At Your Service: Satisfied with an agreeable disagreement


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

At Victorious Word Church, disagreeing strongly with the message of the sermon provided an odd sort of satisfaction.

Victorious Word Church, 145 Alderson Ave.
Service: 10 a.m., Sunday, June 8, 2014
Length of service: 1 hour, 21 minutes. Length of sermon: 36 minutes

It’s a bit awkward when you’re “reviewing” a small church and the minister, recognizing you from your mug in the newspaper, greets you with a hearty welcome.

Victorious Word is quite small. There were only about 15 people on hand for this service, and at least a third of them were Barndts: the two pastors, the Revs. Gary and Chris Barndt, two of their sons, and Gary’s mother.

AtYourServiceI didn’t get the name of his mother, but she greeted me, too, before I knew who she was. We talked for a few minutes before the service and I learned that she was 91 and had had a hip replacement seven months earlier.

She was energetic and friendly, and our brief encounter reminded me what I liked best about my stint of churchgoing as an adult—simply the opportunity to mingle with people outside the circle of my ordinary comings and goings.

The service itself was also quite satisfactory, but only because I so strongly disagreed with Gary Barndt. If I can’t find a church convivial to my half-baked beliefs, the next best thing is to have my beliefs all but condemned and belittled, which forces me to think.

Barndt said in his sermon that “everybody in life has to overcome satanic oppression,” and surely he would see all my doubts and reservations as proof that the devil already possesses my soul.

What is this series about?

To read the essay that introduced this series click here.

He warned his congregation that “there’s a special way the devil comes after believers”—by approaching them as an “angel of life,” more or less pulling a bait-and-switch operation on them—but it’s “so easy” for the devil to manipulate nonbelievers.

If I say that I have led a decent, mostly unsinful life, that my vices and virtues are all rather unspectacular, that I honestly believe I have done as little harm to others as any minister could wish, I could imagine Barndt shaking his head in pity at my misguided musings.

I suppose he would say there is no greater sign of satanic victory than the confession that one does not believe in Satan, but there you are. I cannot bring myself to deny the existence of God. There is too much mystery in the universe for that. But to believe in Satan, too? No. That is going too far back, back to the dawn of human credulity, to the first stumbling attempts at understanding the world.

All of which is to say that I’m glad I attended this service. I realized that what I’ve been after in all these weeks of churchgoing is to find services that could make me think. I prefer the tonic of stern admonition to the bland reassurance of Christian uplift.

Other than that bracing sermon, the service was by now quite familiar. It began with three songs, played by Gary Barndt on the electric keyboard, accompanied by a bass, drums and guitar. Barndt got things going by counting out “1, 2, 3, 4,” then launching into a distinctly rock ’n‘ rock-like song.

The second piece was vaguely reminiscent of Little Richard, or even the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart during one of his rambunctious phases.

The music was followed by greetings, during which I shook hands with every person in the church, and talked a bit more with the pastor’s mother. After a few announcements, Chris Barndt took to the pulpit to say a few consoling words about the presence of God, working her way up to asking for offerings.

She did so by saying, “Father, I honor you by putting you first in my finances.” The offertory is always a bit awkward in these smaller churches, where the collection is not delegated to ushers who appear out of nowhere. At these smaller venues I am reminded of a band playing for tips, trying to get the donations flowing with a few gentle reminders, without seeming to beg.

Chris was soon joined at the altar by another woman and people were invited to come forward if they needed to be prayed for. Several people approached the altar, but one woman in particular huddled with the helpers for what seemed like five minutes. She went back to her pew gently sobbing, apparently shedding tears of joy or release.

It was a beautiful late-spring day, and when the service came to a close with the end of the sermon, I was ready for release myself.

Editor’s note: We have been informed that Gary and Chris Barndt have retired from ministry and their building is in the process of being sold to another church.

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.

Chapter 10: Pilgrim Congregational Church.

Chapter 11Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Meetinghouse.

Chapter 12: First Christian Church.

Next week: Oasis Church.

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