Old school

First United Methodist Church

Pastor John Auer touches a vase of flowers on the altar to celebrate the birth of a new member of the First United Methodist Church.

Pastor John Auer touches a vase of flowers on the altar to celebrate the birth of a new member of the First United Methodist Church.

Photo By David Robert

First United Methodist Church, 209 West First St., 322-4564. Sunday services are at 8 a.m., 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. with a Tongan-language service at 2 p.m. A variety of other programs go on throughout the week. The weekly bulletin offers a lot of information about the church and its history. Check out www.renofirstmethodist.org

I’ve contemplated this church from across the street for almost as long as I can remember. If nothing else, I’ve always thought the gothic-looking church’s courtyard would be a great setting for a rock video.

Well, there wasn’t any rock music going Sunday at 10 a.m. when my son, Hunter, and I attended the service, but there was a kicking choir singing traditional-style hymns.

The church itself is old school. It should be—the first meeting of this congregation happened in 1868. Back in the day, they didn’t have need for the huge edifices that have cropped up in the past decade or so. There’s an unostentatious vestibule in the front leading to the main sanctuary. Meeting rooms and restrooms are off to the left of the sanctuary. The sizeable basement is used for gatherings and Sunday school.

The sanctuary is stunning. I’d say it’s traditional, but that’s not exactly right. It exists in the moment it was constructed. There’s seating for about 400 in the main area and a balcony above and behind. The ceiling is arched with a decorative wood pattern and plain chandeliers. The walls are eggshell white. The pews are straight-backed and wooden, with blue cushions that complement the blue carpet. The stained-glass windows beside the sanctuary and behind the pulpit are impressive works of art.

The pulpit itself is also elegant yet remarkable. Front and center is the altar, with a lectern to either side. During the service I attended, candles and three floral arrangements flanked a golden crucifix on either side. The large choir to the rear wore red vestments with white and yellow collars. A bas-relief archway, the Hosanna Arch, is embossed with human faces and tree branches above and around the stained-glass windows. The organ and its pipes added a certain texture to the scene.

The service was steeped in tradition. The organ music and choir were beautiful and, again, traditional. This particular week, the congregation was mourning the loss of two of its members, Millie Keiper and Sharon Stephenson, who’d both recently passed. The two were incorporated into Pastor John Auer’s sermon, which was titled, “Consecration/Celebration & Trinity Sunday: ‘We love this place … and the people who enrich our lives.'” Rev. Auer is a passionate speaker who develops a cadence with his voice, rising and falling with inflection. His thoughtful sermon had that time-honored style in which the dad speaks to his family. I could tell that he, personally, was going to miss the ladies who had died. He told personal anecdotes about both of them, which attested to the women’s place in the congregation and the pastor’s concern for his flock. The sermon also touched on the mystery of the trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s a tough concept, but Rev. Auer managed a moment of levity when he paraphrased Buzz Lightyear from the movie Toy Story: “To the Trinity and beyond.”

While I’ve been to some pulse-pounding services of late, this one had a quiet, emotional appeal. At one point in the service, when children were brought to the pulpit and had the story of the loving rose that sacrificed its beauty for a baby dove read to them, the woman reading the story and many of the congregants had tears rolling down their faces.

The people were formally friendly. An usher went out of his way to inform me that anyone can participate in the communion at a Methodist church, and several people invited me downstairs to the fellowship center after the service. I saw a variety of ethnicities and ages in the pews. I think it would be pretty hard not to feel welcomed by this small, progressive and gracious congregation.

Want to introduce Brian to your place of worship? Call 324-4440 ext. 3525.