At Your Service: Homey touches add up at Pilgrim


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

At Pilgrim Congregational Church, originally a German-language church, I felt quite at home.

Pilgrim Congregational Church, 409 S. 36th St.
Service: 10 a.m., Sunday, April 13, 2014
Length of service: 61 minutes. Length of sermon: 26 minutes

It’s hard not to like a church when you’ve been there for the ham raffle.

At Pilgrim Congregational, the drawing was held immediately after the service, and it was announced that so many tickets had been sold—about 480 of them—that eight hams would be given away. And the proceeds were to be spent on painting the downstairs kitchen, which hadn’t been painted in 40 years.

AtYourServiceThere were many other homey touches. At the beginning of the service there were announcements about various church members—one person had had knee surgery, another carpal tunnel surgery, a couple were celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary—and the church itself was comfortably old-fashioned.

The sanctuary is much smaller than you’d think looking at the church from outside, with a low ceiling and little adornment, though a gorgeous series of stained-glass windows line the north wall.

Speaking of outside, there had been plans on this Palm Sunday for everyone to grab their fronds and march around the block, but with the thermometer at 29 degrees, Pastor Dale Metzger said we would be dispensing with that ritual.

After the announcements there was a prolonged greeting period. There must have been about 70 people in the pews, and I think every one of them shook the hands of all present. Metzger then called the children—there were only five or six of them, alas—to the altar steps, where he briefly told them the story of Palm Sunday.

What is this series about?

To read the essay that introduced this series click here.

This is a Congregational church, so all the hymns were all traditional and as difficult to sing as ever, but I enjoyed the swelling organ and the valiant work of the small choir.

The lead-up to the sermon followed the traditional order of service, about which I must say: it’s funny how the mainline Protestant churches are generally the more liberal ones nowadays, and yet they hew closest to the traditional forms of worship. The more conservative churches, meanwhile, seem to have abandoned most of that tradition, until there is hardly any service, as such, left.

I assume the thinking is that the conservative churches want to strip the whole affair down to its nub, which is an individual encounter with Christ. But I can’t help believing it is better for everyone, especially children, to learn the importance of tradition, and for that matter the discipline of an ordered, orderly service.

Or maybe I’m just too German (and Pilgrim was originally a German-language church) in my preference for order. Or maybe as an acknowledged heathen I should not expect any religionists to care what I say about how they conduct their church-going.

So, about that service. It was consoling and comfortable, as was the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, a few more hymns, the offering, a choral anthem, the Scripture reading and then the sermon.

Metzger actually preceded the sermon with a pretty decent joke, which had me right up to the punchline. Long story short: people supposedly tithe with poker chips at many of the churches in Las Vegas, he said. The chips are gathered up and taken to a monastery to be sorted and then redeemed at the casinos. And this good work is done by … chip monks.

Much laughter, some groaning; a good warm-up for the sermon. It was straightforward, as sermons go, with very little drama and a few more small yarns, with perhaps just a tad too much folksiness thrown in.

Metzger talked about Jesus’s humility in entering Jerusalem on a donkey, of his eschewing pomp and majesty though hailed as a king. Then he spoke of the people watching the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.

It is not enough to watch, Metzger said, not enough to stand and wave and to hail the king. A Christian has to stand with Jesus all the way to the cross. His main message—I know because Metzger repeated it three or four times—was that “it’s easy to shout but it’s harder to serve.”

I could have stood a bit more sermonizing on how best to serve. At the more liberal (I think) First Congregational United Church of Christ, which I used to attend, the concept of service might have been hitched to some notion of social justice. At other churches I’d been to recently, the emphasis would have been on surrender, giving oneself up to Christ, or on living a morally pure life.

I’m not sure what Metzger would have recommended, had he carried his sermon on a bit further. Maybe he would have spoken of the duty of Christians to buy more tickets for the ham raffle. The ways of God, and of serving the church, are infinite.

Previously: Chapter 1: St. Patrick Co-Cathedral.

Chapter 2: Mount Olive Lutheran Church.

Chapter 3: Full Gospel Revival Tabernacle.

Chapter 4: First Church of Christ, Scientist.

Chapter 5; First Baptist Church.

Chapter 6: Billings Freedom Church.

Chapter 7: Faith Chapel.

Chapter 8: Eagle Ministries Inc.

Chapter 9: First United Methodist Church.

Next week: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Meetinghouse, Heights

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