Sunday, June 26, 2022

Churches of the Silver Valley: Wallace Church of God

(Part three in an ongoing series.)

Today's visit took us to the outskirts of Wallace, where an unassuming building set off from the road might go unnoticed, if not for the big sign out front letting you know that you're passing one of our local churches.

The Wallace Church of God is led by a husband-wife team of Bob and Lisa Sharp, both of whom came over to greet us before the service began. Three or four other folks were kind enough to do the same. That counts for a lot. Anyone familiar with Catholic culture knows that you can slip in and out of a Catholic service and never have anyone talk to you. It's not that Catholics are standoffish; it's just that the Mass is the entire point of being there, and fellowship is secondary. 

There was even a little alcove as you entered the building where you could make yourself some coffee. Friendly and casual are clearly two points of emphasis at this church.

I'd say there were around 30 people in attendance today, a mix of young and old. The sanctuary space itself was open, bright, and welcoming, with plenty of windows to let in the natural light. A wooden cross was centered against a panel of bricks to set off the staging area. 

I've been to enough non-liturgical worship services to be familiar with the video screens that display the words of the songs for everyone to follow along with. They're the hymnals of the electronic age. But they're new enough to my daughter that once she figured out their purpose, she turned to me and said, "It's like holy karaoke!" That comment made my day.

The service began with a half-dozen or so worship songs, led by a cantor at the pulpit and an organist and pianist whose instruments flanked the staging area. Afterward, Pastor Bob, looking relaxed in a polo shirt and jeans -- which I mention only because I'm so accustomed to high-church vestments -- led the congregation in prayer before moving to the pulpit. His sermon centered on a passage from the Second Book of Kings, in which Elisha prays for protection against the Syrians, and Elisha's servant is granted a vision of the spiritual protection on the surrounding mountain, filled with horses and chariots of fire. Elisha then prays that his enemies be struck blind, and God obliges. 

The point Pastor Bob made about the passage is that while we see the world through our physical eyes, we often fail to see it through our spiritual eyes. Lacking the proper perspective, he said, makes it more difficult to place our faith and trust in God -- and as a result, we do our own thing rather than conform our wills to that of the Father. 

I don't disagree, inasmuch as many of us these days accept our material reality because we can see it but doubt our spiritual existence because it's invisible to our physical beings. Embracing one but ignoring the other leaves us incomplete and empty, as we end up filling our spiritual needs with an inferior material substitute of some kind. The God-shaped hole in our hearts that Pascal once spoke of yearns to be filled. Better to fill it with something uplifting and spirit-affirming. On that the pastor and I agree, even if we think of the spiritual realm in different ways. 

Out of curiosity, I grabbed a pamphlet on my way out that outlines the Church of God's beliefs. Not surprisingly, justification, sanctification, and reliance on "the verbal inspiration of the Bible" are mentioned early and often. But along with other expected things like the embrace of the nuclear family, personal modesty and temperance, the sanctity of life, and good citizenship, I noted an emphasis on being good stewards of the earth, practicing charity, checking social injustices, and treating people equally and with dignity and respect. There's not a whole lot I disagree with in those principles, save for the emphasis on national allegiance. But I know where the idea of obedience to civil authority comes from in the New Testament (primarily Romans 13, if you're interested), so I won't knock them for that. It's a legitimate stance for a devout Christian to take.

Overall, today's visit was a pleasant experience. Pastor Bob was a good preacher who mixed some light anecdotal humor into his sermon. He was serious about his message while not taking himself too seriously. For someone like me who has a tendency to be too earnest about things, that was a nice surprise. 

No one came up for his altar call at the end, which made me feel kind of bad for him, but maybe he's used to that. Maybe his church members feel comfortable where they are in their spiritual lives. If so, then perhaps that's testament to Pastor Bob's skills as a shepherd to his flock. I certainly wish him and his congregation well. 

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