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Church:  Abundant Life Pentecostal Church 

Rating:  C

 "The church had some aspects of it that made me feel welcome, but fell short of the excellence one should expect from an institution dedicated to teaching Christ's word."

My experience with the church began when I arrived at the church and set about entering it.  Initially, I saw a man at the door.  He greeted me, but flinched a bit at my appearance...I was dressed up in my prophet's garb, and this apparently made an impression.  Inside, I was met by a woman who greeted me warmly, all smiles, and offered me a "welcome" folder.  The folder contained a feedback card that expressed how glad the church was to have me, a calendar of events, a business card, and various pamphlets that talked about scripture, salvation, and family and the church.  At this point, my overall impression of the church was positive...no one had a problem with my appearance or presence, except perhaps the man who flinched. 

I then entered the main room.  There, I chose a chair in the second row from the back to sit in...I didn't want to be a distraction, or to bother anyone with my presence.  Then the sermon got underway.  During the opening remarks of the sermon, some parishoners approached me and warmly greeted me, welcoming me to the church.  Again, this went down into my notes as a good thing.  The sermon next got underway in full force. 

The contents of the sermon were as follows:  1)  An opening with a prayer with greetings, 2)  A personal anecdote about finding faith, 3)  Talking about The Book of Acts and how it is God's plan for your life, 4)  The role of evangelism, 5)  A story about a wall that everyone can build with their faith, 6)  Talking about speaking in tongues and how this is brought on by letting the holy spirit in, 7)  A note about how scripture is irrelevent if you are filled with the holy spirit, 8)  A joke about being German, 9)  Talking about The Old Testament and the role of the New, 10)  A reference to the end of days, and 11)  Ending with a prayer followed by music.  There was more than what was noted here, but these are the points that stood out to me.

At the end of the sermon, I was approached by a man in a suit who seemed to represent the church.  He asked me to take my hat off.  Now, when I am wearing my hat, I am doing so for spiritual reasons so really don't want to take it off.  Being hesitant to take my hat off, I said I would rather keep it on, but maybe would have it off the next time.  This did not please the man, and he asked me to stand out in the hall.  I asked him if he wanted me to leave the church.  He said no, just to go out in the hall.  I listened, and went with him to the hall.  While heading to the hall, I told the man that I wanted to talk to the pastor.  He assured me a pastor would be speaking with me. 

I was approached by the assistant pastor.  We shook hands while exchanging names.  I told him I had some questions for the pastor about the church.  He then told me that he was the assistant pastor, and that he could answer my questions.  He also brought up the thing with the hat, and he and the guy explained to me that they really don't let people wear hats inside the church, even if it was a stocking cap in winter.  I explained that I wear my hat for spiritual reasons, and so really need to keep it on.  The guy didn't seem to be pleased with this, but the pastor seemed to be willing to make an exception for me.  We then got into the question and answer session.

I asked the pastor nine questions.  The questions with the answers are as follows:

Question 1:  If you met someone from a different religion, for example Islam, would you shake their hand and try to be their friend?

Answer:  Absolutely, (then went on to talk about their prison ministries and how they have met Muslims doing that).

Question 2:  How do you feel about homosexuality?  About gay marriage?

Answer:  They extend their welcome to all people (they also said something about the hearts of God, but I missed this reference).

Question 3:  Would a Native American be welcome at this church?

Answer:  Do you want to meet some Hispanics or Native Americans?  We have some here today.  There are even people who don't speak English.

Question 4:  What is the role of the Old Testament?  The New Testament?

Answer:  The Old Testament is the word of God and the heart of God, and the New Testament reveals.

Question 5:  What do you think about Christ's two commandments, "Love God," and "Love one another?"

Answer:  Christ said these are the greatest two commandments.

Question 6:  What role does money play in this church?

Answer:  Money is necessary to function in society.  They take tithes and offerings (and he explained a little bit more about that, but I couldn't hear everything).

 Question 7:  Is there a woman's role?

Answer:  There is no difference between men and women...both are equal in the love of God.

Question 8:  What is evil?

Answer:  A force contrary to the good of God.

Question 9:  What is love?

Answer:  God is love.

While we were talking, a man in a shirt and tie approached us and told the pastor that his "mic was on."  I don't know what he meant by that, but the pastor told him that he had left his mic at the front.  The man then repeated himself and told him that his mic was on.  He did that two or three more times.  The pastor kept reassuring him that it was at the front of the church.

After the Q and A, the pastor tried to encourage me to go back in the church (they were having music).  He said we could sit near the back, and that he would be there with me.  I decided that it was probably time to go.  The pastor also seemed to want to know more about me, asked me different questions like if I fellowshipped at a church or what I was looking for in that church.  I explained to him that I was just seeing what the church was all about.  I then made a move to leave again, saying that I had a lot to think about.  The pastor again tried to convince me to stay, but then when I made clear I was serious about leaving, he asked me for my e-mail address.  I gave it to him, and encouraged him to e-mail me and ask me any questions he might have, and that maybe I would respond with some questions, too.  He then asked me if the name theclownprophet is a slight against prophets.  I then explained how I feel that humor is a healing thing, and that I think it was used alot by the prophets and Christ.  I also told him I had a website.  He then said something like "You are pretty established then."  After that, even though he still wanted me to be there, I left.  He walked me to the door.  I think I then told him I was happy to have talked with him, and I thanked the guy at the door for opening it. 

My overall impressions of my experience at the church was that it was trying to be welcoming, but that it had some problems with this attempt.  One one side, I was greeted warmly at the door by one woman, and then in the church by several more people.  On the other, I was asked to leave the main room by someone representing the church, and then there was the odd "mic" conversation.  While I am not offended regarding the hat incident, I really feel that a church that is all about making people feel welcome would not have people representing it that would make a hat more important than that goal.  The assistant pastor did try to make up for this, but the impression cast by the man who confronted me cannot be ignored when rating this church. 

Regarding the soundness of their message as represented by their sermon and the answers to the questions, I think their goal of filling everyone with the holy spirit (as evidenced by the sermon) is a positive goal, but I think given the answers to my questions, there is too much emphasis on the Old Testament when considering how to live one's life.  Also, I felt that the answer to question number two was a little incomplete...he talked about people being welcome, but didn't say if the church was for gay marriage.  Regarding question five, I am personally pleased that the pastor recalled what Christ said about those commandments, but I am disappointed that these commandments aren't emphasized more by the church.

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