Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hope Chapel Santa Rosa

  Mindy and I started visiting churches a year ago August, but only starting blogging about them a few weeks ago. One bum thing about that is not writing about some churches we really enjoyed when we visited them before we started blogging, churches that really impressed us. On the flip side, there are churches that had borderline heresy or off key worship teams and it's just as well to not have to mention them by name.

Three of the congregations we most enjoyed worshiping with were Foursquare Gospel Churches. It would have been fun to write about the Sanctuary in Windsor or the Lighthouse in Santa Rosa or Hope Chapel in Healdsburg (pastored by our friend, Mark Williams). But we get to do the next best thing, write about Hope Chapel in Santa Rosa. Not only does it share a name with the Healdsburg church, it's the mother church of the Sanctuary and the Lighthouse.

I don't mean to be snide about this, but a sure sign of God's grace and provision is the good health of the Foursquare Church, considering its almost soap-operaish origins. The denomination was founded by Aimee Semple McPherson, arguably the most popular evangelist of the 1920's. She was also at the heart of a number of scandals, including a disputed kidnapping and multiple marriages. (Henry VIII and the start of the Anglican Church gives McPherson a run for the money, but...) Today, though, it's a healthy denomination with 8 million members in 60,000 churches in 144 countries -- including Fiji.

Hope Chapel, Santa Rosa meets in what looks a bit like a barn in a beautiful east county setting. The interior is small but comfy. Through an internet mishap (I could swear I read 9:30 am, but no, everything online actually says 9:00 am) we arrived late. I thought they had started the service five minutes early, which would have been quite a first for a church. I thought we walked in during the opening prayer, but it was a mid-service pastoral prayer. We were surprised that there were announcements and then a sermon, without music. A look at the bulletin revealed our mistake.

So after the sermon and closing song, we waited for the second service. It's kind of like when you miss the first part of a movie and you wait for the feature to start again so you can see what you missed. Being there for two services was a good reminder for us of how haphazard a one service critique can be. I believe the order of service was the same for both services, but since there were about fifty people in the first service and more than twice as many people in the second service, they felt very different.

With fewer people a service often feels more intimate, sometimes more contemplative. With more people a service often feels more energetic and exciting. And the number of people is the only change. There are so many variables that can change Sunday to Sunday, so our finger to the calendar means our experience isn't exactly authoritative. Doesn’t mean it’s not interesting, though.

The worship team was solid with a good use of harmony. At least one of the songs was, I believe, written by the worship leaders. We sang only one Christmas carol (“Angels We Have Heard on High”). We also sang the Lincoln Brewster baptized, Christianized version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (which give one an idea of what people must have felt like when they heard a Lutheran hymn with a tune they recognized from the tavern).
The sermon focused on how we should live as we await the Pre-tribulation Rapture. There were many Scripture references (with which the overhead outline had a hard time keeping up with, but most were listed in the sermon notes in the bulletin). The sermon concluded with prayer that included an invitation to salvation.

I very much enjoyed the announcements: one introducing new leadership, with an emphasis on the qualifications in I Timothy 3, followed by voting for ratification of the nominated leaders. Another announcement included a video of the pastor's recent trip to Fiji for a church conference.
For those keeping track at home, the Foursquare Gospel churches in Sonoma County receive an impressive 4 for 4 in our visits for encouraging worship experiences.

Service Length:            1 hour 15 minutes
Sermon Length:            25 minutes
Visitor Treatment:        Chocolate bars with church information and visitor card (we felt very welcomed), general greeting to visitors during service, greeted by pastor between services
Our Rough Count:        First service -- 50 people
                                      Second service -- 110 people (definitely skewed younger, with more kids in children's program)
Probable Ushers' Count: First service -- 65 people
                                        Second service -- 85 people (same worship team, ushers, greeters)
Snacks:                            Coffee and tea outside before, after and between services
Songs:                              Spirit Baptize Me
                                         Angels We Have Heard on High
                                         After All (Holy)
                                         We Believe
                                         Another Hallelujah