dressed in designer clothing, some in more skater or clothing I generally refer to as "thug-lite." In general, it was a "come as you are" crowd with diverse backgrounds.
Overall, the people seemed like a tight knit but friendly and open crowd.
The service was a typical sort of service you'd see in most Evangelical churches. It opened with a song, again the music was contemporary. The people stood up and sang the words which were projected onto two screens in the front. Some people raised their hands up or closed their eyes while singing as though in prayer. Others simply sang the words and enjoyed the music. Afterward, there were some announcements, then two more songs were played, again by the live band.
After the songs, there was a short video which featured the one of the pastors of the church introducing the theme of this week's sermon, which was part of their continuing series on atonement. After the video introduction, another pastor came up and gave a sermon. More on that in "The Message" section below.
After the sermon, they had communion. The communion was interesting to me coming from a different that wasn't Evangelical. The band played music and the pastor said a couple words about the communion being a memorial of Christ's sacrifice and all Christ followers were welcome. Then people lined up and went to one of several tables just below the stage which had a glass bowl of wafers and one wine glass full of grape juice per table. The people dipped the wafers in the juice then took them back to their seats and ate them. This was different to me because my background is LDS and Catholic. In both traditions, there are special communion prayers that are said and the elements of communion are blessed. But there was no blessing and no special prayers. No prayers at all unless the individual said one when they went back to their seat. This just struck me as odd as communion was always the central focus of worship in the faiths of my youth and there was always a lot of fuss over this ceremony.
After communion, they said a short prayer and the pastor delivered a message not to feel guilt for your sin anymore if you had trusted in Jesus because he already died for you. They then dismissed the congregation.
The service was fun. I enjoyed the music and the laid back atmosphere.
As mentioned above, the message was part of their ongoing series on atonement. In the intro video, the pastor mentioned that they were going to draw comparisons to Old Testament sacrifice and the sacrifice of Jesus. During the intro, he said you'd need your thinking caps on for this one.
The pastor's sermon began with showing the tabernacle and explaining a little bit about the various places in it. He then explained the atonement process Israel went through on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This involved several animal sacrifices, the releasing of the scapegoat into the wilderness as a symbolic purge of the sins of the nation from their presence, and the High Priest offering a prayer in the Holy of Holies for the Nation of Israel. He then said that Jesus is like the ultimate High Priest and living sacrifice because his sacrifice and his priesthood is forever.
This was really the whole of the message. There wasn't much more complexity to it. I liked that it was structured and informed, but I wanted it to go more into depth. I realize that I've read a lot about religion, particularly the history and origin of Christianity and Judaism. But the message was very basic Christian principles. When it was said at the beginning of the service you needed your thinking caps, I was hoping for something with a little more meat on it. As it was, it was a surface level presentation of Christianity.
There was nothing unexpected about the message, nor anything objectionable, but I do think that Christianity as it's presented to congregations today is all too safe and all too friendly without delving deep enough into things that, in ages gone by, Christianity would have addressed.
I would like to see a Christian church delve deeply into stories that are in their scriptures that are uncomfortable, like Lot offering his daughters up to an angry mob so they didn't rape his guests and his daughters later raping him to conceive children; Jephthah offering his daughter as a human sacrifice because God granted him victory in battle; Jesus encouraging his followers castrate themselves, literally give up all material possessions, forsake their families and follow him; etc. Or even focusing on darker parts of their common beliefs such as why bad things happen to seemingly righteous and innocent people with a supposedly all perfect and all loving God, why God demands atonement for sin when in his omnipotence he could eliminate sin entirely, why an all just God would create a infinite Hell for finite crimes, etc.
These things are real stories and real issues that Christianity has faced for centuries and great theologians have hotly debated and come to various conclusions. However, modern Christianity has done itself no favors by only focusing on the positive aspects of its message and not delving deep into its more challenging aspects. The reason it has not is that people often feel a huge sense of betrayal by their faiths when they realize that all of these stories or questions were hidden from them or never addressed. They feel like they were well versed in their religion only to find that there was another side to it. This leads many to doubt their faith strongly.
Now, I realize that many in these congregations have no desire to be biblical scholars or discuss fine details of theology, that they want to come to church to experience some kind of personal relationship with their God. But I feel these people more than anyone else deserve to be presented with the entirety of their faith, not just the happy easily digestible parts of it. People claim they want truth, but what they want is to feel close to something bigger than themselves and often become uncomfortable if that feeling is threatened by things that don't gel with their deeply held beliefs. But it is exactly this kind of person that is scandalized and harmed the most when they discover what's been hidden from them.
As I said, the sermon was a good and positive sermon, I just really want to see Christianity go deeper in the public sphere. I'm sick of seeing easy answers doled out across the pulpit and sermons that sound like sound bites or only focus on positive messages.
I really did enjoy my time at Alpine Church and would go back again with my family as it was a fun experience, a great atmosphere, and good service. I'm very glad it's a home that some members of my family have found and it seems to have been nothing but a good thing for them.
Next week is going to be interesting. I'm going to try to do 4 services or events since it's Holy Week on the Christian calendar. We'll see if I'm able to do it between work and other things going on in my life.
We will begin our Holy Week marathon with Palm Sunday at Glory to God Old Catholic Church in Ogden.
Until next time, peace be with you!