(No website link)
The first church I visited today was the Oak Lake Baptist Church in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle. Oak Lake doesn’t have a web site, so I can’t post a link here.
I chose to visit Oak Lake for three reasons: (1) A Baptist church ranked pretty high in my poll, (2) It’s close by my home, and (3) I thought it was a Southern Baptist church. I was wrong about (3), it’s affiliated with American Baptists, and so is a bit more liberal. I might try to find a southern Baptist church at some point and visit it, but I’m discovering that really conservative churches are a little hard to find in Seattle. That shouldn’t be a surprise, we are largely a bunch organic, recycling, car-free, Democrat, pot legalizing, body-pierced, computer nerd, hipster, same-sex marrying nude bikers, and that’s reflected in the general grooviness of our churches too.
That being said, I know that conservative churches exist out here, as my visits to Mars Hill will confirm, and I’d like to visit more of them, so that there’s a balance of beliefs represented here.
But this post won’t be about one of those conservative churches.
The Oak Lake Baptist church sits on a corner in a dense residential neighborhood, just a block of the sometimes-scary Aurora Avenue corridor. Aurora Avenue is a commercial corridor, which has seen better days, and is now a bit run-down and full of cheap motels, used car lots, and police activity. If you’re interested in being mugged, hanging around on Aurora Avenue at 3 A.M. might just provide you the opportunity.
The neighborhood next to it isn’t bad though, not really. Some crime spills over into the neighboring streets once in a while, and the crack-faced denizens of Aurora do occasionally wander off their beaten track, but mostly, they keep to their side of the block.
And really, most of the crack-faced denizens are pretty harmless. A little crazy. But harmless. Many of them are not bad people, they’re just people going through a rough patch.
But this blog isn’t about them. It’s about churches.
The Oak Lake Baptist church is small and quaint, and comfortable. When you walk in the front doors, you’re immediately inside the sanctuary. There’s a side door going to a set of stairs that leads down to a lower level. This lower level is also a ground-floor level if you walk down the street a bit, because Greenwood is on a ridge, and this part has a pretty steep slope. I didn’t go downstairs, but there is a large space down there that is used by a music school that provides rental income, and a place for socializing.
Upstairs there’s pretty much the sanctuary. The floor has some old industrial tile on it, which I think must be at least forty years old, and in a few places there are gouges in it to reveal concrete beneath. That’s not to say it’s entirely shabby, because it’s mostly in very good condition for its age. The carpeting in the aisle is newer, I think, and the stage area is almost brand new looking.
There are two pianos and an organ, a podium for the pastor, lots of rows of long benches. On the stage behind the podium is a baptismal pool, which has debris in it and looks like it hasn’t been used in a very very long time.
One of the people setting up before the sermon explained that the church had a very low attendance, but it was able to stay in business because of the generous rent provided by the music school. The music school also pretty much took care of building maintenance as well, except for plumbing and the roof.
After a few minutes the pastor came along, and a little later, the congregation trickled in. When we were ready to start, there were nine of us in total, including the pastor.
Except for me and a little boy, everyone in the place was at least 70 years old. The organist, a wonderful woman named “Helen” was 90. And bless her heart, she had been playing the organ in this church since she was 13, except for a short few years when the pastor’s wife played the organ instead. For you keeping track at home, that means she’s been the organist for most of 77 years. Which also means she started playing the organ in this church in 1936. Helen’s eyesight isn’t that good, and she needed a little help getting to the organ. She can’t really read the sheet music, but that doesn’t matter all that much because after 77 years you can bet she knows the music pretty well.
The whole service lasted about an hour. We sang a lot of hymns, and during the singing, you could really hear the pastor’s voice booming out. Partly because the old folks here weren’t that loud, and partly because the pastor had a loud, rich, and pretty decent, singing voice.
We had the normal break from praying and singing to suggest prayers from the parishioners, but since this congregation is basically a few old and elderly friends who get together once a week, the format was basically everyone catching up on what’s going on in everyone else’s lives. It was kind of neat.
There was a lot of sadness here. If you’ve ever hung around older folks who have lost friends and loved ones, and are in the twilight of their lives, you’ll be familiar with that sadness. The pastor lost his wife and his father, and was preparing to move his 92 year old mother into his home so he could look after her. Also his aunt, also in her 90’s, was suffering from cancer, and quite possibly at the end of her life. Other folks had stories of sadness as well.
Which is why, in this sad place, with a tiny congregation that was literally dwindling down to nothing, I found it so compelling that the pastor’s message was one that offered so much hope, and optimism, and encouragement. I can’t give him my highest score, because he didn’t hit on all of the points of my grading scale, but I’d really like to. Of all the places I’ve been, I like his message the best.
So, Chas, if you really are going to read this blog like you said you were going to, thanks.
This is officially my favorite church.
So what was the message? A very simple one, really. He read from Hebrews 10:25. The the core message being about “encouragement.” But he didn’t stop there with just the bible verse. He spoke at some length about encouraging other people when they were feeling down, or even when they’re not, and now important it can be to say something encouraging to lift someone else’s spirits. He talked about the times when he’s been down because of his own personal loss, and how something simple like a friend calling him and chatting in a positive and encouraging way made a lot of difference to him, and how it’s something that we shouldn’t underestimate.
You never know when your words are going to be that one thing that someone needed to hear at just the time you said it. I suppose one can infer the opposite. You never know when something negative might adversely affect someone in a way you hadn’t intended.
It was a great talk. More importantly, I could tell that it was exactly what his parishioners wanted and needed to hear. I think this pastor is really doing some good work, or at least, he did some good work today.
In my view, for a church to be a good place, the pastor needs to say something worthwhile. That’s what the world needs, not more obedience, and praising, and chanting, and converting. I suppose there’s a place for those other things, but I don’t think they make the world a better place.
Here’s the score:
Being good to your fellow human: 2 (be encouraging to others)
Help your community: 0 (no mention)
Be good to yourself: 0 (no mention)
Good and timely advice: 2 (being positive in your dealings with other people has unexpected rewards)
90 year old organist can still kick out the jams (4 points)
Total honorary points: 4
For those of you who might be concerned that I’m getting soft, don’t worry. There’s still plenty of snark to go around. The next post is about a place that’s a bit on the fringe.