This Sunday morning
Westminster Presbyterian Church, West Hartford CT
On a recent Sunday morning (August 30th) I returned to an exercise in ecclesiastical indiscretion I have, more or less, avoided on this website for a long, long time: I went to divine worship intending to apply my critical faculties to the spiritual offerings at Westminster Presbyterian Churchin West Hartford. It was one of the first churches I reviewed in the early years of this website. A couple of men, one of them the husband of the music director back then, in conversation over the years remembered a snarky line from my report, about the men in the choir "lurching" down the aisle to the beat of African drums. My identity as Critical Christian was exposed by the other of the two in conversation after the benediction this morning. He asked with a slight frown, "Are you the guy...?" Before he finished, I confessed, "Yes, I am."
To this day the church's website uses (without attribution) our daughter's drawing of the church's building from the first review. When the previous fulltime pastor was about to leave for a new job in Virginia, he asked me if I would conduct gratis a critical review of the church's program and ministry, something apparently required from departing pastors by the Presbytery. I begged off allowing as I didn't have the time or the inclination. The new senior pastor, not present this morning, was the associate pastor of the Larchmont (NY) Avenue (Presbyterian) Church, where the senior pastor is Bill Crawford, married to Julie Parker, once the associate to my senior pastorate in Valley Stream.
The same patriarch who welcomed us to Westminster on Rally Day 2002 greeted us at the door. He was thinner and less energetic than before; but so was I. He was wearing the short sleeved counterpart of my LL Bean green shirt. I told him, "El, you have good taste in clothes"; and he responded, "So do you." We sat in a back row alongside a retired Presbyterian pastor and his wife from Knoxville TN. They were in town delivering their daughter to the freshman class at The Hartt School.
The predominant impression I took away from the worship service was auditory, and it wasn't good. I had difficulty hearing the sermon and, during the announcements, could decipher very little of what was said... in part, because, for whatever reason, the microphone was abandoned. Granted, I am eighty-three and have suffered some adverse auricular effects in the last decade. Go ahead and accuse me of male chauvinism too, but I encounter greater difficulty with soprano voices, especially those which seem to be whispering. This morning's leadership, except for the guitar soloist, was feminine. And it certainly didn't help that the air-conditioning handler grumbled continuously like a hushed bagpipe drone. What this church needs, and I did have in my active years, is a spouse willing to speak up and out with gestures when what emanates from the lectern is garbled or hushed.
It might also help for the preacher (anywhere and everywhere) to submit to a periodic evaluation of her articulation, volume, and cadence when up front leading worship. It does not matter how precious the pearls of wisdom dropped in the name of dear Jesus if they cannot be heard. Before polishing clever similes and poignant illustrations, the speaker must make sure his voice will be loud and clear enough to be received.
The morning was not without its positive aspects. Several members of the congregation made a point of greeting us and finding connections with us. Their cordiality (whereas elsewhere we have too often been frozen out) alone would persuade a first-timer to return. Children were present and participating. The aforementioned guitar soloist sang at the beginning and end of the service, a couple of ballads with an appealing (to me, anyway) hint of rock stridency, a nice departure from the sung spiritual soliloquies of surrender to which I have been subjected this summer. The new Presbyterian Hymnal, Glory to God, authorized by the General Assembly in 2012, was used; and I happily report it has radically modified the wholesale revisions in text of the immediately previous hymnal and its excision of masculine and military metaphors for the deity. Maybe common sense returns... eventually.
The sermon, as best I could piece it together through the auditory difficulties, was a play on the line from Psalm 84, about birds nesting in the house of God. I have issues with sermons like this one wanted to be, sermons that are really extended metaphors. I prefer plain speech from the pulpit, delivered with authority. A touch of irony always helps. But, judging from my experience over the years in the temple where birds nest, I know my preference is a minority opinion. Long allegories abound. So we heard about hawks and humming birds, personified of course. I think but I'm not sure the point of the message was that there's always room in God's nest for other birds, and it is the church's mission to facilitate the migration in that direction.
Would I return? Several ardent church members asked me to. Perhaps I'll double dip to see if the auditory issues have been resolved. Or to meet the new pastor and to hear of her experience in her immediately preceding stint as an associate. New families in town should check this church out, if they are interested in the mainline Protestant version of Christianity. For that consideration alone I would give the church three haloes. With a new sound system, maybe four, if the next sermon is terrific.