Cross Cultural Church

I wrote earlier about my experience at Imago Dei here in Portland.  While I had hoped to return to that church, it hasn’t worked out.  But today we attended a different church where friends of ours attend.  The thing that caught our interest was their description of the church as very multi-cultural.  Considering they’re both native Taiwanese, I figure they know what they’re talking about, and we agreed to meet them at Village Baptist Church (VBC) this morning for the 10:30am service.

We arrived early – time enough to look around a bit.  They just purchased/built the facility in January of ’09.  They have lots of room for classrooms, child care, a large kitchen and fellowship hall, and of course a very large worship space.  We were greeted several times by people as we moved through the facility.  When we actually entered the worship space – (note to self for future blog topic – what’s the difference between a sanctuary and a worship space?) – I was immediately struck by the different atmosphere from Imago Dei.  
Both utilize large worship spaces.  Both have stages on which musicians or their waiting instruments are positioned.  But when we entered VBC, the musicians were nowhere to be seen.  Lighting was dimmed.  People were entering but not really chit-chatting with one another.  The Bible passage that was going to be the focus of the morning’s teachings was given on the display screens and we were encouraged to read it through and get familiar with it.  There were prompting questions for us to begin considering prior to the beginning of worship.  The overall feel of the worship space was that something was about to happen here, and it would be a good idea to get into the right frame of mind to participate in it.  One of the screen prompts encouraged us to consider going to one of the ‘alcoves’ to talk things over with God.  After closer scrutiny of the perimeter walls, I realized that there were four alcoves – I’d never have recognized them as such if they hadn’t been mentioned – for private meditation or prayer.  Very nice touch.  
As the service began, the lighting came up, the musicians took the stage, and the music began.  These weren’t 20-somethings.  They weren’t concerned with being too hip.  An acoustic guitarist, drummer, bass guitarist, pianist, and female vocalist led the songs.  These were more like mainstream worship music, some dating back to the mid-90’s, and one of the songs that morning a traditional Gospel song.  
Announcements were made, partly by a woman trying very hard to be amusing and falling rather flat.  There was a long distance call that was tenuously amplified by a hand held mic.  On the other end was a member of a mission team in Lebanon.  I liked that they made this effort to connect the people gathered for worship with the ministry team they were supporting across the planet.  Nobody was hip or flashy.  Everyone appeared to be in their late 40’s on up with pretty sensible, Northwestern fashion sense.  The preacher was a young man who preached on Ephesians 4:25.  His message was good, though I thought he was using the text out of it’s proper context somewhat.  There were better texts he might have chosen for the message he wanted to give.  But that’s a minor issue.  There were two offerings taken.  Communion was offered.
One of the things that struck me the most was that both the young man preaching and the pianist (a worship pastor, apparently) spoke of Holy Communion in terms I don’t generally associate with Baptist theology.  The referred to it as a Sacrament, first of all, which surprised me.  Both made references to receiving Jesus Christ specifically in the receiving of Communion.  One of them actually mentioned body and blood, though he didn’t completely link it to bread and wine.  Much more, well, sacramental language than I ever would have expected.  
I didn’t care for the way that Communion was given, and it was much more in line with a theology that believes it is representational rather than the actual body and blood in with and under the bread and wine.  At Imago Dei, they had the elements on big tables up front, just in front of the stage and everyone pretty much just went up and served themselves.  No Words of Institution Words of Institution or anything.  No Words of Institution or anything at VBC, either.  Bread (looked like pita bread pieces) and wine (in plastic individual communion cups) was were both passed down the rows and people helped themselves.  People were encouraged to wait to partake until they were prompted.  
The entire service was in English.  For the music, the words were projected on screens in both English and Korean.  There were audio devices available to provide Korean translations of the service as well for those who were interested.  Our friends indicated that at least on some occasions, translations were available also in Chinese and perhaps Spanish.  They also indicated that at times the worship format incorporates Christian music and other elements from various other cultures.  That would have been neat to see.  As for the people there (a pretty slim turnout, according to our friends), there appeared to be a very healthy mix of both Asians and Caucasians.  It was encouraging to see a place where different cultures could worship together, rather than in separate, culturally specific services.  Ironically, it seems that the only special cultural service they have is one aimed towards younger people – the emergent culture, as Village’s web site & bulletin today described it.  In fact, the young man who preached was actually the Pastor to the Emergent Culture – the only culturally specific pastor I saw on the staff listing.  Interesting.
I’d love to create a worship environment that was multi-cultural – where our differences were less important than our unity in Jesus Christ.  That’s hard enough to do in a strictly English-speaking congregation, what with the battles over contemporary or traditional or emergent worship styles.  But it’s good to see one place where these battles appear to be history, not current events. 

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