Photo: Google Maps A plain white clapboard structure, rather small, sandwiched in between some fine old houses and an Italian restaurant. The interior likewise looks rather plain, with a raised platform carpeted in red, on which rests a small communion table sort of unceremoniously shoved off to the side, a pulpit more prominently displayed, and a bench. The platform is backed by some paneling on which are hung banners and a cross.
They sponsor a variety of men’s and women’s events, all of which appear to be paused at the moment due to the pandemic. Judging from their photo album, they appear ultra-conservative, having sponsored men’s retreats in years past that included shooting with bow and arrow, rifle, and slingshot (‘for Jesus,’ no doubt) and a trip to Albany, the state capital, to hear evangelist Franklin Graham and (quoting from their website) ‘to pray with Franklin Graham for our leaders of our Nation and our State.’ There is one service every Sunday, both in-person and live-streamed on Facebook, as well as an all-age ‘Adventure Hour’ (currently suspended).
Watertown, in northwestern New York State at the northeastern tip of Lake Ontario, has the dubious honor of being one of the coldest and snowiest cities in the entire United States. Winter temperatures plunge below 0°F (−18°C) about one month out of the year, and annual snowfall averages 112 inches (280 cm). The U.S. Army’s Fort Drum is located on the outskirts of the city. Watertown claims to be the birthplace of the five-and-dime store, as a young chap named Frank Winfield Woolworth attended business school and worked at a dry goods store in the city before going on to found the F.W. Woolworth Company. Another young chap named Walter Hunt was born and raised in Martinsburg, a nearby city, and grew up to be a prolific inventor – his creations include, among other things, the streetcar bell and the safety pin. Other famous sons include John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and his younger brother Allen, the first civilian director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The pastor, nattily dressed in charcoal slacks and a black sweater; and a worship team consisting of an elderly gentleman in white dress shirt and charcoal slacks, and a lady dressed in a grey sweater, brown shorts – and barefoot!
What was the name of the service?Sunday Service.
How full was the building?
The online counter showed 35 at its highest point. I couldn’t tell how may were present in person, but judging from their voices there weren’t very many.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
My desk chair was comfortable. The chairs that were visible in the Facebook feed looked less so.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The pastor and the barefoot lady took their places on the platform. The pastor puttered about a bit trying to find the starting point of something on a tape; then he sat down and remained meditative for a few minutes. Soft piano music was playing from the tape the pastor had puttered with.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Well, good morning, everybody.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
Acoustic guitar and flute – and the pastor on violin!
Did anything distract you?
Call me strange, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the barefoot lady’s feet!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
After the pastor’s greeting there was an opening musical selection (the round ‘Seek Ye First’) followed by announcements and a reading from scripture (New International Version, I believe): 2 Timothy 3:10-17 – remain steadfast in the face of persecution. This was followed by another musical selection (‘Sweet Hour of Prayer’), a meditation by the barefoot lady, prayer, sermon, and a closing musical selection (‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee’).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 — I thought the pastor started off strong but sort of meandered toward the end. He spoke clearly and conversationally, though.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was 1 Timothy 1:3-17 (resist false teaching). A cancer – false teaching – has taken hold of the Church. But the cure is discipleship. Church is not just fellowship, telling stories, all Kumbaya! Church should be an encounter with God’s holiness. Paul, when he was known as Saul, was a persecutor of God’s people before he encountered God’s holiness on the road to Damascus. When we encounter God’s holiness, we will have a passion for God’s teachings, not for false doctrine. It’s easy to fall asleep – if you feel you’re losing your passion for God, dig deeper! Seek not only God’s holiness, but divine training. Scripture is not simply words written on paper. Scripture is God’s Word – it breathes life into us. Don’t just read it and walk away – understand it and digest it! Teach others, who in turn will go out and connect with others. Be a beacon for God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I appreciated hearing those old musical chestnuts from camp meetings of yesteryear …
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
… but although the worship team did their best, the dears, their renderings would not win them any awards, I’m afraid.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The pastor dismissed us with a blessing, after which everyone sort of wandered off. One baseball-capped elderly gentleman in the congregation breezed in and out of camera range; he had apparently forgotten what his father surely had taught him about gentlemen removing their hats in church.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I made myself a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – They seemed like a sincere lot, but a bit too conservative for my tastes. I should hope that the men who had gone on retreat learned something other than how to shoot, and I can only imagine who the ‘leaders of our Nation’ were that they had prayed for with Franklin Graham. The Italian restaurant next door may be worth a visit, though.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No, I’m sorry, but it didn’t.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The barefoot lady.