First Presbyterian Church- Portland, Oregon

Last Sunday I visited First Presbyterian Church in downtown Portland. I arrived a few minutes late. Located in the park blocks at 13th and Alder, the church building is a historic edifice of brick, stained glass windows and a conical steeple.

Not knowing my way around the propert I entered the building at the incorrect door and found myself facing the office secretary. She politely directed me toward the sanctuary. I little girl tentatively peaked into the main auditorium. I could see that we were to the left and behind the stage, with the audience facing us. I turned to a woman who was also waiting to enter and said, “Are you sure it is okay to enter through this door?” She assured me that it was fine, so when there was a pause in activity on the platform, all three of us entered together. I quickly took a seat in a nearby wooden antique pew. I had arrived.

The room was about 1/3 full. I estimate about 150 were present, if that. The attending interim minister acknowledged that many were gone that weekend for various reasons. The church apparently is conducting a pastoral search for a permanent minister. I do not know the story behind the need for a new minister. As I scanned the audience I noted that it consisted mostly of older couples and individuals, although there was a smattering of younger families. When the minister called the children forward for the weekly children’s moment, about eight kids responded and listened to his humorous brief talk.
The interior decor is breathtakingly gorgeous, as you may be able to detect from the photos above. The intricate woodwork and stained glass art combined to give a visually inspiring atmosphere.

This particular church seems to have a liturgical style with respect to form and content. Surely, its physical environment lends itself to that preference. While the pulpit is located front and center as in a typical evangelical church, the elements of sacrament are laid before it, separated by a lit candle. There are no instruments, save the majestic pipe organ. One soloist sang an aria, but the vocalist was hidden from my view, a situation remniscient of my experience at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Personally, I appreciate the emphasis on lyrics and vocals, as opposed to stage performance.
There were no instructions from the platform concerning the order of service. All of that was provided in the lovely multi-fold handout which I did not receive due to my having arrived late and at the wrong door. Interestingly, no one thought to provide me one, even though it was obvious I was a newcomer. I am fine with that from the standpoint that I was able to figure things out. I wonder how an unchurched newcomer might have felt?
There was a mixture of call and response liturgy, an interesting method which encourages parishioners to engage personally in the material, as opposed to being strictly passive listeners during the course of the service. Near the end of worship, we also recited the Apostles Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. I felt quite at home during these moments, and also during the singing of Amazing Grace, plus a couple of other hymns.
I am intrigued by the ministry of First Presbyterian Church. Like many churches in the downtown core, they place a special emphasis on social justice for marginalized persons. They also have a children’s ministry page on their website which describes their ministry to the youngest among them.

I enjoyed my visit. I pray God’s richest blessings on this congregation as they serve the Lord in reaching their community and the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Salem Vineyard Church

I spent four hours yesterday afternoon with the children’s ministry team at Salem Vineyard Church in Salem, Oregon. We worked through three major areas of training: storytelling, relating to parents and personal spiritual formation. Afterward, we shared a wonderful home-cooked meal and additional conversation. I appreciate their hearts for ministry and the Lord. I could tell that God is on the move in their midst. Their questions and comments challenged me. I know that great things lie in store for them as they continue to seek God’s will for their community. So this is my way of once again tipping my hat to a great church and wonderful people.

Sunset Presbyterian–Church Visit Review

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.


Glen Woods

Hinson Church Visit

I visited Hinson Church in Portland, Oregon this morning. Karl Bastian has some nice photos of the building and the people of the church. It requires a bit of scrolling but is worthwhile.

The church building is historic. The outside gives the impression of an ancient stone structure. The inside has been modernized but retains elegant historical elements, such as a curved balcony, curved wooden pews with straight backs. A stained glass mural served as a backdrop for the stage. It depicted an image of Jesus leading a flock of sheep. Other smaller stained glass images encircled the balcony level walls.

Two flags hung on either side of the auditorium, one american and the other mexican. As I perused the bulletin, I discovered that the mexican flag was present as a visual reminder to pray for one of their missionaries to that country. Apparently they change the flag to a new country periodically to cover a variety of missionary prayer needs around the world.

The official greeters were present at each entrance outside the building and showed genuine friendliness. I got the impression they would have been friendly without their official tags too, and that is a good thing. After being directed inside I made my way into the auditorium. It looked as though it could seat about 800 people, possibly more. It was less than half full for the second service. People dressed casually and it was primarily homogenous (caucasian) in terms of ethnicity, although there were a few african american folks.

Worship consisted of a few songs with two acoustic guitars, a flute, a piano and a keyboard. No drums. There was prayer and a commissioning service for a young lady who is traveling to Peru for a short term mission trip.

Children remained with their parents throughout the song set and then were excused before the sermon began. Given the amout of time reserved for the sermon, roughly one hour, it was apparent that the spoken exposition of the Scripture was the primary focus of the service. The sermon was given by an adult Sunday School teacher. In essence he spoke about doing whatever God is calling us to do, in love and with God’s power, rather than for selfish motives and in our own strength.

The Bridge Christian Church in Portland

This morning I visited The Bridge Christian Church in North Portland. It is an eight year old small but thriving post-modern emergent congregation of worshippers. This review is my impression of what occurred. It is not intended to be the final word on the matter. It is probable that in my outsider’s perspective I missed a lot of nuance in what was happening. So if you attend this church and what I share seems off the mark, please accept my humble apologies. This is just my way of processing what I personally experienced. Feel free to share your thoughts as well.

I have never gone to a post-modern worship service. I have heard stories, but honestly, the stories do not do it justice. The building was easy enough to find, although a bit off the beaten path of the main roads. Yet it seemed to stand within the architectural and cultural milieu of its intended audience.

As I drove to the location I confess I had a small amount of uncertainty. Odd, isn’t it? I have been to universalist, buddhist and mormon services and I did not feel quite this way. I think it is because I was concerned about being a distraction to others. After all, I am the outsider, the interlocuter peeking into a foreign world, despite our common bond in Christ. Yet it was because of that common bond that my fears melted away soon after my arrival.

There were no official greeters at the door. The pastor met my eyes and smiled before worship began but I was not really acknowledged by anyone until after the entire service had concluded. There is one exception which I shall explain in a moment. When I do these reviews I always mention the greeting and welcoming aspect of my experiences. In this case I came to recognize that while my presence was not “recognized ” by a designated greeter as in most evangelical churches, neither did I appear to be looked on with suspicion. I was allowed to sit and participate without being made to feel uncomfortable. I have been in some churches who would would have asked me to stand and introduce myself. Such was not the case here.

As the music began I noted the overhead screen with words hand written on it. As near as I could tell, all the songs were original compositions by members of the congregation. How cool is that? It seems to me that most evangelical churches, my own included, prefer to use the popular songs that come out of published sets from places like Hillsong, Vineyard, Calvary Chapel, CCLI, Hymnals, etc. I have tried to have my songs considered in my church but I received no response at the time, several years ago. And I am a staff pastor. Go figure. I suspect that at The Bridge I would at least have an opportunity to try.

As worship progressed, I sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit very strongly. While my hurting knees do not allow me to dance as I would have in the past, I felt welcome to raise my arms in praise to the Lord God. I could barely contain the tears. Some people danced with abandon. Others screamed at times in concert with the lyrics. Still others sat to the side and painted or drew. A couple of little girls danced in circles behind the worship team. A few children painted or colored, while going back and forth from their parents to their projects. But none of that was distracting. It seemed to be part of the rythm of the culture, to be ourselves and to relax and enjoy each other in God’s presence. At least, that was my impression. Late in the song set a young lady handed me a chocolate candy kiss. It turns out she was passing them out to everyone. I thanked her gratefully, recognizing that she was expressing hospitality and giving of herself.

As I reflect on the service, I realize that most of what I observed, I have seen in other settings in some form: Dancing, laughter, exuberant outbursts of praise, contemplative quietness, self-deprecating humor, down to earth acknowledgement of a bit of chaotic disorganization, people coming in and out of the back door for food and help, and so on. But I am not sure I have ever seen it in one place in a short two hour span of time. Business as usual at The Bridge would cause other settings to have an emergency committee meeting of some kind. Why do I say that? Honestly, I think it is because some evangelical churches are so uptight about having a well oiled worship machine that anything less than that would have religious political repercussions. This is not to say that order is not important. At The Bridge, it was clear to me there was order and decorum. But that order was not conducted in such a way that spontaneity within appropriate parameters could not be freely expressed. My point? People were free to worship God with their whole heart, even if their expressions pushed the margins of enthusiasm. Notice I did not say propriety. I did not see anything that would bring shame to Christ or the church. What I saw is people who were willing to scream, cry and sing their hearts out for God with no shame. And it wasn’t fake. It wasn’t manufactured. From my point of view, it was sincere and real. And it made my heart melt.

There was one point where several people were invited forward to create a song on the spot, using a title at the suggestion of a member of the audience. It was really quite remarkable to witness the fun they had, and hilarious too. I cannot remember exactly what the came up with but I think it was some combination of toyota and worshipping God. I think. You know what? You had to be there, but the way it was done was not sacreligous or disrepectful at all. It was merely a group of people demonstrating that our lives ebb and flow within the sacred and the “secular.” That is to say, all of what we do, whether intentional sacred worship, or our normal rythms of living throughout the week, is sacred to God. I am not sure if that is what they intended to convey, but that is what went through my mind as I observed.

Pastor Deborah Loyd gave the sermon after the music was concluded. She preached on One John 3:4-10. She did a marvelous job showing how the law was instituted to help Israel learn how to live lives of love for God, themselves and others. She showed that by loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and each other as ourselves is in fact fulfilling the law through love. Of course Jesus fulfilled the law in every respect through his life. Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” She said much more than that, but I was not taking notes unfortunately so I do not recall all of it. In the end, she challenged us to consider who it is that we are not showing love for and to work toward correcting that behavior.

There is more that I could say and perhaps later I will. I encourage you to pray for this church. If the Lord lays it on your heart, give to them. They are making a huge impact in their neighborhood for Jesus Christ. I intend to place a link to their website so that we will be reminded to pray in the days to come.


Glen Woods

Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver

This morning I visited Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, Washington. Pastored by Bill Ritchie, Crossroads is a Calvary Chapel fellowship. It is considered one of the mega-churches of the Portland-Vancouver metroplex. It is nestled in pastoral farmland immediately off the I-205 freeway and in close proximity to suburban housing tracts.

As I entered the facility I was struck by the beauty of its interior–sort of a casual elegance, full of gorgeous modern and post-modern artwork consisting of sculptures and paintings. Apparently they had recently hosted an art show for the local faith community highlighting skilled Christian artisans. While I would not compare it in “intent” to the iconography I witnessed in the Anglican and Greek Orthodox settings, the artwork did communicate in its own way to varying degrees subtle and more overt theological messages.

I also noticed that the greeters and people seemed very friendly with each other. Personally I did not experience much contact with people. I wonder why? I smiled and used open posture body language, but only one or two people acknowledged me briefly. I promise I took a shower! :)

The sanctuary was first rate in its functionality, elegance and technical characteristics. If my church was building a sanctuary I would suggest that they tour this one just to get ideas. I especially appreciated their use of lighting.

One rustic cross was set at the back of the platform with four ropes hanging loose from its cross beam. I have seen a lot of crosses but this one touched me because it did not attempt to soften the horror of what the cross represents: an instrument of torture and death whereby Jesus Christ died on our behalf.

The worship team was fantastic. Of all the mega-church worship teams I have witnessed in recent years, this team seemed to be the most effective in leading the congregation into passionate corporate worship.

At first I was disappointed when I heard that Pastor Bill Ritchie was not going to be preaching. However the assisting pastor, Paul Jones, quickly helped ease my pain as he preached an outstanding message from Genesis 16:1-16 entitled, “The God of the Underdog”. I believe he will have a long and fruitful ministry as he continues to serve the Lord.

I spied elements of the children’s ministry set up from the lobby area. I even saw the Children’s Pastor from a distance but I did not want to bother her on her busiest day of the week. They have a cool logo which you can find on the children’s ministry portion of their website.

In the lobby proper there was a bookstore, cafe, flowing water display, extensive artwork, a credit card kiosk, various ministry information booths, all of which were staffed by people. What I did not see–probably due to the large numbers of visitors they receive during this time of the year–is an intential attempt to connect with newcomers. Instead they try to encourage newcomers to fill out a response card and to visit the newcomers booth. I wonder how many newcomers come and go without making any real connection? I am sure this is something the church has wrestled with over the years.

My experience was a positive one. Of the numerous churches I have visited in the past months, this one seemed the most comfortable for me. If I did not have a church home and I lived in that area I would seriously consider it. The only thing I don’t like is its size. I have always been in small churches–except for the few months I spent at Faith Center in Eugene– so that would be a major adjustment for me.


Glen Woods

Visit to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church

Tonight I visited the Vespers service at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Portland, Oregon. I did not stay the entire time, but I did remain long enough to make some general observations. There were only six people in attendance initially, not including me. Another person arrived midway through the service.

As expected, there was a high priority placed on iconography. The Greek Orthodox tradition places an emphasis on use of all five senses, more so than any other Christian tradition as far as I know. This ought to be instructive for those of us in lower church traditions. Visually the interior of the church is stunning. There is a definite sense of otherness in terms of separation of church and laity. Priesthood of believers is not something they seem to stress.

According to Holy Trinity’s website, the five senses are employed in orthodox worship as follows:

-sight through the visual beauty of the icons (religious paintings) and vestments;
-smell through the use of incense;
-sound through the music of the Orthodox liturgy;
-taste through the Sacrament of Holy Communion;
-touch by crossing oneself, kissing the icon, and lighting the candles.

The liturgy was conducted strictly in Greek, thus making it prohibitive for the non-Greek speaking parishioner, of which I am sure there were none present.

The most unique aspect of the service for me was the spreading of the incense throughout the church. I left the building smelling like I had been doused in it. The priest walked through the length of the sanctuary dispensing it. Parishioners were expected to acknowledge him either with a bow of the head or by crossing themselves. I will share a few pictures of the interior and exterior of the building in my next post.


Glen Woods