From May through July, I shall use part of my Sabbatical to visit various churches and record my experiences there.
My first venture was to Apostles Church, on the Upper East Side in New York City. This choice was easy, as both my NYC sons and families attend there. They willingly agreed with my walking in alone so I would be noticed as a first time visitor.
A fifteen minute stroll from the west side of Central Park to the east side brought us to 85th street and a sandwich sign announcing that a church met within (we were at a private high school).
It was 10:34 and I followed the music to the auditorium. A young greeter at the door ignored me but I received a tiny information/attendance card from someone else and seated myself.
An excellent, large worship team of musicians and vocalists played contemporary Christian music on the stage. A screen to the left of the stage was not high enough for me to see easily.
The room gradually filled. A worship leader welcomed us and beautifully read a scripture.
At 10:45, we sing again. A primarily white, young group, I was clearly the oldest there by at least 20 years. Seeing the younger people was wonderful, and probably the reason that I have been pretty invisible. I need to sit down, but sitting means no hope at all of seeing the screen.
At 10:54, the pastor introduced himself and the sermon series on the attributes of God. The major theme is “The Search for Transcendence.” He reminded us that most are practical atheists, with inadequate views of God, and often reject the god we’ve made up in our minds without ever having taken the time to explore the transcendent God.
The pastor took us through multiple scriptures in this overview of the series. In a well prepared and well delivered message, he offered excellent examples of the difference between knowing about something and actually knowing something intimately, first hand.
After the final prayer, communion was served. There were no words of institution or consecration or indication of who might receive, just a general invitation to go to one of the serving stations (including a gluten-free station) around the room.
After communion, offering baskets were passed. I realized that this is where I should have placed my attendance/visitors info card, but didn’t have time to fill it out now.
The service ended about noon by a worship leader. The noise level shifted to a new high as people began lively conversations with each other. However, no one introduced themselves to me.
I wandered to the back entrance, shook hands with the pastor who thanked me for coming, and stood in the lobby alone watching the action. Eventually, a nice young woman came to offer words of welcome and history of the church.
Back in the auditorium, I saw children racing around. The kid’s area is on the third floor of the building, where I did not go. I saw that each child had a sticker on his/her back indicating name, parent, contact, etc. Those still in diapers also had a bright red, “I’ve been Changed” sticker on top if a diaper change had been performed.
I joined in conversation with my sons, mentioned the problems with the sight lines and my relative invisibility as an older person, which didn’t seem to shock them.
So, I ask this question: would I go back there? Yes, with invitation from someone I knew. Otherwise, no. Worship was good, sermon and music excellent, but I am not the demographic they seek, and that is OK. They are excelling in their mission, and I do best to support that from afar. Very grateful I was there.