Crown Hill United Methodist Church

This week, my first foray into the world of Religion, I decided to visit two churches: A local Methodist church, and a local Fundamentalist church.

Note: This is my first post.  If you’re wondering what the hell this is all about, what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and why I’m doing it, then read the about page.

Crown Hill United Methodist Church

I really wanted to give this church high marks.  I liked the church, and I liked the churchgoers.  I felt welcome, and the pianist was very good.  The inside was nice, too.  I especially liked the hanging tapestries that were designed to look like stained glass, and the banners hanging behind the pulpit were also very

The church is small, it looks like it can hold maybe 70 people or so in relative comfort, and perhaps 90 in a pinch.  This Sunday, I counted only 20.

I was attracted to this church because during the time my state’s legislature was debating same-sex marriage, a message of encouragement appeared on the sign outside.  I thought this would be a pretty tolerant place.

I’m not wrong about that, but the services left me a bit disappointed, and even a little depressed.  I can’t help but feel that this church is dying.  There just aren’t enough attendees to make it viable for the long term.

The services started at around 9:15, and lasted just under 45 minutes, finishing up at about 9:56.

We prayed six times.  I know some of my religious friends will say that prayer is a great example of doing good, but I’m not including it in my grading criteria.  All churches pray.  To me, prayer is part of the “dogma and ritual” that I specifically do not include in my grading process.  The atheist in me thinks that prayer doesn’t do anybody any good, and in fact gives people a false sense of having done something good, so a church that does nothing but pray about something is actually a net negative to me, but I’m leaving that aside for now, and just ignoring it.

We sang seven hymns.  There was no choir, but the pianist was really quite good, and some of the folks in the church had pretty decent voices.  This made the music rather pleasant.  I didn’t know any of the songs, but that was okay, there were two hymnals available that I could read from.  This, too, is not counted towards the grade.

So why did I mention two things, prayer and singing, if they had no bearing on the grade I gave the church?  To illustrate something that disappointed me:  The actual sermon was only about seven minutes long.  We spent the majority of the time singing and praying, and a little bit of talking or shuffling about in between the singing and praying.

The pastor did tell an anecdote, about another church with which he’s affiliated, that is closing down, and there were some announcements, and some moments of quiet reflection.   The lay leader (the Methodist version of a deacon) read an interpretation of the part of scripture that the pastor was going to discuss, and then the rest, the actual sermon, was over in the blink of an eye.

The actual sermon was only seven minutes long.  So, what was the message?

It was Mark 4:35-40.  Jesus was in a boat with some followers.  The wind whipped up, the seas grew rough, and ol’ Jesus was sleeping right through it.  But his followers were pretty scared, so they woke him up.  Jesus, being somewhat annoyed from being awoken from his nap, told the winds and waves to calm down.  They did, and then he proceeded to berate his followers for “doubting him.”

That was the whole message.  What do I take away from this?  What uplifting and compelling message was bequeathed unto me from on high?  That if I think my life sucks, just let Jesus handle it, and don’t doubt Him for a second.

I cannot begin to say how disappointed I am that on the eve of Memorial Day we didn’t talk about ending war.  Or helping those who were sacrificing for our freedom.  Or … well anything but … “Don’t do anything.  Let God handle it.  And don’t annoy Jesus by having doubts.”

My disappointment was made greater by my poorly managed expectations.  On the program notes, the words “First Sunday After Pentecost, A Day of Remembrance and Peace with Justice Sunday” are prominently splashed across the front in big bold letters.  And then no mention of “Peace with Justice” was made at all during the service.  Nor was there any discussion about the quote from Archbishop Romero, also on the front, which mentioned unjust social structures being the root of all violence.

I would have loved a lesson about peace and justice, and dealing with unjust social structures.  Instead I got cranky Jesus in a boat.

In between prayers, the pastor did say something that I thought had some merit:  He said that it’s okay to allow yourself to be loved, and that we all deserve love.  I thought that was a nice message, and hit on one of my criteria.  It was the only thing that hit on one of my criteria.

Was I given advice on how to live life and be a good human?  Was I encouraged to help my fellow creature?  Was there any discussion about how to make Earth a better place?

No.  But the piano player was good.  So good, in fact, that half the congregation (about ten of us) stayed after the pastor left the sanctuary to hear her continue to play the postlude, which was quite beautiful and moving.  I would say that she was very nearly a virtuoso.  Definitely professional-level.

The people were so nice and welcoming that I feel bad giving their church a bad score.   But it failed at being a good church, I think.

Being good to your fellow human: 0
Help your community: 0
Be good to yourself: 1
Good and timely advice: 0

Total: 1.


8 thoughts on “Crown Hill United Methodist Church

  1. Although I have never attended services at the Crown Hill United Methodist Church, I am in their building regularly because my camera club meets there. You definitely need to give them points for helping their fellow men. I had no idea how small their congregation was. They do a lot of good. They provide a place to live for homeless people. Don’t you think that what people actually do is more important than what they say or fail to say when they are in church? That congregation does not need to hear the message about helping their fellow men. They live that message. They are a good church. They do exactly what Christ said they should do, which is help those in need.

    • I haven’t started grading churches on their humanitarian mission just yet. Right now, I’m concentrating on the message.

  2. I love your blog and your experience. I appreciate your open minded approach. Its very refreshing.

    On you statement that prayer doesn’t do any good.. I’d like to share my perspective. I’m a life long Mormon (LDS). I went on a mission, I attend church every week, etc. But I have a healthy intellect and I constantly run what if’s. The biggest what if – what if there is no God to hear the prayers I am offering. What is the benefit of prayer – or is there? I believe, even without a God on the other end, that there is personal value to offering a prayer. A benefit beyond a false sense of doing something good. I’m not into doing something just because it feels good – I want there to be a real benefit. The process of offering a prayer requires me to organize my thoughts and formulate a verbal extract of the things I am grateful for in my life and the things I am trying to accomplish in my life. Identifying what I am grateful for helps me recognize my ‘blessings’, what I do have, what I’ve accomplished, what others have done for me, the service that has benefited me. That there is goodness and joy in life. Idetnifying what I need to accomplish helps me focus my thoughts and my actions on accomplishing the things I want to accomplish – or at least point me in that direction. I try to make my prayers real. No ‘Bless me that I won’t get sick’. Rather, ‘Bless me that I will understand how to stay healthy’. I actually believe the primary value of religion in our society is to create and support healthy pesonal habits and outlooks. No other element in our life, to this point in history, has provided a more powerful stucture to moderate human behaviour than religion. For good and, sadly, for bad, So, if there is no God to hear my prayers, I’m still offering them, because it helps me formulate where I am in life at that moment.

    Sorry for the ‘sermon’. Just thought I’d throw that in.

    Enjoy your exploration.

  3. I am a seminary student (and a senior citizen) and some of your comments resonated with me. I too struggled with the worth of prayer, but it was at Crown Hill UMC, during a discussion on individual views of heaven, I was posed the question, “what if Heaven is not needing all the answers?” (Being given all the answers was MY idea of heaven.) This ambiguity challenged my former enlightened self and opened me up for the “what ifs” that can’t be explained. Today, even science has a fluid understanding of light, recognizing it as both a wave and a particle, and Einstein’s theory of relativity signified that energy and mass are convertible. As I have become familiar with concepts like “Ubuntu” and other philosophies/spiritualities that speak of the connection of all of creation with one another, I have begun to “sense” rather than “know” the connectiveness found in prayer and particularly in song (which often IS my prayer!). So, is it possible that offering our energies to the cosmic pool might prove more transformative than being preached AT (so common in Western enlightened society)? Which is “walking the talk” and truly being good to our fellow human and caring for community?

    • The idea of offering up energy to a cosmic pool is a very enticing and poetic notion. When somebody can measure it, I’ll like the idea even more.

      Here’s the thing: Prayer works when the person for whom you’re praying knows that you’re praying for him. There’s a study that shows that people will get better a little quicker when they know that people are praying for them.

      That same study shows that there is no difference in healing when the target doesn’t know about the prayer.

      So prayer works. But it doesn’t work.

      Prayer works in that a person’s attitude affects that person’s ability to heal, and knowing that people care enough to pray affects the attitude. So tell someone you’re praying for him, wishing him well, or keeping him in your thoughts. That’s a good and positive thing to do.

      Praying anonymously won’t help that person, but I suppose it might help you feel better about that person, so that’s something I guess. Unless you’re praying in lieu of doing something that’s actually helpful.

  4. I would also encourage you to attend and score some of the larger UMC churches in Seattle.

    I’ve attended two UMC churches regularly in my life (one in Berkeley, CA and the other in Austin, TX) — both progressive and with fantastic pastors who craft thought-provoking, engaging sermons. The former was a medium-sized congregation (80-100 each Sunday), and the latter a bit larger (200-250 each Sunday).

    Like other protestant churches, the UMC is struggling to maintain its membership, particularly among my generation (the millenials / Gen Y). I’ve found that a congregation grows and thrives when the a pastor a) is a great preacher, b) speaks to issues of social justice, and c) is gifted with the ability to listen and connect with all members of the congregation — young and old, gay and straight, etc.

    I haven’t been attending church regularly since moving to Seattle this summer, but I’ve heard good things about University Temple UMC, Green Lake UMC, and Wallingford UMC.

    As a side note, I’ve found church to be less appealing since I’ve lived on my own and am no longer expected to attend with my parents. Singing with the church choir was almost always the most spiritual and gratifying art of worship. As an adult, I’ve found plenty of ways outside of church to nourish my spirituality and growth, so church is less of a priority. It’s also not my social core (though I’ve met some great friends through church). I’ve noticed a similar trend among my friends.

    Anyway — great blog, fascinating work. Thanks for your thoughts!


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