Year of Sundays

Year of Sundays

Sunset Presbyterian: Come for the Sermon, Stay for the SAUSAGE

Sunset Pres is Large and In Charge

I arrived at Sunset Presbyterian on Sunday thinking about my siblings. It was not only my brother Dan’s 38th birthday (dayem we’re getting old!) (Happy Birthday, Dan!) but we’d picked the church specifically because my sister was slated to perform there in the Rose City Flute Choir and I was very much looking forward to seeing the transformation that happens whenever she walks onto a stage. I mean honestly, is there anything better than watching your staunchly atheist, lesbian sister perform for a crowd of happy clappy Christians?


Of course we got there just in time to completely miss the flute choir, which my sister missed too since she was home with a cold.

The rest of the music was… interesting. It was enthusiastic and well-performed, but it all sounded a bit like Christmas carols to me. And I’m talking remixed Top 40 Christmas carols, not the jazz ditties of yore. My standard for music is simple: does it have a beat I can dance to? And the answer for Sunset Presbyterian was sure, but only if you’re a geriatric.

After the music, the pastor (who, from what I understand, is a relatively new interim pastor) led us in a prayer, which is always fun for me because I love watching people pray. I never bow my head (I’m done faking anything, ever, for the rest of my life) so I often feel like a LOLCAT: Iz in yer churchez! Watchinz yer prayerz!


You guys are so cute when you’re prayin’! But seriously? Why do you have to close your eyes? Yet another thing I just. don’t. get. Is praying like the Vulcan Mind Meld?

When the subject of Japan’s tsunami came up during said prayer, the pastor told God, “You’re in the midst of it, doing what you do!” Presumably, he was talking about God helping those in need, but the asshole in me couldn’t help but ask, “Didn’t God CAUSE it?”

Then he went on to say something about how “The Holy Spirit lives inside you!”

Like a tapeworm?

“Don’t ignore it!”

I totally agree: bad idea!


When the pastor brought up Matthew 28:19-20, which is apparently printed in big letters on the exit of the building, he gave the congregation a quiz about what it said, where it was in the Bible and what it meant. Of course, my bald, atheist lover nailed that scripture before a single person in the congregation even had time to raise their hand.

“Go and make disciples out of nations.” Oh the many reasons I adore him!

This Sunday was MISSION SUNDAY, which made me think about Mission Impossible and Tom Cruise and his high-on-life, couch-jumping Scientological ways. But as dry as the lecture was, I definitely HEARD where Sunset Presbyterian was coming from. They value outreach. Even if that outreach is as simple as pulling weeds at the local elementary school. They put a high priority on community service. They put their money (and their feet) where their mouths are.


They go Haiti and Honduras and Uganda. They go in couples and they go in families and they go droves and they do it all for the sake of Jesus – in a broad, non-denominational, lovey-dovey way.

I dig that in a congregation.

Of course, I EXPECT that in a congregation. Especially one as large as Sunset Presbyterian.

Unfortunately, I found the sermon boring. The pastor had recently taken his family to Disneyland and he thought the Happiest Place On Earth was a good example of God’s Great Commission (to spread the good word) (or something). Apparently the Disneyland employees have a similar mandate about making their guests happy. A mandate that came directly from Walt himself. Like God’s Great Commission.


“Just like every person at Disneyland, down to the janitors, has to wear a costume and play the part, we have a part to play for Jesus.” Oh, really? M-I-C-K-E-Y-J-E-S-U-S!

To be brutally honest, I felt like I was attending a business seminar, what with the white-shirted guy up there with the red tie and the missing crown of hair, speaking clearly into his clip-on microphone for a sea of khakis and button downs. He might just as well have been talking about Adobe Photoshop.

Jesus Seminar!


Oh! And don’t get me started on the name tags!

Scan your membership card and it spits out your self-adhesive name tag! Not creepy at all!

The rest of the sermon was a series of interviews, which reminded me of going to God Camp with my Baptist best friend growing up. Jesus skits! Each one seemed more forced than the last, from the family who got up and shared about how their missionary work served their need to be obedient to God, to the letter from a missionary who made her service sound like a Harlequin romance.


I am 100% pro-missionary (style), but I had to stop and think hard about how I’d feel if a bunch of, I dunno, Japanese Buddhists descended upon MY town and tried to convince me that the only way to salvation was to accept Buddha as my personal  savior. It would probably piss me off.

That said? Building schools and hospitals is always A-okay in my book, even if my book isn’t the Good one.

Finally, the pastor summed up the day’s message by saying, “Maybe God’s tapping you on the shoulder and telling you to go to Uganda?”

I turned to Joel and whispered, “What if God’s NOT tapping me at all, but I still want to go to Uganda.”

“Check your meds.”

I had to laugh again when the velvet bags went around the room. Is there a Jesus Supply Warehouse or something? Because Sunset Presbyterian obviously shops at the same store as Beaverton Foursquare. At least the offering music was better. This old dude in a sweater vest got up and sang “Jesus Saves” and he sounded EXACTLY like Don Henley. The only thing missing was some bitchin’ 90’s screaming sax in the background. I loved it.


The best part of this church experience was the free pancake breakfast afterward, but definitely not because of the food. We got the chance to sit down and talk church with the parishioners, who were genuinely interested in our project and wanted to tell us about the work that their church does. They have Global Outreach teams and short-term teams. They go to Haiti and they’re already working on a plan to help Japan. They have children’s programs, youth programs and the Helping Hands community pantry helps feed hungry Beavertonians, not to mention the soon-to-be opened Community Garden that will give cityfolk a place to grow their own vegetables while also providing fresh produce for the pantry.

Of course, by the time the second morning service started up at 11:00, word had gotten out about our project and the red flag went up. ATHEISTS ARE AMONG US! CONVERSION ALERT! CONVERSION ALERT!


I’m mostly joking, but I do often feel like a raw chunk of shrimp sitting out at the end of a fishing line the moment I admit that I’m looking for a church to call home. But the truth is I’m not exactly sure a traditional Christian Church will ever be able to reel me in. Maybe the reason I identified so strongly with The Bridge was because I know they’ll take me anyway, even if I steadfastly refuse to be saved. By anyone. Ever. I can almost see myself attending one of Donna’s bible studies, where I’d almost assuredly hem and haw, question everything, and be a major pain in the ass, but where I’m sure I’d be accepted. And likely repeatedly (and lovingly!) informed of what a huge pain in the ass I am. Over beers. In a bar. Because that’s where Donna holds bible study.


I want some UGLY with my church. I think that’s my definition of authenticity. I want to see the flaws. That’s how I know it’s real. Sunset Presbyterian and its shiny happy congregation were simply too pretty for me.

Would I go back to Sunset? No. We just didn’t click. But I’ll tell you this: I am glad this church exists. Their members reek of kindness and generosity and I believe they do good work in the community and in the world. That’s pretty much all you can ask for.

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posted June 19, 2011 at 11:38 pm

I know this is an older post, but I read it and wanted to comment. I am actually pretty fascinated by your blog. I loved your question about why everyone closes their eyes when they pray. I probably close mine about half the time and leave the open the other half. To be perfectly honest with you, usually my reason for closing them is so I can actually focus. My ADD brain would be off on a rabbit trail before I even got a few words out sometimes otherwise!

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posted March 22, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Don’t diss our nametags – I love them! Quicker to make and easier to read than my sloppy printing! :)

Seriously, I love Sunset for all the ways they care for people throughout the community, not just the ones who walk through the door on Sunday. People at Sunset have had their share of broken and ugly in their lives, but it seems to me they’ve found something that makes them feel shiny and happy in spite of it, and I’m glad that’s what you saw!

Many churches can come across as clique-y and judgmental, but most people at Sunset were very supportive of my husband when he was an atheist with a lot of questions. They showed him love and acceptance and demonstrated all that is good about following Christ through the way they lived their lives. Most didn’t work too hard to convince him they were perfect, either – people were generally very open about their own flaws and struggles with sin. I know Sunset didn’t come across as your kind of place, but I hope you’ll try it again someday (the 11 am service is probably more your style) and take the opportunity to sample some of the ministries – I bet you’d find yourself more at home than you think!

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted March 19, 2011 at 11:14 am

I so adore (and admire) your conviction, Jules. You and John (who I had a lengthy text chat with yesterday on this very subject!) are my favorite Catholics on earth.

The funny thing is I HAVE changed my views on abortion. I firmly believe that life begins at conception. I didn’t believe that until I had children of my own, but they were people the moment I knew they existed. So I completely agree with you that abortion is murder. I am still steadfastly pro-choice. And yes, I realize that isn’t a logically sound position, but it’s the one I’m stuck with.

Just now I wondered what Christian Scientists think about abortion, but DUH. If you don’t go to the doctor, you can’t have an abortion. I’m also going into church tomorrow thinking a lot about my surgery and how medical science has impacted my life in a profound way – it’s far more holy to me than any religion. This is gonna be fun!

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posted March 19, 2011 at 10:58 am

God doesn’t control the universe. He made it. Humans have free will and our choices can result in things like pollution, murder, and unwanted pregnancies. Of course, our choices can result in happy things too. If you’re using unwanted pregnancies to talk about the pro-life stance-it’s simple in my mind that a life created is a life (at conception) and that it’s murder to abort it. I don’t want to start an abortion debate here-i’m just trying to explain my view on the question at hand. And Lord knows that I’m only a parent of a lovely child due to the fact the mother DIDN’T abort her. (I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a person changing their view on abortion-so it’s a pointless debate in my mind).

Anyway-the important thing to me is not the catastrophe that happens-it’s how we use our faith to survive the catastrophe. There is a song by christian artist Natalie Grant called “Held” that i believe sums it up perfectly. The song is about the death of a child.

Two months is too little
They let him go
They had no sudden healing
To think that providence
Would take a child from his mother
While she prays, is appalling
Who told us we’d be rescued
What has changed and
Why should we be saved from nightmares
Were asking why this happens to us
Who have died to live, it’s unfair
This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We’d be held

The promise was not that nothing bad would ever happen to us.

“The promise was that when everything fell, we’d be held.”

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted March 19, 2011 at 10:40 am

Jules, I don’t think God causes ANYTHING, much less earthquakes. But many Christians DO think that way. I’m not sure I fully understand why nature can be used an excuse for some tragedies (like earthquakes), but is seen as God’s will in others (like unwanted pregnancies). He’s either controlling the universe or not, right?

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posted March 19, 2011 at 8:46 am

Do you really think God caused the earthquake in Japan? That’s just nature. What I find interesting about this question is that there are religious zealots saying God caused the earthquake to punish the people of Japan. And you’re an atheist and are saying that He caused it. I know things like this are called “an act of God”-but i don’t think it should literally be taken that way.

Even though the church didn’t click with you-they sound like a great group of folks. Maybe they were hitting you hard with the sales pitch because they really need to increase their membership.

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posted March 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I would have RUN outside in the middle of this service. No, I think I would have turned around in the lobby. Church for me next Sunday consists of sitting in hot springs eating Ostara eggs. Ask your ass where it would rather be when you get there. đŸ˜‰

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posted March 17, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Your review reminded me of a first date, speed dating-wise. One gets a first impression and decides whether or not it merits a second, longer date. First impressions say a lot. They also miss a lot. No doubt you know that. Then you run into a friend who actually knows the person that was met on that speed-date. More paint gets added to the picture of who ‘speed date’ is, at least to that friend. If I was that friend and you’d been on the speed date, I’d want you to know a few facts about why I chose this friendship with ‘speed date’ (Sunset). Here’s my peek behind the shiny and pretty:

Sunset is inclusive of the community, as is. Here are some examples of what I have noted in the less shiny places:

I am almost deaf and am a lip-reader. One of the pastors has supplied me with a text version of his sermons, so that I can follow with ease. At the 11:00 service there is also sign language offered. People pray with me with their heads up, so that I can lip read and my eyes are open (not so LOLCAT after all?).

Another way that it is inclusive is the way it supports and includes my adult friends with significant special needs. Sunset provides social as well as spiritual opportunities for these friends. I love being able to know that my friends feel welcomed and included. The congregation seems more ‘whole’ when worshiping together, in one accord, at the 11:00 service.

Another couple of friends are welcomed into our various addiction/rehab support groups, making it clear that polished and shiny is not a prerequisite for attending Sunset.

Another friend, interned by life experience, is building a program to provide support to single moms.

Another friend runs a support and resource group for abused women.

Another friend offers counsel to those battling eating disorders.

Another friend, ripe and raw from the experience of divorce, is building a divorce recovery group.

I have a family member with significant disabling mental health issues. Many in our community do. Rather than whisper and point, shun and push away, many in our community are welcoming and supportive. To see my loved one granted respect, getting transportation, food and friendship from people who attend Sunset means the world to me.

Our family has had towering medical bills and, like many others in these tough economic times, making ends meet has meant making really tough choices. We have received anonymous assistance, in the mail or at our doorstep. A grocery store gift card, a box of fresh veggies and help with bills have bolstered our hope, many times. Individuals or groups of friends have acted out of compassion. All anonymous. What makes our knees buckle with gratitude is the fact that we know that many, if not most, in this same community are at the bottom of their own pockets financially and are still offering us assistance.

The giving shows compassion, inclusiveness and genuine care. It is the inhale and exhale of this community. We’re not left to feel the burden of being on the receiving end, because there are so many opportunities to be supportive and helpful, in return.

Thank you for the opportunity add a little more paint to the picture. It may not be as shiny and glossy now, but I think it is a little more 3D.

By the way, though I can’t hear them myself, I know the Rose City Flute Choir has quite a fan base here. You should see the number of people hovering near the door to their practice area, savoring the wafting notes slipping out around the door jam.

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Shannon Amburn

posted March 17, 2011 at 12:23 pm

You had me at “happy clappy”…

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posted March 16, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Careful now… (Matthew 12:31-32).

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Jay McKenney

posted March 16, 2011 at 3:31 pm

loved reading this. I work here, and I can tell you that your statement, “I want some UGLY with my church. I think that’s my definition of authenticity. I want to see the flaws. That’s how I know it’s real. Sunset Presbyterian and its shiny happy congregation were simply too pretty for me” speaks to me deeply and I know so many others here. We are flawed…broken people. I am flawed, and broken. Hard to get that across effectively in a church that looks like a pipe organ, but worth the effort to try. Thanks for reminding me of that.

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Tyler Braun

posted March 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Seriously loved the “Is there a Jesus Supply Warehouse or something?” line. So perfect.

In all honesty I have a hard time with the “offering” time during a church gathering. I completely understand the importance of still viewing that as a way Christians worship God (through giving financially) but I think there are so many negative reactions and it too often comes across as asking for money to people I’ve talked with. I’d much rather allow people to give in other ways without passing a velvet bag every Sunday.

Wish I could have met you both, somehow our paths didn’t cross on Sunday. You both are gifted writers, keep it up.

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Al Doyle

posted March 16, 2011 at 11:34 am

“I want some UGLY with my church.” — yes…. the missing element that helps make things real!

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