Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,
If you’ve ever been to Poulsbo, you’ve probably heard the bell-song rolling through the town at twelve and five o’clock. These chimes emanate from the tower of the Poulsbo First Lutheran Church (check them out here). This tall, sky-blue building looks out over Poulsbo. It graciously hosts a variety of community functions and I have been to a few of them. However, December tenth was my first time actually going inside the historic church nave.
I arrived at the Poulsbo First Lutheran Church ten minutes or so before the start of their eight o’clock service.
I followed the stream of church-goers through the stained glass doors of the main entrance. Several Christmas trees stood around the lobby, the gifts underneath meant for disadvantaged children in the community. The Poulsbo First Lutheran Church is very active with volunteering, especially in cooperation with Fishline, a local charity. I introduced myself to a man who seemed to be greeting individuals as they entered. He revealed himself to be Paul Davis, Director of Faith Formation and the person I had been in correspondence with. He ushered me into the nave of the church and seated along the side with his wife.
She cheerily introduced herself and explained the basic layout of the service, which was helpfully detailed in a pamphlet.
The helpful pamphlets of Christian churches never cease to impress me. There would be a lot of standing up and sitting down, she explained, and we would sing assorted songs from the little red hymn books conveniently stored in the back of the bench in front of us. She promised to alert me before any group movements but doubted it would be that confusing. We both took little red hymnbooks from the ingenious compartment in the back of the bench in front of us.
The benches ran all down the lower center portion of the church’s cross-like layout.
From my seat, I could just see the space where the left arm of the cross would be. A Christmas tree stood beside a blinding stained glass window.
The main focus of the space was an altar centered around a beautiful painting of Jesus.
The very tip of the cross-floorplan had a cross suspended on it, silhouetted with light. The cross’s other arm now drew my attention, as the blue and white-robed choir-singers launched into Wake, Awake, for the Night is Flying and The Advent of Our God.
The pastor, a woman in a white robe, approached the congregation.
She began by going over the news in the blue sub-pamphlet. People were advised to pray for things like the health and well-being of community members going through rough patches, wisdom for our nation’s leaders, and the people in California who are impacted by the wildfires.
She went over upcoming events, including the concert later that day, which highlighted the North Kitsap High School Vocal Point Jazz and a group who were to play the array of bells behind her. After the upcoming events were gone over, there was a brief silence for reflection and prayer. The group chanted a “Confession and Forgiveness” prayer before another “Silence for Reflection and Self Examination”.
There were then a series of hymns, led by the choir and pastor, with a few solos by the pastor. However, every church member had the opportunity to raise their voices, aided by the sheet music in the pamphlets and hymnbooks. The succession of hymns were interspersed with group prayers.
Next came the weekly bible-reading. This week’s verse was “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…” –Ezekiel 37:14
The pastor read aloud the surrounding section of the bible titled “The Valley of Dry Bones”. It detailed a dream-vision shown to the prophet Ezekiel. He sees a valley full of old and dry bones, God says he will bring the bones back to life, God does exactly that, and it is established that this is metaphor for the scattered Jewish people who will one day be reunited by God.
Paul Davis led the children’s sermon. All of the children of the congregation rushed up onto the stage to sit by him. He asked them a few questions and gave them a puzzle. He explained the moral of “The Valley of Dry Bones” using the puzzle as a metaphor for the people of Israel and simple, engaging speech. The congregation laughed as the children predictably did little mischiefs and gave insightful contributions. Then the children were sent back to their seats and the pastor took the stage again.
She connected the sermon to the stress some people feel around the holidays. “Christmas can be a dry bones time,” she admitted, detailing some of her own struggles, offering solutions like the church’s groups for yuletide stress, and describing how Christmas is really about the glory of Christ and has a lot of great aspects too. She clearly spent a lot of time composing this well-thought-out sermon.
More hymns and prayers led up to the offering.
(I did not give an offering because the only money I could find on my person was souvenir pennies from the zoo. I plan on giving a better offering at the next church I go to.) There was more prayer and song.
Then came the distribution.
The benches all gradually rose to walk down the center aisle to take communion. Poulsbo First Lutheran Church offered gluten-free wafers for those with dietary restrictions and grape juice for those who didn’t want to consume wine, in addition to the typical wine and wafers. The I cautiously took a wafer and dipped it in the grape juice as I was dutifully informed that I had been given the flesh and blood of God. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the taste (Sluy’s Bakery’s bread is a bit better than your average communion wafer).
More hymns and prayers followed communion.
I’m terribly sorry that I am not giving these songs and prayers the in depth description they probably deserve. Their numerousness and individuality precludes any in depth representation, and I don’t think they would be terribly surprising to the reader. The hymns do detail the glory of god. The prayers do ask for forgiveness and strength. It was quite lovely.
The service ended with
a sending hymn, a promise to go and peace and serve our neighbors, and a request to share God’s peace with your neighbors. “Peace be with you,” said my helpful neighbor. “Peace be with you,” I reciprocated. Young children raced up and down the aisles, wishing peace to be with those they ran past. I took a moment to enjoy the stunning stained glass.
A friendly woman zeroed in on me, an apparent new-comer, introduced herself and invited me to join them in refreshments downstairs.
I explained the premise of World Religion Weekly, and she enthusiastically talked about her own experiences with other religions. She soon had to leave, but first she introduced me to a group of similarly friendly individuals who talked about some of their friends who belonged to other religions. I regrettably had to leave before the Faith Education program.
Thank you for reading World Religion Weekly,
Audrey Cole, the agnosti