Posts Tagged ‘ Associated ’

Clover Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church – Visited on 7/10/2011

A warm, muggy, overcast morning.  The Clover ARP is a slender creature of red brick, its black iron fences enclosing a modest wood and plastic playground for the congregation’s children, its spires soaring above the low two-story buildings of downtown Clover, its doors spread open beneath the shade of spreading trees.

Inside, one enters a sanctum suffused by the golden-mellow glow of morning sunlight streaming in through stained glass.  The walls are smoothed by slick white plaster, its ceiling’s curves picked out by great, time-stained beams of centennial wood that hint at the church’s lengthy history.

This was an irregular service for the Clover ARP: its pastor and much of its congregation were away at an annual church camping trip, leaving the sanctum half-full, its pews wide and naked.  Without its regular staff to prime the church’s organ and audio devices, the service’s several hymns proceeded in mumbled, half-heard quiet.

So many absences lent the proceedings in the Clover ARP this morning a tired, slightly mournful air.  Much of the church’s resources are dedicated towards its youngest members: testified by the aforementioned playground, as well a whole complex of rooms behind the sanctuary designated as Sunday schools and day cares.  An entire alternative service is normally held simultaneously with the main worship on Sundays specifically for the children, but with so many absent such activities were cancelled.  Young couples and their children make up a considerable proportion of the Clover ARP’s membership, and without them its services have only a scattering of elderly couples and childless adults to crouch sparsely on its benches.

In lieu of the usual pastor, this morning’s sermon was led by Mark Witte, a seminary graduate currently living in Columbia, South Carolina.  He is a strikingly tall man, lank and lean, well educated but still young and fresh from his own instruction.

The morning’s sermon was his own creation, built on a reading from Ephesians 5:15-20. He enjoined the congregation to act as exemplars of their religion, likening their status as role models to how his own great stature as a child made him the object of his teachers’ and guardians’ reproach when he and his childhood friends made mischief.  He taught that the congregants must adopt this role quickly, for each moment spent at the business of the world was one not spent in the service of their faith and god.

Mr. Witte took the time to sit a brief interview with me after the service.  He and his young family are bound for Tampico, Mexico in the near future, where he will teach at a seminary school for the American ARP’s Mexican sister-church.  On the interface of Church and State, he held that the American constitution’s enumerated inalienable rights are, though influenced by Christianity, derived from rights permitted to all people, regardless of their particular creed.  The freedoms granted by “our unity in Christ,” mentioned repeatedly during the morning’s sermon, were by contrast the sole province of the faithful, and refer more to the next life rather than matters temporal.

Further, he explained that the Establishment Clause from the First Amendment of the US Constitution provides freedom of religion, not freedom from religion; specifically, that there should be no coercion towards any one faith, but that the machinery of the state should be operated in accordance with, to use his term, “Judeo-Christian principles.”  Those who push to divide Church and State completely, he said, are in effect promoting their own religion: they are “angry against god,” and so promote their own beliefs against the Church out of that anger.

On his spiritual peers in Mexico, the representatives of the Catholic Church, whom he must certainly encounter during his time in that country, he would say only that many in Mexico have not truly heard the Good News.  There was a difference, he said, between those who attend worship services because they are “cultural Christians,” and those who go to worship the living god in their hearts.  Many in Mexico, he said, were cultural rather than spiritual Christians, whose practices he was set to rectify.

Mr. Witte remarked that the true issue in Mexico was corruption, specifically the worship of money over concern for spiritual and moral matters.  On the wealth and income inequalities within the United States, he said that “to those whom much is given, much is expected,” and remained confident that those who misuse the great wealth God has given them will receive their due justice one day.