At Your Service: At Adventist church, silly fears drop away


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

The two most interesting things about the Seventh-Day Adventist Service? A full-submersion baptism and the washing of feet.

Billings Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 3200 Broadwater Ave.
Service: 10:45 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015
Length of service: 1 hour, 25 minutes. Length of sermon: 11 minutes

Walking up to the front doors of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church on a fine Saturday morning, I suddenly had the thought that I might be barred from entering the sanctuary. I can’t even say why, except that in the absence of knowledge it is easy to entertain silly fears and half-formed stereotypes.

Since I couldn’t remember any of what I had ever heard about the church, I thought it might be secretive and wary of strangers. Well, another dumb prejudice bites the dust.

AtYourServiceThe Billings Adventists seemed perfectly normal and welcoming. The only completely new (to me) feature of the service, which was the washing of one another’s feet, has a sound biblical basis, however odd it may seem.

It helped that the music was all inoffensive and some of it quite pleasant. The service began with two teenage girls singing a hymn, accompanied by a teenage boy on piano, followed by two more hymns during which the congregation sang along. The tunes were simple and singable, and when they were done the two girls had a brief giggling fit as they went back to their pews, which I found endearing.

The church itself is a classic Protestant structure, its ceiling looking like the hull of an upside-down ark, with old-fashioned pews and little adornment. There was no altar table, just a simple lectern and a chair, side table and lamp.

What is this series about?

To read the essay that introduced this series click here.

After a few announcements—and the welcoming by acclamation of two families moving into the church from out of state—the screen on which song lyrics were displayed was drawn up, revealing a very large glass video screen. And there was Pastor John Bryson standing next to a much shorter man.

Bryson informed us, via live feed, that he was about to baptize the other man, a Latino, and that he would read the baptismal rite in Spanish, which he proceeded to do. I did not realize both men were standing in water up to Bryson’s waist until he placed a hanky over the other fellow’s nose and leaned him back far enough to fully submerge him.

That done, the man was welcomed into the church, the screen came down and we started singing another song, during which the newly baptized member emerged, in dry clothes, from a door near the front of the sanctuary. He sat in one of the front pews after shaking hands with three compatriots seated with him.

Next up was the collection, with four or five people circulating with felt bags. When they were done, two exceedingly cute children, a little boy and a little girl, each carrying a tiny basket, walked hesitatingly down the aisles, soliciting additional contributions. Other churches, take note: people found these children irresistible, and their baskets were soon overflowing.

After a brief children’s story for three or four kids seated on the steps of the altar, we all knelt on the carpeted though hard floor for a prayer. It was a good memento mori for me, a reminder how fleeting are youth and flexibility.

A woman with the improbable name of Tommi Montana then sang a touching song, accompanied by recorded music. When she finished, people didn’t clap, but there was a great collective burst of “Amen!”

Pastor Bryson invited the freshly baptized man up to the altar, where he was formally accepted into the church, again by general acclamation. Now it was time for the sermon, but Pastor Bryson announced that instead of preaching today he would read a story from “No Greater Love” by Karl Haffner, a Seventh-Day Adventist writer.

He sat down next to the little table and proceeded to read. What was the story about? I’m afraid I don’t know. It is hard enough for me to follow a story read aloud. It was even harder when several groups of people on three sides of me kept up whispered, murmuring conversations throughout the reading.

There was another voice, just below a conversational level but quite audible, that went on almost continuously throughout the service. I never did figure it out, but it might have been someone translating from English to Spanish.

Then came the foot-washing, which preceded the communion. Bryson explained how it would work, with men, women and family groups going into separate classrooms to wash one another’s feet, following the example of Jesus at the Last Supper.

I considered going, to get the full experience, but I couldn’t bring myself to attend such an intimate rite in a spirit of impious curiosity. So I sat … and sat for a little more than 20 minutes, during which interlude a friendly woman sat down next to me and welcomed me to the church. She also assured me I was welcome to take part in the communion service.

When the foot washing was over at last and the bread and wine (or little crackers and grape juice) had been prepared and blessed, six people went through the sanctuary with baskets of the crackers and platters of juice. They moved with a strange, plodding formality, and we were another 10 or 12 minutes just getting through communion. I was suddenly thankful for the short sermon/reading.

That left only the closing hymn, “Near the Cross,” led by the two teenage girls, and a benediction from Bryson. I left there feeling good about my introduction to the Adventists, but I’ll admit that my main thought was that it was Saturday, meaning I wouldn’t have to go to church on Sunday this week.

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.

Chapter 13: Victorious Word Church.

Chapter 14: Oasis Church.

Chapter 15: Harvest Church.

Chapter 16: Billings Association of Humanists.

Chapter 17: Word of Life Fellowship.

Chapter 18: Emmanuel Baptist Church.

Chapter 19St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.

Chapter 20: Faith Evangelical Church.

Chapter 21: Open Bible Christian Center.

Next Week: Elevation Church.

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