Our church search resumed today. We went to Grace Fellowship Church, a Reformed Baptist congregation in Bremen — a little over a half hour away.
Sunday School began at 9:30.
I sat with Amy in the youngest class — I’m not sure of the exact age range, whether it was 2-3, 3-4, 2-4, or what. It seemed to me most of the other kids (were there about eight or nine?) were at least a little older than Amy.
What I liked:
- They had some varied activities, moving between a table and two rows of chairs — coloring, stickers, answering questions, hearing a story, singing.
- They are working through a catechism — I’ve talked with Amy about the same first few questions that they reviewed in class, about who made us, what else did God make, why did God make all things, how do we learn about God.
- They are learning the major Bible stories, apparently somewhat chronologically, with a connecting theme about how God does what he promises to do.
- They sing songs (and without a background track).
- They are memorizing the books of the Bible, apparently beginning with the NT books.
- They are learning the Ten Commandments.
- They are learning about sin AND what Jesus did about sin.
- No junk food snack.
- The teachers seemed sympathetic and patient.
What I didn’t like so much:
- They were always sitting in chairs — I would rather kids this young be able to move a bit more, especially since they are expected to sit through the service later. They could sit on the floor for story time. They could stand to do movements with the songs. They could play a game like duck duck goose — purely for the sake of movement, enjoyment, and cooperation.
- Was it information overload? Catechism questions, commandments, Bible books, memory verse, reviewing all the stories and lessons learned so far?
- There is a place for rote learning — memorization and lists can be useful. But I would have liked to hear more from the kids besides repeating learned answers.
- I’m not sure how to go about teaching about sin to children, or at what age to start, but I would like to see the most emphasis on sin as separation from God, and a condition we are born into, and less emphasis on obedience and moral behavior.
If we go back, I would like to talk to the teachers about their curriculum, and maybe, if they’d let me, ha ha, sit in for a few more weeks.
Mark went to one of two adult classes. It was mostly for young marrieds, about parenting. The other class was more older folks, and I don’t know what they were studying.
This class too was a lesson, not a discussion. I appreciate Reformed folks’ concern for correct doctrine and thorough teaching, but I wish they would more appreciate the place of subjectivity and discussion, even (gasp) open-ended discussion.
Mark appreciated that the other folks in the class, during the one opportunity for participation, didn’t seem to be putting on their holy faces — they seemed to be willing to be direct and honest.
Next was the worship service proper.
I think there were some announcements up front, then the pianist played an arrangement of “For the Beauty of the Earth” that I think I remember MaryAnn playing in Ithaca, too, for a quiet moment of preparation.
We sang one song from an overhead (the little bit from O Come All Ye Faithful, with extra verses: O come let us adore him…. for he alone is worthy… something else) and two or three hymns. The hymns focused on forgiveness of sin — our unworthiness, and how God draws us in, makes us able to come in, out of his great love.
The sermon was long — whether it’s a fault of our culture or our generation or not, it’s just hard to attend to a message that is forty-five minutes long.
They’ve been preaching through James for almost a year, which is cool — we like a sermon series that focuses on a book of the Bible and take the time to be thorough. The topic was bringing back wanderers — that even Christians can stray and wander, that it’s important and loving to pursue those who are wandering, that it’s not sufficient to claim faith, but it’s important to pursue holiness — not in order to merit salvation or win God’s favor, but because it simply follows from what we claim to believe. Only Christ can cover our sin.
The preaching style was a little odd to us, but not awful.
They do communion six times a year, which would be hard to get used to after attending churches with weekly communion. Once a month they have a fellowship meal. They have a Sunday evening service that’s apparently only slightly more informal than the morning service, and Wednesday evening there is prayer meeting. There’s a women’s book club, once a month, and something for the men on Saturdays.
I don’t like any sense of obligation about meetings beyond Sunday morning — I know it’s important to live my faith all week long, but that doesn’t have to mean doing churchy things all the time. I don’t know how much pressure there would be to attend the evening and midweek services.
Children older than three are expected to attend worship — there’s a nursery for younger ones. I saw kids with scribble pads and that sort of thing.
Since they’re Baptist, we would likely not ever be candidates for actual membership, because we were baptized as babies and have no intention of getting dunked now. But I don’t know if that would much hinder our participation in the life of the church, should we choose to continue there.
There are apparently several other folks coming from Plymouth, which is nice.
Several people talked to us after the service, and they seem to be quite nice, genuine folks.
The building is nice, not flashy, but sort of well-appointed — gold colored faucets in the bathrooms, chandeliers in the sanctuary, very nice sage green carpeting, wooden upholstered chairs.
I’m still a little concerned to learn how their emphasis on holiness works out practically — how legalistic they might be, where they might draw various lines, how accepting they would be of us and our current spiritual situations. But it might work.
Mark agrees. He said it was refreshing to hear the Gospel again — to be reminded that the most important thing is what God has done for us.