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Finding Faith in Faith

This blog is dedicated to exploring the intersections of faith and politics, the intricacies of religious culture and the struggle to balance devotion to a higher being and to one’s culture.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Branch, a departure from the routine

Well, and now for something entirely different.

I had attended Farmer’s Branch once a few years ago with my brother David (who is still a member there). Of the churches of Christ in Dallas, I was probably most familiar with Farmer’s Branch (with the possible exception of Waterview). I was quite prepared for some off the nontraditional approaches they use to reach members and nonbelievers, and so the shock factor that some have expressed from their first visit was not a factor for me.

Farmer’s Branch has truly become a model of innovation for other churches. The church hosts three worship services each weekend, one non-traditional service on Saturday night for seekers and two more traditional services on Sunday morning.

The worship format was extremely dynamic, weaving drama, audio and video presentation and traditional worship forms into a truly multimedia worship experience. Some of this I found engaging and refreshing. Some of it I found distracting.

However, what makes Farmer’s Branch special is not the fabulous facilities or the well-scripted programming (the senior minister even made a correction during his sermon based on input from his producer’s voice in his earpiece). Farmer’s Branch is special because of the spirit of the members.

Although “the Branch” possesses all the trappings of a suburban mega-church, its commitments to service and promoting social justice are impressive. I sincerely hope that more churches follow the Branch’s leadership in terms of engaging others and encouraging spiritual growth.

The senior minister is Chris Seidman, a 1992 graduate of Abilene Christian University. His youth and dynamic presentation style commands attention: you won’t find any drowsy members in his audience. His message was very clear and applicable, weaving spiritual guidance together with practical application. Although I had a few structural reservations with his message (like I said, I’m a communication freak), I had no qualms with his content or his objective.

The Branch was very warm and welcoming. I was directed to a reception area for visitors following services where I met several of the servants, including Seidman and Brent McCall, the executive minister.

I will be taking a week off in my hunt for a trip to Austin, but Farmer’s Branch will probably warrant another visit (after I’ve made the initial rounds).

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Prestoncrest, ACU 2.0?

Having visited Preston Road earlier this month, I decided to travel a bit further north and try out Prestoncrest Church of Christ.

Prestoncrest is a much larger church than Preston Road, and seems to attract a more youthful, dynamic membership. The singles program at Prestoncrest is simply massive with several large classes divided among several criteria.

The senior minister at Prestoncrest is Prentice Meador, who worked as a team with the preaching associate Bob Chisholm in a tag-team format to deliver a dynamic spoken message. The message was very practical and focused, and the membership had received outline cards to take notes on during the sermon. I was not overly taken in by the depth of the message, nor was I completely in agreement with some of the assertions made (I know that I am very picky), but neither was there anything that offended me or frustrated me.

Prestoncrest appears to be a very social church. In their membership, I saw a few familiar faces and knew that it is a place for people to connect socially, a place to see and be seen. The worship format is very trendy yet traditional (no danger of women serving here). In fact, the service reminded me of the daily chapel services during my time at Abilene Christian University.

It’s not much of a drive (probably 10-12 miles from where I live), and the membership there represents the closest thing to a return to my ACU faith culture. Not sure if that’s a positive or negative variable …

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Preston Road, miniUA?

My first stop is the closest church. Preston Road Church of Christ is about 4 miles from where I live.

In general, my impression is that Preston Road will probably bear the closest resemblance to UA culturally. It is a smaller church, but it is rather formal and demographically wealthier than many churches.

The minister is Scott Sager, a former campus minister at UA. Scott appears to bring a youthful energy to a more established church culture in some ways that remind me of Dean Smith’s approach to UA. His sermon was not the most eloquent presentation, but he worked hard to embed pop culture and scholarly observations in his message, reaching for the diverse groups that I’m sure make up that church. (As usual, I had a quibble or two with generalizations or specific claims made, but nothing particularly egregious).

The worship was formal in setting, and the forms were traditional. Communion was served from the back of the auditorium (which amused me, since UA had just switched to this model a couple of months before), and at least one woman was present in the passing of the plates.

Preston Road seems to be a church that is struggling with its complacent past, struggling to meet the challenges of an ever-changing society. During the service several calls to return to outreach were voiced, and I see the same frustrated desire to do more with an already comfortable congregation that I saw at UA.

Preston Road is the closest CoC to where I live, and its membership is most like the university environment in which I work. I know there is a lot of work to be done there and I find the opportunities that observation represents encouraging. I was hoping for a bit more intellectual stimulation, but that is but one component in my search for a new church home.