Tuesday, January 01, 2008
The last Sunday of 2007 I visited with my family the Central Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. This is a PCUSA Church with a very beautiful building in the middle of Atlanta, thus the name. Parking was under ground a parking garage. That was a first time for me, but it makes sense when real estate is at a premium price to put the parking down under. I think they are able to charge for parking during the week and make it pay for itself. I'm guessing on that. Finding where the nursery for my young relatives was a bit of a hassle. It could have been better dealt with but informing the friendly greeters, who I believe were the church's elders, where the nursery was being held. But it was nice to see the elders take such an active part in greeting people.
The worship was warm and easy to follow. There was no sermon that day but a lot of scripture reading and carol singing. I found it a welcome change to just enjoy song and scripture. The closest thing to a sermon was the children's sermon, which they called 'Young Disciples'. But essentially this was the reading of a story book called the 'Huron Carol', which was based on a carol I was not familiar with but was in the Presbyterian Hymnal used by Central Presbyterian. While I hold the preaching of the Word of God extremely important, because there was a wealth of Scripture reading during the service, I thought it an delightful worship service.
The church was decorated with liturgical hangings which were festive and beautiful. I was told someone in the congregation made them. All churches should have someone as artistically gifted. I was confused by one item though. The liturgical hanging in the front and center of the sanctuary had a picture of Mary and the Christ Child. Other items decorated this scene, two of which confused me; a griffin and a unicorn. If someone understands, or thinks he understands, the meaning of this symbolism, please leave a message in the comments. Perhaps someone with a more liturgical background will know the significance.
The music was especially fantastic because of a guest pianist , David Hawkings of Columbia Theological Seminary played. He combined traditional and jazz styles in the pieces he played. No one felt it necessary to direct the congregation in singing the hymn. In most churches I have visited there is someone directing the congregation as if the congregation is a rehearsed choir. Doing without this unnecessary formality was a welcome change. Mr. Hawkings actually led the tempo and music via his playing. He is quite possibly the best church pianist I have ever heard. (The only one I felt could be considered better is a professor of music at a Bible college I visited once.) Mr. Hawkings not only provided an excellent atmosphere for directing our worship toward God but also a music education in one sitting.
Something that impressed me with the congregation was the warmth of feeling while making announcements of who had prayer concerns. Many in the congregation were senior citizens and it was obvious that the staff honored the needs of the elderly who were suffering the effects of aging. It seemed that the staff took visitation of the sick and dying as a work of love and compassion.
While theologically I would not be completely at home at Central Presbyterian, I found it a refreshing and enjoyable visit.