Elevation Church, 711 Fourth Ave. N.
Service: 11 a.m., Sunday, March 15, 2015
Length of service: 1 hour, 22 minutes. Length of sermon: 40 minutes
During the first 22 minutes of the service at Elevation Church, my sympathies were with an elderly woman sitting in the row of chairs behind me.
She had her hands over her ears all that time, while the Rev. Dave Carroll and his band cranked out the four loudest songs I had yet encountered on my church visits.
It didn’t help that Elevation is located in what used to be the American Medical Response building a block west of MetraPark. The old seven-bay garage where AMR once parked its ambulances serves as the very large lobby, with a coffee bar, and behind that room is the big gym-like space where the service is held.
What with wooden floors, a steel roof and walls of plaster or cinderblock, the acoustics were just awful, amplifying and echoing music that would have been too loud at half the volume. Nor did it help that Pastor Carroll’s irrepressible enthusiasm carried over to his guitar playing. He strummed so hard on his amplified acoustic guitar that the result was a piercing, sonic assault. Just ask my neighbor, she of the plugged ears.
There were two electric guitarists, too, a bassist, a keyboardist and two backup singers. The drummer, a very young man wearing a Batman T-shirt, was secluded not just behind Plexiglas walls but in virtually a private suite, and he was still too loud.
What is this series about?
To read the essay that introduced this series click here.
Between songs, Carroll spoke into his microphone while the band kept noodling, rather loudly, so that I could only pick up scattered words and phrases: “Blah, blah, blah, Jesus. Blah, blah, blah, praise be. Blah, blah, blah, Son of God.”
I felt blessed relief when the band finally quit, and I was pleased to find that Carroll’s speaking voice, a cappella, was not overly loud and was perfectly understandable.
Before launching into his sermon, he spent nearly 20 minutes making announcements, exulting in how big the church had grown in just two years and talking about how Easter Sunday, April 5, was going to be “the most important day so far in the history of our church.”
He emphasized how crucial it was to pack the church on Easter, to bring in as many people as possible and make them want to come back. He gave his listeners what he called the “10-10 Challenge,” or 10 ways to invite 10 people to Easter services. One was to text 10 people.
“For those of you who can’t group-text, I’m sorry,” he said. “Get an iPhone.”
The sermon, when he got to it, was part of a series called “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life!” Carroll said he would be reading from Mark and Leviticus, though in regard to the Old Testament book he said, “We won’t go into the crazy parts, I promise.”
The basis of the sermon was the beatitude that begins, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” The 40 minutes he spent elaborating on that line were marked by great bursts of enthusiasm, occasional gales of laughter from his flock and no lack of warm response, but I’m afraid I didn’t find it very enlightening.
The bulletin contained a synopsis of the sermon, with blanks where people were supposed to write in key words, resulting in statements like this: “The goal of purity is for my heart to produce a constant outflow of action aligned with God’s Word,” “outflow” being the word supplied by the sermon.
Another statement, which I found rather self-evident, was “Purity’s Obstacle: Impurity.”
Leviticus was brought in to demonstrate how the Old Testament Jews sought atonement on Yom Kippur, which involved the sacrifice of a goat and the leadership of the high priest, which, if I understand correctly, Carroll objected to because it prevented regular folks from communing directly with God.
“It’s like a horse and buggy,” he said of the old system. “I’m so glad that’s done. I like my car.”
Carroll advised us to “Clean up where I need God to show up!” And when he asked, “Where do I need to begin cleaning up,” a very young voice at the front of the room shouted out, “Everywhere!” It might have been the highlight of the service, and I don’t think the youngster was a plant.
At the conclusion of the sermon, Carroll led us in prayer, and then, as we all sat with heads bowed and eyes closed, he asked for a show of hands from those who wanted to be saved by Jesus. I cheated and peeked, and saw only one person, a middle-aged man, with his hand up.
I expected more, but who knows? Maybe he and I were the only ones in the room not already saved.
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.
Chapter 17: Word of Life Fellowship.
Chapter 18: Emmanuel Baptist Church.
Chapter 19: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.
Chapter 20: Faith Evangelical Church.
Chapter 21: Open Bible Christian Center.
Chapter 22:Billings Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Next Week: Mary Queen of Peace.