Grace Church, Eden Prairie
In my April 9, 2008 post, I referred to Eden Prairie's Grace Church as a reactionary megachurch. Clark Crebar, a pastor at Grace, politely emailed me after coming across my post. Crebar has offered to spring for lunch in an attempt to set me straight about his church. He also suggested I attend a Sunday service at the church. I did so today.
Grace Church is non-denominational. It's huge, inside and out. The church seats 4,000; today about one-third of the seats were occupied.
Stylistically Grace is sort of low-brow 'hip' contemporary.
A fourteen-member team of musicians was on stage. Gigantic screens up front beam the on-stage visuals back to the cheap seats; the entire experience is quite televisual. The seats are comfortable and pleasantly spaced. The relentlessly upbeat loud rock music reappears frequently throughout the service. The lyrics are shown on the screens, the supreme being is serially flattered as indescribable, uncontainable, all-powerful, unchangeable. A song actually includes the sentence (somewhat unsubtle, to my ear) You are amazing God.
A truckload of baby stuff is piled at stage left; a speaker from New Life Family Services is introduced and speaks, thanking the congregation for the babyware; New Life is apparently an abortion prevention group. A number of people speak; an elder gives a finance report: We're down $810,619 for 2008; bummer. We are asked to pray fervently for divine advice on our contributions.
During the various prayers there is much neck-bending and squinting. The pianist provides tinkling accompaniment as this person or that offers a prayer.
Grace is run by a Council of Elders. To be an elder at Grace is to attain a high social position. An eldership is open only to men. After today's service, I chatted briefly with Rick Nelson, Grace's Chairman of Elders. Nelson explains that Grace members believe the bible to be inerrant and complete; Nelson says that the bible instructs churches to be led by men. He tells me that people gathering at Grace reject evolution and take literally the bible's account of creation. I try some antireligious, pro-evolution ripostes with Nelson who proves to be a challenging convert.
Grace favors a subordinate role for women. When your Council of Elders is all male, my sociological expectation is to expect gender-subordination echoes elsewhere. For example, when I visit the rest room, I notice the women's room advertises a diaper changing station; the men's room has no such convenience. And the service is conducted primarily by men, all of whom offer fervent thanks to the mothers present (as today is Mother's Day).
Grace is now between senior pastors. A visiting cleric/academician, John S. Feinberg, was introduced for the sermon. Feinberg informs us that our passage today is Ezekiel 37: 1-14: The Valley of Dry Bones. Feinberg speaks at considerable length about the passage, which he says foretells Israel's eventual rebirth and the rekindling of spiritual life there, but he says it is unknown when this might take place and that the prophecy remains unfulfilled today. After the service I speak with Feinberg, who, I learn, is not an uncritical supporter of Israel, as I somewhat feared, hearing his talk.
People go to church for all kinds of reasons; at least half of those in attendance likely had little say in their church-choosing process. When I apply a pejorative adjective to Grace I'm in no way hammering individual adherents there. But I think that my reactionary megachurch characterization of it was fair.