Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Revisiting 2014: St Luke Lutheran Church

one of the first churches Dean and Mindy visited: St Luke Lutheran in Santa Rosa, California
St Luke Lutheran Church, Santa Rosa, California
We're taking another look at posts from the early days of Dean and Mindy go to church and Dean and Mindy walk into a bar. This church, which we originally wrote about on November 18, 2014, might be the first Lutheran Church Mindy was ever in. 

Sure, the Roman Catholic Church is the oldest, and various Orthodox churches can vie for second, but at nearing a half a millennia (if you mark the birth of the church with the Edict of Worms from 1521), Lutheranism is no new kid on the block. There are, as one would expect from the Protestant love of division, several branches of Lutheranism. This Sunday we attended St. Luke Lutheran in Santa Rosa, which is part of the Missouri Synod (a more conservative branch of the denomination).

Upon entering the sanctuary, I was handed a quite large bulletin. Opening it, I saw it had large print for the visually impaired, so I traded it in for the smaller bulletin. Both versions were 12 pages thick with all the hymns (music and lyrics), liturgical readings, Scripture, and prayers included. No overhead screens here (which might hide the beautiful stained glass windows).

The majority of the congregation was elderly. Before the service began and during the time of greeting there was much noise and enthusiasm (but no music), and it took a bit of effort on the pastor's part to get people quiet and back to their seats. Even though this delayed the service a minute or two each time, we thought it was lovely that the congregation was so enjoying being together.

Two children came forward for a children's sermon. There were no visual aids or parables but rather a fairly straight forward catechism of the Gospel. (And attentive listeners would also learn the proper use of the pronoun "whom".)

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was served and the bulletin had a helpful list of questions to prepare for it. Though most of the questions I could answer in the affirmative ("Am I a baptized child of God?"), there was also this question: "Do I believe that Jesus' Body and Blood are really present in the bread and wine?" There is a subtle distinction between the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and Lutheran teaching on the matter (consubstantiation), but not a large enough distinction to allow me to feel comfortable partaking. The congregation filed forward to receive communion at the front, and after all who could come forward had partaken, the pastor brought the bread and the cup to a few who were unable to come to the front. 
Evangelicals and fundamentalists often assume all mainline denominations have a rather namby-pamby approach to the Gospel, shying away from the more difficult issues. That certainly wasn't the case in this service, which focused on the theme of our eternal destiny as the opening of a ten part series entitled "Believe." The hymn "The Day is Surely Drawing Near" features such lyrics as 'Then fright shall banish idle mirth, And flames on flames shall ravage earth" and "With shame and trembling they will stand, And at the judge's stern command, To Satan be delivered."

The sermon was a clear presentation of the options of heaven and hell and the need to put faith in the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ for salvation. There was certainly a spirit of compassion in the pastor's call to reach out others with the good news of the Gospel.
After the service, we very much enjoyed talking with Pastor Fred (a retired pastor originally from Wisconsin "don'cha know"). He told a little about St. Luke's 125-year history. The stained glass window in the front of the sanctuary was donated by the family of a retired pastor, but the stained glass window in the back of the church was donated by a Jewish family who had lived across the street and apparently wanted a beautiful view (which they certainly received, though this picture doesn't do it justice).
Service length: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Sermon length: 20 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Invited in the bulletin to sign a guest card
Our Rough Count: 110 people
Estimated Usher Count: 125 people

Monday, January 21, 2019

The very first bar post

This was the first bar we visited on our epic year-long quest to visit a church and a bar in every state. Now that the project is finished (we're working on being regulars at a few local bars instead of visiting and writing about them), we're transferring old posts here. If you'd like to know more about our adventures in 2016, check out our book, Cheers and Amen

Aureole in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, Nevada

There are times when we feel like we don't have a choice about the place we go, and that's a good thing.

Fourteen years ago, I began working at the Hotel Healdsburg, where one of the owners of the hotel and its restaurant, Dry Creek Kitchen, is Chef Charlie Palmer. He was a good boss and is a good guy, so I wanted a chance to go to one of his many other properties.

We might have gone to Aureole at Mandalay Bay even if it weren't for Charlie, because of a cool feature in the restaurant, the four story wine tower. I'd seen it on television back in the days when our daughters were hooked on the Travel Channel. (That wine tower, like allof America's prominent landmarks, has been replicated with Legos.) 

After asking several people in Mandalay Bay for directions (and with detours in The Four Seasons), mangling the pronunciation of the name of the restaurant, we made our way to the reception desk at Aureole. The hostess directed us down the staircase to the Lounge, which is on the other side of the wine tower from the restaurant proper.

A few people were seated at the bar, but we found seats together at the end closest to the restaurant. The bartender handed us a tablet with the drinks menu and showed us how to swipe the screen to turn the pages. (We heard another guest request a paper menu, which was supplied).

Flipping through the by-the-glass wine list, we were glad to see Sonoma County represented along with European vineyards,but we thought it would be more fun to start the year with cocktails. The description of the Chocolate Martini sounded delicious, and since we'd already eaten dinner, it seemed like a suitable dessert. Mindy went with the Raspberry Lemon Drop. Both were delicious. 

Two men were working the bar, Sal and Dave. Sal took our order and mixed our drinks. He's been tending bar for 35 years, and has been at Aureole since its opening seventeen years ago. He was the first person we asked the two questions that will be our standards for this blog and for Dean and Mindy go to church: "What makes for a good bar?" and "What makes for a good church?"

Sal quickly answered what made for a good bar. "Good bartenders. The ingredients for drinks are pretty much the same everywhere. The bartender makes the difference."

His answer about a good church fit with his first answer. "The pastor."

I asked Sal if the restaurant had changed over the years. He responded that when the place opened seventeen years ago, they were extremely busy six nights a week, but now, since many other restaurants have opened in the area, business has slowed some, though still doing well.

The bar of Aureole serves primarily as a source for serving the diners and secondarily serving bar patrons. Two people can usually serve the needs of the restaurant and the bar, but at peak times, a third helps them out.

I asked Sal for favorite stories from his years of tending bar. He recalled an incident from his first year there:  a man planned to propose to his girlfriend and asked Sal to find him roses. It was after 11:00 pm when Sal was frantically searching the hotel for roses. The man paid generously for the roses, and at midnight, the man got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend. The woman said yes, taking the roses. It was a beautiful moment.

Unfortunately, at that same moment another woman wearing a short skirt walked by. The man's eye followed her. The new fiancee couldn't help noticing, and she showed her outrage with words and by beating the man with the roses. Soon rose petals and awkward feelings spread throughout the restaurant.

Dave, the other bartender, has been at Aureole for the last four years, and has been tending bar for seventeen years. He began at a small, family, Italian restaurant and later went to Applebee's.

He didn't speak badly of the chain, saying they make a good, consistent product. They don't give room for self-expression, though.

I asked Dave what he looked for in a good bar. He said it depends on what you're looking for, what kind of environment you're in the mood for. Sometimes, he said, you'd like to be someplace quiet with well-crafted drink. Sometimes you're in a party mood and want a festive atmosphere.
He was ready to recommend a number of other local bars that would match a variety of moods.

When I asked what would make for a good church, Dave said he couldn't answer that since he was Jewish, and I asked what would make for a good temple. He said it should be a simple place: people, chairs and a suitable place for the Torah.

Aureole provided good drinks, conversation, and company to start a new year and, we hope, will be the first of at least 49 pleasant bar experiences.

Dean's drink: Chocolate Martini
Mindy's drink: Raspberry Lemon Drop
Visitor Treatment: Bartenders were attentive and friendly (the bar itself wasn't busy while we were there, but Sal and Dave took care of drink orders for the restaurant as well).
Miles from last bar visited: 0
Total 2016 miles driven: 28
Miles from start: 646
This post originally appeared on January 2, 2016. It was the first bar post at Dean and Mindy walk into a bar. We revisited Las Vegas bars during a sadly dramatic weekend in 2017.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The first church we went to (in order to write about it)

Salvation Army Church, Santa Rosa, California, 2014
Did you read this post back in November of 2014 when we first published this at Dean and Mindy go to church? 

Salvation Army, Santa Rosa, California
The title Saved by the Bell was really wasted on a sitcom about high school. It should have been used for a Salvation Army story. 

A lot of us only know about the Army through the Christmas bell ringers. Some know the Army because of the thrift stores. But there's more, of course, to the organization than money pots and bargains. It's a charity, a business, and a church. We went to church on Sunday.

No problem finding the address and service time online, but once we were there we had a little bit of difficulty finding the chapel. We arrived about 15 minutes early and a sign at the door assured we were at the right place. Apparently, everyone was still in Sunday school. Eventually, a Salvation Army officer came out and directed us with a left, a right, and a left to the chapel. Once people emerged from the Sunday school class, we were greeted with warmth.

Early in its history (founded in 1856), the Army earned a reputation for rousing musicianship. They were famous for its brass bands. Rousing isn't the term I'd use for the music at this Sunday's service. Though most everyone joined in singing the choruses, it was far from rousing, and when we sang an old Salvation Army hymn, the piano intro made it as difficult to find the melody as it had been to find the chapel.

But there were some wonderful things about worshiping with the congregation this Sunday morning.  The Salvation Army does good work in recovery ministry, working with those who struggle with alcohol and drug addictions. About half of the congregation was composed of participants in the recovery program in Lytton Springs. One of the gentlemen from the program shared his testimony of God's work in his life, and another read scripture.

An elderly woman named Yvonne introduced the offering time, by saying that she'd heard that it's been said you can tell where someone's heart is by looking at their checkbook -- so she wrote a Scripture verse in her checkbook. We loved her fairly immediately.

The prayer time was open for sharing. One of the small group of teenagers in our row said, "We were bored yesterday, so we called the Lieutenants, and they asked us over, and we had a great time." That's the kind of thing anyone in youth ministry loves to hear.

The sermon, from 1 John 3 (and a variety of other texts) was preached by one of the Salvation Army officers, was sound if a bit scattered. The service closed with "Amazing Grace," which was a little livelier than music that came before.

As the service closed, I turned to see the nursery through large windows that opened into the chapel. A young woman sat, holding her baby girl. God's children gathered in this chapel, obviously loving and encouraging one another. May the Christian soldiers continue to move onward.

Service length: 90 minutes
Sermon length: 30 minutes
Visitor treatment: greeted several times before service started. Each first-time visitor received a blue ribbon, a handshake, and an introduction by name to the rest of the congregation. Because a large part of the group were visitors, this wasn't particularly embarrassing or awkward but welcoming.
Our rough count: 30-40 people
Probable usher count: 50 people
Snacks: cookies after, possibly coffee in a recreation room, but none in evidence in the worship service

Monday, January 14, 2019

(Probably) the last all the posts: January 7 - 13, 2019

Last week, Dean wrote the last post for Dean and Mindy go to church. The week before, he wrote the last post for Dean and Mindy walk into a bar. For us, it's the end of a very fun era.

What now?

Here's what we expect to be doing over the next few months. During January and February, we hope to make it easier for you to find old material by bringing all of it here to Dean and Mindy. While I'm working on that, Dean's getting ready to launch in March, where he'll be looking at churches and clergy in television episodes -- along with some surprises (like these guest posts). We hope you'll like it.

Meanwhile, Movie Churches will be continuing. Did you know that the first dozen posts were at Dean and Mindy go to church (and they didn't have steeple ratings yet?) We're slowly moving those posts over to Movie Churches with a little bit of updating, so you should be seeing quite a bit of activity over there during the next couple of months.

So keep checking back here and at Movie Churches over the next month or so! We'll be polishing up some old material that you might have missed when we first posted it, and Dean will have new reviews at Movie Churches every Friday (and occasionally more often).

But just for old times' sake, one last time, here are all the posts from the past week:

Dean's last word on going to church

Movie Churches is uncertain

A look back at the very first movie church (which was also a TV church)

Sunday, January 6, 2019

All the posts: December 16, 2018 - January 6, 2019

Who else found themselves skipping things that didn't absolutely have to be done? That's me during the past several weeks.

In other words, I haven't done an "all the posts" post since mid-December -- but today I'm making up for it with one gigantic collection to wrap up 2018 and get 2019 off to a good start. 

We're almost (but not quite) done with writing about churches and bars. There'll be one more post at Dean and Mindy go to church (because who wants to finish a project by calling it a failure?) and Dean's working on a companion to Movie Churches (called, creatively enough, TV Churches) that'll be debuting in March. Meanwhile, you can find Cheers and Amen, the book about our year of visiting bars and churches all over the United States, on Amazon. It makes excellent reading for long winter nights (or days!).