View From The Ridge

View From The Ridge

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Church Hunting

View from the Ridge
Heb_10:25  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.
  I want to say right up front that what I am writing about is not aimed at any particular person or church but is simply my personal observations of what we have gone through in seven weeks of trying to find a church here in Kona, Hawaii.  The criticisms and faults that I discuss are aimed at me as much as anyone.  What we have experienced has opened my eyes even more to how, as individuals and a church, the importance of sincere personal contact is to those seeking a church to worship and fellowship with. 

The first two days I spent a good deal of time looking at various church web sites reading their statement of faith, what ministry activities they were involved in, if care groups or home Bible study groups were available, was there an active youth group and activities, all the things that indicate a healthy and viable church. 

The first church we tried was a community church with a rock solid statement of faith, but just a tad too charismatic for us, plus the speaker “Aunt Betty” stated that the Lord had told her not to prepare a sermon, that he would provide the words for her to speak.  The pastor, who was in the front row, allowed this to go on.  No speaking in tongues, just a lot of nonsense.  There are those who enjoy the charismatic service and that’s fine, it’s just not for me.  What concerned me was that only one person spoke to us other than the one handing out the bulletins.  The lady waving the four foot white flag during the song service didn’t help any

The second church we attended was the oldest church in the state, founded by missionaries back in the mid 1800’s and the hard wooden pews were just about that old as well.   Problem is that it is a major tourist attraction and has three services just to accommodate everyone.  Good preaching, good music, but a third of the people in that service were tourists.  Again no one spoke to us and I understand that we appeared to be just another tourist face in the crowd.  There is a severe lack of parking which doesn’t help.

The third Sunday we attended a church that we had visited two years ago and is only three miles from our house.  The close proximity was attractive since we were tired of driving 30 minutes to church every Sunday. We, along with several other couples, were introduced as visitors and afterwards several men came up and carried on a real conversation.  Not the pastor or associate pastor or anyone appearing in leadership.  We left thinking maybe we’d have a chance at this church.  We attended the next Sunday, only to be ignored by everyone including the pastor and his wife. 

Sunday number five we chose a promising church only to find out that they were searching for a pastor and the music was way too loud for a congregation of only 25 people.  Friendly people but too small a church for us. 

The following Saturday was the monthly men’s breakfast at the church we had attended twice and I decided that would be a good place to meet some men of the church.  There were about 15 or so there including the pastor, who lives next door to the church.  The pastor introduced himself and several of the men standing in a group, and we carried on the standard type men’s conversation waiting for breakfast to be served.  Except the pastor was off talking to other people, which was fine but I honestly thought he would want to know something of why I was there and where I was from since I was the only visitor.

After I went through the food line I was standing there trying to decide where to sit and waiting for someone to invite me to their table.  Did Not Happen!  So I noticed the pastor and two others at a table with an empty chair and proceeded to sit there.  I was introduced to the other two fellows and we carried on a brief chit chat.  From that point on the three of them conversed among themselves about various and sundry topics while I ate my breakfast.  Silently.  Never once did anyone ask me about what I had done for a living, why I was moving to Hawaii, about my past church experience, nothing, nada.    
The next two Sundays we attend the same church only to have the same scene repeated, only worse on the last Sunday.  They were having a youth group fundraiser that featured hot dogs and all the fixings.  Thought we would see some of the youth, but there was only one teenager serving, and the rest were adults.  We figured surely we would be able to meet some people at a social function.  Again, it was like we were invisible.  No one, not one single person invited us to join them.  There were no tables set up, just chairs left from the church service, so everyone pulled chairs into groups and ate and fellowshipped.  We wandered around and finally pulled two chairs together near another couple, not wanting to intrude but hoping to get invited to join them.  No invite but they did move a chair out of our way, thank you very much.  The final blow was when the pastor and his wife went through the line later, looking for a place to join in, and never once looked at us.  I was eyeballing him the whole time and he never made eye contact.  There weren’t more than 30 or 40 people eating at the time and yet we were invisible.  That’s when Jeri and decided that this was not where God wanted us. 
 Through all of this I have learned some things and had others reinforced, and I will share those with you.
1.       If a church wants to attract people in today’s electronic age, it must have a good web site that lays out its statement of faith, what ministries it is involved in, who are heading up these ministries, times of services and short bios of the pastoral staff.  Calendars of events are helpful, but only if someone keeps the web site up to date. 
2.     Friendly ushers who hand out bulletins with a smile and handshake are great but only if members of the congregation get out of their comfort zone and make an effort to meet new comers and say something besides “hi, glad you came”.  If you see someone standing around like they are lost, go talk to them, maybe they are.  And, yes, you may discover that they have been attending for 6 months and it is embarrassing.  Been there done that too many times.  Better to do it now rather than later and find out they’ve been coming 9 or 12 months. 
3.     At a social function do not, under any circumstances, let anyone, visiting or otherwise, sit at a table by themselves.  Have them join your group or go sit with them.  They may be your next best friends.  I will give my home church high marks in this area for I have seldom seen that happen. 
4.     If you happen to be looking for a church, do not head out the door like a Chinese fire drill.  I can’t count the number of times I have looked for someone only to see them sprinting for their car.  Invariably, some of those will claim we are an unfriendly church.
5.     The pastoral staff, Elders, Deacons and Deaconesses should make a concentrated effort to meet new people and spend five or ten minutes with them after the service.  Give the pastor and his wife time at the end of the service to allow them to set up to thank people as they leave.  Have an Elder or a Deacon and their wives join them so that hopefully no one is missed. 
6.     Invite someone to lunch next Sunday.  If you are a part of a group that goes out every Sunday, that’s even better.  Invite them to join your group and they will meet even more people.  For some it is easy to meet people, for others it is work.  For years it was hard for me to meet new people, but I am married to someone who makes it look easy.  I am better at it now but it is still not my comfort zone.
7.     It is easy to accept and be friendly to a couple or a family that visits.  But singles, youth and the elderly seem to have a more difficult time meeting people.  Therefore special emphasis needs to be made to make sure that these also are greeted and introduced to other members of the congregation.
So we will continue to search for the Church that God wants us to be a part of.  We will recognize it when we see it, for God is faithful in answering prayer. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

This and That

As I write this it has now been four weeks since we arrived in Hawaii.  In that time frame we have made an offer on a home that is now in escrow, arranged for a loan that is being passed around between underwriters like a hot potato, purchased a used Volvo SUV, negotiated the purchase of the furnishings of the house we are buying, opened a Hawaiian bank account,  transferred funds, which was a nightmare, and arranged for house and car insurance.  Notice that I have not included golf as an activity.  Got no time for that!

If someone had informed me that buying a house today was this complicated, I might have had second thoughts.  As it is we are learning much more than I care to know about real estate and lending laws, and the many and varied nuances of living in Hawaii.  So what I want to share with you this time are some of the events that we have had to contend with, things we have learned, in no particle order.  Bored we are not!

1.  Attended a church a couple of Sundays ago and they asked visitors to stand and introduce themselves.  I did and said we were from NE Oregon where they have four seasons, one of which I did not like.  A couple behind us said they were visiting from Wisconsin  where they have two seasons:  Shovel it and Construction.  Whereupon the pastor replies that Hawaii has two seasons also; high tide and low tide.

2.  After the second time I filled up with fuel I noticed that I didn't have to clean the windshield after two weeks of driving.  Either the flying bugs over here are smarter and learned to stay away from the highways, or there are a whole lot less of them.  I lean toward the latter explanation as we seldom see flies or other flying insects.  Crawling insects are a different story; lots of big and ugly bugs.

3.  There are no name brand banks here on the Big Island.  Maybe in Honolulu, but not here.  No B of A, Wells Fargo, U. S. Bank, etc., just two Hawaiian banks, credit unions and savings and loans. Which makes my ATM card useless because I refuse to pay the outrageous fees both banks charge for using another bank's ATM.  So, if you come to Hawaii without a credit card, bring lots of cash or prepare to pay fees for using the ATM.

4.  There are very few marked police cars on the island.  Most of the police officers use personal cars, pick-ups and SUVs with a single small round blue light with a magnetic base mounted on the drivers side of the roof.  Very difficult to see at a distance.  A few days ago I found myself gaining on one as I was doing about 57 in a 50 mph zone.  I was about 100 ft. behind him when he pulls over.  As I was passing him I figured he was going to nail me with a ticket.  Sure enough I looked in the side view mirror as I passed him and his blue light goes on.  I raised my foot to hit the brake and start pulling over when he does a quick u-turn and pulls over a dude going the opposite direction.  Whew!!

5.  We have had Mutual of Enuclaw as our ranch, house, cars, pick-ups and RV insurance since about 1969 or 1970.  A loooooong time, 0nly to discover this year that they only write policies in the Pacific Northwest, not Hawaii.  So I had to start shopping for insurance.  What a pain that is!  I go to the phone book and call Geico, Allstate and State farm.  Eliminated Geico right out the gate, went by the State Farm agent's office only to discover that they were closed on Thursdays between 12:30 and 2:30.  Guess what day I was there at 1:30.  Yep, Thursday!  So we plug in the address of the Allstate agent into our i-pad google maps app (what a God send that is over here where there is not a decent city map of Kona) and drive over to his office.  Receptionist says the lady that will be taking care of me is on the phone and will be out momentarily.  Ten minutes later I'm still waiting when the owner comes in and asks me if I am being taken care of and I replied no.  We then went into his office and I explained someone from his office had given me a quote on house insurance and I would like to pursue that further.  He goes on his computer and says he can't find where I was given a quote.  Well, it turns out the Allstate number I called was on the other side of the island in Hilo, a competing office.  I explained I did not want to have my agent 100 miles away, so he worked up a quote which was less than the one from Hilo.  Plus he was a really nice guy.  Later when he e-mailed me some documents, I found this at the bottom of his e-mail message that was part of his signature:  I’m the agent who shops in your store, who prays in your church, who dines in your restaurant, who cares like you do about our community the same way you do. I’m the agent who is here to protect you and what’s most important to you.  How neat is that!  It is amazing how God directs your paths when you least expect it.  

6.  Turns out the phone book I thought was for the Kona area is an island wide phone book.  Businesses are listed in the yellow pages but few have the city that they are located in,  so I was dialing numbers and talking to people in Hilo thinking they were located in Kona.  That will take some getting use to.

7.  We have been staying in my sister and brother-in-law's house while waiting for our house to close escrow.  In the mean time we have had to get back in the habit of locking all the doors before we leave.  For decades we have never locked our house unless we were going to be gone for more than a few days.  It has been only in the last ten years that we even bothered to lock our car or truck when in town, or even worry about the tool box, shovels or supplies that might be in the bed of the pick-up.  Never had to look for keys to any of the vehicles or equipment because I knew they were in the ignition.

8.  Car thefts are unusual over here, except for the occasional joy ride.  I mean, really, where are you going to go with it on an island?  

9.  Most minor crimes by native Hawaiians are left by the police to be handled with families. They have found that the families deal out stiffer punishment than the courts do.  The Hawaiian culture does not tolerate crime and it is a family embarrassment.  It would be nice if their work ethic was as high a standard.  The "hang loose" mentality is going to take some getting use to.

10.  The local paper tends to dramatize their headlines.  Back in September when we were here the headline read something to the effect that the murder rate had dramatically increased from like two to four --- for the whole year of 2010.  But the real beauty was the one a few days after we arrived:  "Big Island terrorized by 5.0 earthquake!"  Then in the first two lines of the story it says there were no injuries or property damage.  We were on the big island and never felt it.  One wag wrote in from Southern California and claimed they use those kinds of earthquakes to stir their coffee.  

I think I am reaching the end of my allotted space for the blog, and probably your attention span.   Sorry about that.  More later.     Q