Word of Life Fellowship, 1737 King Ave. W.
Service: 10 a.m., Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014
Length of service: 1 hour, 8 minutes. Length of sermon: 26 minutes.
I was a little nervous on my way to the Word of Life Fellowship. Having checked out the church’s website, I had been struck by the dauntingly handsome staff members pictured there. Would they scorn me as too old, too unattractive?
As it turns out, no. Here was another church full of welcoming people. And yet the handsomeness of the staff members did seem to carry over into the type of service offered. This was a very upbeat church, full of the kind of optimism that comes so naturally to people whose good looks and charm fill the potholes on life’s journey.
The music, however, was not quite upbeat enough. A six-piece band—with the by-now familiar male lead vocalist and a female accompanist—played relentlessly for the first 24 minutes of the service.
We were asked to stand for the entire time. I thought of sitting down, just to preserve my autonomy and to display my free will, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. Besides, I was there for the whole experience, wasn’t I? When in Rome…
The music was an unfortunate mix of pop-rock arrangements and traditional Christmas hymns, including “Joy to the World,” “O Holy Night” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The resulting mish-mash resulted in awkward, difficult phrasings, and though I saw a few people making an effort to sing along, it was all but impossible.
Even the singers in the band seemed to find it difficult, and gave this listener that uncomfortable feeling you get when a performer is visibly struggling to stay on track, and occasionally slipping. Or perhaps the strain was just more noticeable because I had to stand for nearly half an hour.
What is this series about?
To read the essay that introduced this series click here.
At any rate, the music ended at last and we all sat down and listened to a handsome gent with a booming, AM-radio voice making the weekly announcements. He also told us that Pastor Alex Chai would be continuing his sermon series, “Christmas in Perspective,” this week from the perspective of the Three Wise Men.
Before the sermon, by way of a warm-up, there was a short video skit starring District Court Judge Russell Fagg, referred to in the video as “Mr. Judge,” who was also in attendance in the flesh. The video was quite well done and involved Fagg telling a gathering of young children, evidently church members, about the Magi. One highlight: Fagg tells the children the Wise Men “came from the East,” prompting a young child to ask, “Did they come from Colstrip?”
And then came Pastor Alex, fit and trim and handsome, dressed in black jeans and a black-and-white striped shirt. He wasted no time, launching into a rather straightforward introduction to the Magi—who they really were, who they have been made into by religious legend, what they symbolize, etc.
When I say the service was upbeat, I am referring to the sermon, which was affirming and gentle, calculated to give not a moment’s unease to anyone present. He contrasted the Magi, those seekers of truth, with Herod, “who is really not a good guy,” and who was a suppressor of the truth.
“Christianity under attack, Christ under attack, is nothing new,” Chai said.
He also contrasted the Magi with the local Jewish religious leaders in the time of Jesus. The Magi came from far, far away, guided by the “heavenly GPS” of the star of Bethlehem, he said, but the Jewish leaders, who should have known the signs at least as clearly as the Magi, couldn’t be troubled to go even a few miles to behold the infant king.
Chai wondered if those present in church would likewise miss “all the wonder and awe” of Christ’s birth amid an orgy of shopping, parties and even church programs. A moment or too later, I forget how, Chai was suddenly, apparently, denouncing the notion of evolution, declaring that “we are not some mathematical aberrant here by mistake.”
And a little while after that he warned that “secularism is rolling across our country like a juggernaut.” But the forces of secularism will not win, he said.
“They can replace ‘Merry Christmas’ with ‘Happy Holidays,’” he said, “but they can’t destroy the Gospel message.”
The oddest thing was that none of these statements was delivered in a way that was the least bit aggressive or even defensive. They were just thrown out with the same blandly optimistic air as everything else. And if those in attendance were inclined to feel a bit smug, knowing they were on the right side of history, among those wise enough to celebrate Christmas in the proper spirit, well, I believe that was the idea, wasn’t it?
I say above that the sermon lasted 26 minutes, but I may not have counted the two- or three-minute video that was shown after it—of a flash mob singing Christmas carols in a shopping mall—after which Chai made a few more remarks.
I should mention that the church looks like it used to be some kind of mini-mall, with an exterior that is reminiscent of a Spanish hacienda. The sanctuary itself looks like the courtyard of a hacienda, a quite pleasant, if un-churchlike, setting.
And despite all the references to the Bible and to Christ, the whole thing felt more like some kind of California pep talk than an actual church service. I am learning that just as there is a guy for every girl, and a girl for every guy, there is a Christian church for every kind of believer.
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 12: First Christian Church.
Chapter 13: Victorious Word Church.
Chapter 14: Oasis Church.
Chapter 15: Harvest Church.
Chapter 16: Billings Association of Humanists.
Next week: Emmanuel Baptist Church.