Last Sunday I visited Sunset Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon. I attended the 9 am service on my way out to Cannon Beach and Seaside for a day trip. Given that I had to run a couple of errands I arrived about five minutes into the service. By comparing their worship schedule listed in the bulletin with the song they currently were singing, I realized I had already missed about half of the song packet. In any case, a nice elderly lady greeted me at the door and pointed me in the right direction of the worship auditorium.
And what an auditorium it was. The interior is as impressive as the exterior of this newly constructed edifice. As I sat down in the spaciously appointed aisle seat near the back of the room, I was immediately struck with a few observations. The seats were probably about 2/3’s to 3/4’s full. I am not sure how many people there were in the early service, but their own website indicates about 2,500 worship with them each weekend. The darkened room forced a focus on the platform, behind which there was a suspended and lit opaque cross. There was also some sort of swooping drapery or ornament. I am not sure what its significance was beyond the ornamental. Aside from those two features, the room seemed quite devoid of artistic flavor. It felt a bit like being on a greatly expanded and darkened version of the bridge of Captain Picard’s Enterprise. The extensive sound panels heightened the affect. It was kind of cool in its own way.
The sound was excellent. For such a large room, I had an easier time hearing the speaker from the back of this facility than my own pastor in the small church I normally attend. Much of this has to do with strategically placed speakers throughout the room. The music was acoustic, with three guitars, a drumset and an electric keyboard. The lead vocalist was spot on vocally. My only suggestion would have been to minimize the talking a bit, given the already brief length of the song packet.
In the church’s bulletin it explains their philosophy of having children participate in family worship. I wonder if the young mom who was chasing the three toddlers near me literally in circles in the aisle would have agreed? I would love to have been a fly on the wall as she explained to her husband who was quietly standing nearby the need for teamwork…. but I digress. In page two of their bulletin it says:
“As you look around, you will see that children are a part of our worshipping community. Their presence is based on the Biblical premise that children are vital members of our church family. As a congregation we agree to bring up these children in the faith when they are baptized. We have a special responsibility to teach them to worship. This will take time, as we all help them to understand the service so that they can worship God meaningfully.”
I appreciate their written emphasis on making children a part of the worshipping community. Ironically, on this specific occasion, I did not witness much of that going on. I saw many kids. However, those that were near me seemed otherwise occupied. I wonder if some element of participation from the platform might have helped pique their interest? I don’t mean performance. I mean participation. This is something my own church is working on.
I also appreciate their written statement that children are vital members of the church family. However I would love to ask them about the statement which says, “As a congregation we agree to bring up these children in the faith when they are baptised.” My question is, what happens then before they are baptized? Are they not being brought up in the faith then? I am not sure what their teaching is on infant baptism versus believer’s baptism, but that could, in part, shed light on this issue.
The sermon which was shared by one of their members dealt with worry. He handled it biblically and practically. For my part, I appreciated his insights.
I share this review as a one time outside visitor to a specific church. Sunset Presbyterian enjoys an outstanding reputation in the community. By all accounts it is well deserved. As always, my comments are not meant as criticisms, but simply as observations as I seek to learn from others and then apply what I have learned to my own context.