I visited the Ashland First United Methodist on Sunday 4th of November 2012. The church schedule indicated that the service would begin at 9.30 am. I arrived at 9.00am because I wanted to meet the pastor Dr. Dan Bilkert and make him aware of my presence. I had spoken to him the previous day and he had granted me the permission I needed to visit the church and observe the proceedings during worship.
When I arrived at the church, there were about 10 young men and women in the church. Two ladies were standing next to the large oak doors where they were greeting the church members, welcoming them for the service and handing them the service program. There were about 8 others who were straightening the pulpit and distributing the church’s hymn books.
There was no particular sitting order, men and women sat together in the pews. I did not note any rituals performed before sitting. Members walked into the church and took a seat. They did not remove their shoes or sit in a designated area.
The service began with a prelude of Toccata on “For all the Saints. The prelude was led by Cherwien. After the prelude, the worshipers were asked to welcome each other to the service by turning and greeting each other while saying, “Welcome.”
After the welcoming, the members proceeded to the call to worship. This is a chant in which the worshippers acknowledging the unending power of God, Jesus Christ the ruler of kings on earth and the rule of saints. Each section of the chant was greeted by an “Amen” from the congregation. During the call to worship, all members who were able to stand were required to stand. The congregation continued to stand even while they sang the Canticle of hope. They also stood during the hymn which was entitled “I sing a song of the Saints of God.” After the hymn, the congregation sat down for the next item on the program.
The children’s choir was next on the program. They sang two beautiful songs. The first one was titled “This Train is Bound for Glory” while the second song was titled Rock-a My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham”. The children’s choir was applauded with shouts of “Amen” after their performance. The next item was a prayer which was read in unison by the congregation. The prayer was for god to knot the church together in one communion and fellowship in Christ. The prayer also asked for grace to follow the virtues of godly living and the holy saints. At the end of the prayer, the entire congregation answered, amen.
The first scripture reading was from the Christian holy book known as the Bible. The first scripture was Isaiah chapter 25; verse 6 to 9 (The Holy Bible, Isaiah 25:6-9). The next item was the remembrance of saints which was followed by the giving of tithes and offerings. The offertory session was led by Alice Parker. The Worship choir led the church in two songs while the offering and tithes were being offered. The first was “Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal” and “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”. Once all the offerings and tithes had been collected, the congregation stood to say the Doxology. After that the congregation said a prayer for the tithes and offerings as a way of giving thanks to God for providing and asking him to continue blessing them so that they can give more.
After the prayer, the congregation sat down for the second reading which was read from the book of Revelation chapter 21; verse 1 to 6a (The Bible, Revelation 21: 1-6a). After the scripture reading from the bible, the pastor, Dr. Dan, took over the session for meditation. The theme of his sermon was “Where God is Going.” The sermon lasted for about 20 minutes. The preacher used clear examples from various books in the bible. He also related what he was preaching to modern day situations. This made the sermon very easy to understand.
After the preaching, the pastor invited the congregation to a celebration OF Holy Communion. He said that this was in remembrance of the last supper which was conducted by Jesus Christ while with his disciples. The congregation was invited to confess their sins, give thanks and share bread and a cup of special wine. This session was only open to members of the congregation who had been baptized.
The church service ended at noon, the congregation filed out of the church and proceeded to a brief socializing session outside the church. I could see members hugging each other and exchanging niceties. After 15 minutes, most of the congregation had left for their homes except for the few who wanted to attend the afternoon session which I was also attending.
The Bible class study class started at 1.00pm. Dr. Bilkert taught about the Holy Spirit. He described the Holy Spirit as the still small voice of God that speaks to Christians when they need guidance. He said that the Holy Spirit was sent by God to provide guidance to Christians when Jesus Christ ascended to heaven. The role of the Holy Spirit was to help the early Christians to follow God’s rules and help them to spread God’s word across the world. The preacher also spoke about God and said that He is loving, peaceful and powerful. God through his grace uses the Holy Spirit to empower his people to live a Christian life.
At the end of the afternoon bible session, Dr Bilkert gave me a short tour of the church. He explained the meaning of the art in the stained-glass windows. The images were a representation of popular bible stories such as the birth of Jesus, his crucifixion and the resurrection. The stained- glass images reminded the congregation of the sacrifice that Jesus made for their salvation. When I sought to know about the importance of the steps in the service program, the preacher told me that what I saw was a long standing Christian tradition. Each of the steps followed had been done for hundreds of years of Christian worship.
I thanked Dr. Bilkert for giving me permission to attend church service, giving me a guided tour and answering my questions. I left the church at 2:45 pm and headed to a gift shop to buy a thank you card for Dr. Bilkert. I later addressed the preacher through the church address which is 220 Sandusky Street, Ashland, OH 44805.
The Holy Bible, King James Version. Isaiah 25:6-9, Revelation 21:1-6a.