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|1680: Faith Lutheran,
Troy, Michigan, USA
Troy, Michigan, USA.
A sprawling complex that weaves together older and newer buildings.
The first building dates from 1965, and various additions have
been appended to it since. The complex is surrounded by an asphalt
parking lot. The church is now worshipping in its third sanctuary,
a splashy 1000 seat (plus) venue dedicated in 1997. One enters
the building through glass, shopping mall-like front doors.
Like many American megachurches, it's not labeled a church but
a “family life center.” Inside, overhead signs direct the visitor
to the worship center, gymnasium, café, bookstore, or classrooms
They engage in ministries aimed at every stage of life, from
preschool to adulthood. There are two morning services each
Sunday plus a Saturday evening service. The church is served
by five ministers (all male) and a support staff of nearly 40
The city of Troy, Michigan, is a northern, affluent suburb of
Detroit and a center of business, particularly in the automotive
and financial sectors. Troy is home to a number of major companies,
including the Budd Company, maker of many of the railroad cars
used on subway lines, Amtrak and commuter routes; the Kelly
Services employment agency; and the Cable TV entertainment firm
Starz Media. Famous sons include the rather unfortunately named
televangelist Jack Van Impe.
The church's senior pastor, the Revd Warren Arndt, dressed in
khakis and a silky, open-necked camp shirt.
The date & time:
August 23, 2008, 6:00pm.
What was the name of the service?
My Journey for King and Kingdom.
How full was the building?
160 souls in the 1000 (plus) seat worship center.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one greeted me before or after the service. Mercifully, the
service started almost as soon as I was seated.
Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfy and plush cineplex-style upholstered theater seats.
They must have busted their budget for these beauties.
How would you describe the pre-service
Quiet. Empty. Three cameramen were practicing swiveling their
cameras about. It was so abandoned that I consulted my bulletin
twice to make sure I was at the correct place at the correct
time for worship. Soon the praise band warmed up, and then vocalists
began to sing the prelude or rehearse for the service, I
wasn't sure which.
What were the exact opening words of the
"It Is Written don't you just love the way that
What books did the congregation use during the
Bible verses were projected up on a screen, as were all the
songs, karaoke-style, over photos of seagulls, sunsets, ocean
waves and bedewed roses. Even with such appealing graphics,
though, no one around me participated in the singing.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, digital keyboard, guitars, and two percussions sets (one
encased in a plexiglas “fishbowl”). A large, amplified choir,
all dressed in street clothes, stood behind the musicians.
Did anything distract you?
The choir director, who stood center stage with back facing
the congregation, kicked up his heels as he directed the choir
with one finger. It all looked very stork-like, and I could
hardly contain a snicker.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Lutherans trying to be charismatic. Even though the sacrament
of holy baptism was administered to an infant, the pastor chose
to speak extemporaneously about the sacrament rather than follow
any historic Lutheran liturgy. The rest of the service also
followed this free-form, rambling model. The parents and godparents of the
baptized infant had the good sense to be more appropriately
dressed for the occasion than did the pastor.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
2 The pastor used amazingly dull, run-of-the-mill stuff
for much of the sermon: the importance of passing the baton
to today’s youth (an opaque reference to the baptism?),
a moral lesson about being optimistic in the face of challenges,
another lesson about being patient all of which was hard
to argue with. The problem was that the sermon wasn’t
particularly robust, moving, or sharply focused. As my teenage
son would say, "It was totally random." What is more,
the message was completely disconnected from the scripture lesson.
Ironically, the sermon was entitled “Help!” Indeed!
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
It began with a 30-second video introduction to a new 13 week
sermon series. After the video clip, a bulletin insert of the
sermon outline was projected to help us follow the flow of the
sermon. We were invited to “fill in the blanks”
on the insert as the pastor progressed through the sermon, even
though the answers were flashed up on the screen. The sermon
was a 36 minute recitation of random thoughts and clichés
that could be summed up in two sentences: "God, in God’s
goodness, does not give us what we deserve. Therein is our hope."
Most curious was the centerpiece of the sermon: a sort of intermission
as a soloist sang the Beatles’ hit song “Help.”
After this American Idol moment was over, the pastor concluded
his talk and we went back to filling in our blanks!
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Watching the parents gratefully bring their child to be baptized. The central stained-glassed window, depicting a cross, also helped me keep my focus through many distractions and confused moments.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That I was subjected to the “wisdom” of the Beatles as the main meat of a sermon in worship.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one spoke to me. Some folks sprinted ahead of me to switch
on lights in the church's bookstore and coffee house. I followed
the signs to the Coffee Café and perused the bookstore en route.
How would you describe the after-service
This was interesting. The bulletin invited visitors to the Coffee
Café to enjoy a cup of “gourmet coffee on us after the service.”
I found the Coffee Café the décor very Starbuckish though
no coffee was available, let alone of the “gourmet” kind. Further,
a sign on an easel proclaimed, “No Food or Drink.” All the while,
an overhead speaker crackled with the sound of a piano tinkling
hymn tunes; this was projected Muzak-style throughout the building.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 I can listen to the Beatles on my own, and be alone on my own.
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
On my trek home, I felt inexplicably sad that another Lutheran
church has all but abandoned its beautiful, historic liturgy
and intellectual tradition in favor of a very bland ministry.
What one thing will you
remember about all this in seven days' time?
The strange, stork-like movements of the choir director, and
the fact that the congregation were better dressed for the occasion
than the pastor.
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