A Personal Best!

Steve Carpenter

How many church services have you gone to in one day?

I wasn’t trying for a record, but recently I spent a week in Minnesota for my work as MennoMedia’s director of development. It was my first time visiting that state, apart from a brief stop at the Twin Cities airport many years earlier.

I was particularly interested in visiting the Mennonite community of Mountain Lake, about two and an half hours southwest of the Twin Cities, to see a donor who has given two generous gifts to MennoMedia in the last year. When I discussed these plans with my supervisor, executive director Russ Eanes, he suggested I arrive on Saturday and visit Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul where Greg Boyd is the lead pastor. You may know Greg as the author of The Myth of a Christian Nation. He and his congregation are in discussions with Central Plains Mennonite Conference about the possibility of becoming affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Woodland Hills is a megachurch with two Sunday morning services. I made a 9 a.m. appointment with Patrick Showers, associate children’s pastor (elementary). He agreed to show me around and tell me more about their ministries.

When I arrived people were already streaming into the renovated shopping center space which Woodland Hills now occupies. I spent some time with Patrick, then went to the lobby and watched the service on the large-screen TV mounted on the wall. Patrick told me their attendance is about 2,500 people on a Sunday morning. Between the services I was able to touch base with Greg and give him two of MennoMedia’s new books: For God and Country and Radical Jesus. He graciously accepted them and promised to pass the graphic novel on to the youth pastor. I stayed for the second service as well, and enjoyed the 14-person praise band and the mix of English and Spanish songs they led.

ForGodAndCountryRadicalJesus_Cover

Upon leaving Woodland Hills I decided to go see the Catholic Cathedral of St. Paul, for which the capitol city is named. This majestic structure, the third largest church in the U.S., towers over the city not far from the equally impressive gold domed state capitol. I thought, “Surely the Cathedral will be open on a Sunday morning and I’ll be able to get in and see it.” When I arrived, a few minutes before noon, I found their third morning mass was about to begin. So I decided to stay, making it my third worship service that day. The massive structure was less than half full but there were still at least 1,000 people there, about as many as attended each service at Woodland Hills. During communion I went up with my arms crossed, indicating I was not a Catholic parishioner seeking communion but, rather, a visitor seeking a blessing. The female lay leader made the sign of the cross over my head and pronounced a verbal blessing.

Cathedral of St. Paul, MN

Cathedral of St. Paul, MN

After lingering to admire the architecture, I grabbed some lunch and then headed to my next appointment—a 3 p.m. Bach Cantata being performed at Emmanuel Mennonite Church in honor of departing pastor Mathew Swora. Mathew, who has served the Emmanuel congregation for 15 years, has accepted a position as pastor of Zion Mennonite Church in Oregon. He is a huge Bach fan and even played violin during the performance. Since the cantata was done in a sanctuary, and involved several elements where the congregation sang and prayed, I felt like this was my fourth service of the day.

From there I headed to ThirdWay Church, a Mennonite congregation which is intentional in its discipleship and community life. They meet in an Episcopal church under the leadership of Seth McCoy, who, incidentally, was a youth pastor at Woodland Hills for a number of years. The service was informal. Seth sat on a stool in front of the podium as he expounded on the scriptural text. After the service, I went to dinner with Seth, his wife Jen and their two children Glory and Silas at the Groundwswell Restaurant which Seth owns and operates in the traditional model of a bi-vocational Mennonite pastor.

thirdway

That was my fifth service of the day. Later in the week, after describing these experiences someone asked me “Were you going for the record for the most worship services attended in one day?” I answered, “No, but it was a personal best!”

My home congregation is very small, averaging about 35 people in worship on a Sunday morning. Yet I enjoy the sense of intimacy, the congregation’s creativity, and their sincere desire to follow Christ. Nonetheless, I enjoy the megachurch worship experience, at least occasionally.

How do you experience worship? What are the things you like best about your home congregation? What worship experiences do you long for? What is your personal best, in terms of the number or quality of worship services you have experienced?

SteveC

Steve Carpenter
Director of Development

2 thoughts on “A Personal Best!

    • Larry,

      Our meeting was brief but it was exciting to be at and Anabaptist megachurch. Boyd’s sermon was very focused on loving enemies and working through the church, not political systems. Good stuff.

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