Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Moody Church

Whenever I am on vacation on a Sunday, I make it a practice to go to church. I have found that my practice is not popular among some, who consider vacation a time to skip church, but since I like to go to church, I go. I usually try to find an evangelical church that I might not otherwise attend, usually a church of some significance. In the past, I have visited Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and Willow Creek Community Church. I do this to see how churches do things. I am fairly familiar with the fundamentalist way of "doing church," and so I like to broaden my horizons, learn what I can, see what makes me want to come back to a church, or not come back. In short, I am trying to see church from an outsider's perspective, in hopes of gleaning some information on how an newcomer to Grace might respond.

This past Sunday, while in the Chicago area, we visited Moody Memorial Church Sunday for their morning worship service. Moody Church is the church that grew out of the Sunday School started by Evangelist Dwight L. Moody in the 1860s. He also started a Bible College which still exists in downtown Chicago, though the church and school have no official connection. Another notable pastor of Moody Church in the 1900s was Dr. Harry A. Ironside, whose commentaries carry on his legacy of Bible teaching. The church is located on a city block in North Chicago, where North Avenue, Clark Street, and LaSalle Street meet. There is no on site parking, though there are various restaurants and lots that Moody apparently has an agreement with to park in. At the church entrance on LaSalle, there were people to help direct you to a place to park, and at the lot there were attendants to help you park. They did ask you to leave your keys in the car so they could move the car if necessary. The parking attendants were very friendly and helpful, though we had to walk about two blocks to get to the church. The auditorium was very beautiful, but the seats were very hard (think unpadded theatre seats).

The church service itself was a traditional service. They opened with some announcements, including a brief interview with some members of their college age class to promote the college ministry. The service was opened with a call to worship by Bradley Garvin, singing "The Lord Is My Light." Bradley is a bass with the New York Metropolitan Opera and has a wonderful voice. I picked up a CD that is very enjoyable. Later in the service he sang "I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked" and "I'd Rather Have Jesus." He was the only special music for the day and I assume that is not normal for the church.

The congregational singing was accompanied by the organ and an acoustic guitar. The organ was very loud, the guitar was very soft and almost unnoticeable. The familiar songs were easy to sing, but the song "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" was sung to a "traditional Irish Melody" which was unfamiliar to me, perhaps because I am not traditionally Irish. The organ was not easy to follow on the tune, and the worship leader playing his guitar was not mic'ed well enough to be heard. The last song before the message (The King of Love) was projected on screens on either side of the choir loft.

Pastor Erwin Lutzer preached from Psalm 23 under the title "When God Shows Himself - Part 2." It was a good message. As a preacher, I listen for how others do things. My thought was that he explained the text well and made good use of the image of sheep and shepherd. However, he made virtually no application until the very end when he tacked on "five very quick" points (as he called them). By that time, it was easy to lose the message and hard to keep up with the application. I would rather have heard the application throughout the message rather than at the end. Lutzer has a "preacher's voice." It is not so much a conversation with the audience as it is a oratorical lecture. That's not to say it was bad; it wasn't. It was a good message.

The church has apparently experienced a resurgence of sorts. I was told, prior to being there, that the church was previously forced to sell off a lot of the surrounding property to stay in existence. The audience was a mix of ages and ethnicities. It was probably tilted slightly towards an older population. Dress was mixed. Lutzer and those on the platform were in suits and ties, as were the ushers. Some of the ladies were in pants and some in dresses. The guy in front of me was wearing shorts, though I didn't see too much of that.

It is good to see the church growing in the city as a multi-racial body some one hundred and fifty years after its inception.

1 comment:

Brian Jones said...

Awesome. Thanks for the report. Good photos, too. I've been by the Moody Church building on my trips to Chicago, but never been inside or attended a service. My father-in-law's family attended there when he was a small child (during the H.A. Ironside era).

I have the same habit as you and the church visit is one of the things I look forward to most during vacations. I've been to Willow, Coral Ridge, Saddleback, Grace Community Church (MacArthur), First Baptist Atlanta (Charles Stanley), Westwinds, Mars Hill (Rob Bell), Calvary Church (Dobson), Grace in Rouge (Rogier) and a host of lesser known churches (Northridge, Kensington, et al).

In fact, once when we were visiting CA on vacation, we went to LA just to go to Saddleback and Grace Comm. We went to Saddleback on Saturday night (stopping by Crystal Cathedral on the way just to see the building and grounds) then visited Grace on Sunday morning.

The most valuable thing about this exercise is the visitor feeling that you alluded to. It just changes your perspective about what it is like for first timers at your own church. All pastors should be required to do this annually at least. Once, at Coral Ridge, the song leader said we would "stand together" to sing the next song, so I stood up. I felt like a dork because the rest of the congregation did not stand until the music began which felt like 5 minutes later. So there I am in the front half of a very large auditorium standing alone. I was embarrassed and didn't know whether to keep standing or risk sitting down just as everyone else stood up.