Tuesday, February 24, 2015

San Francisco Evangelical Free Church

"This is a New Year's Song," Maggie whispered to us. Maggie had volunteered to be our Cantonese translator just before the second service at San Francisco Evangelical Free Church. Without her telling us that, we wouldn't have known that particular song was a New Year's song, but there were plenty of other indicators of the holiday.

For instance, the only English words on the screen were "Happy New Year". A woman on the worship team and many women in the congregation wore colorful quilted jackets. During the greeting time, Maggie told us people were instructed to wish each other "Happy New Year" and many people greeting us with those words in English (maybe they thought we only understood Mandarin?). We met one woman with a Richie Rich sweater which she said she was wearing for New Year's and because she was teaching the fourth through sixth grade Sunday School class.

It was our second worship service in the church for the morning. We attended the 9:00 am English language service and stayed for the 10:15 am traditional Chinese service. After the first service I asked one of the pastors, Chris (who preached for the English service), whether she would be preaching at the next service, and she laughed. Apparently fluent Cantonese is not in her skill set.

Also before the second service, I talked to a gentleman who was leaving an adult Sunday School class on Christian Ethics. He told me he wouldn't be attending the second service but would be attending the third. I was interested to learn that the three services at SFEFC mirrored the three services at the Korean church we attended in Buena Park. There was an English language service along with "traditional" and "contemporary" services in the native tongue.

In the "traditional" service there were a fair number of elderly people, but the worship team looked more typical in an American "contemporary" service; a keyboard player, a guitarist, and three singers. The first song sounded much like an American worship chorus. We asked Maggie what it was about, she said, "It says 'Praise His name.' I don't really know these new songs." (She also told us that the English language Sunday school class would be singing during the contemporary Cantonese service the next week, in Cantonese, a more traditional Chinese song so folks at that service would know what traditional songs sounded like.)

The next song and most of the rest had a much more Chinese sounding melody. One of them was a traditional melody, Maggie said, with Christian lyrics. Several of the songs had men's and women's parts, and so we came to recognize the Chinese characters for "men" and "women" in parentheses on the screen, along with the character for "all" (which looked like a house).

There were printed sermon notes, which Maggie translated for us. The title of the sermon was "The Power of the Holy Spirit" with the text of Acts 4:36 - 5:16. The pastor opened the sermon with an illustration about getting a flu shot (he made shot getting motions and used the English word "mutations"). This was an illustration that obviously suited the older congregation, and he used it to argue that just as we begin the New Year tending to our physical health we must also tend to our spiritual health. As in the Korean church, there were a few times when the congregation responded in unison to something the pastor said, and the pastors both used humor and dramatic action to get their points across.

During the offering I recognized the instrumental music, "Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God," and I recognized the final tune the congregation sang together, the Doxology in Cantonese.

After the service I had an opportunity to talk with Rev. Wing So, the pastor during the founding of the church back in 1987. (The church is beginning a senior pastor search and would be forming a search committee to that end after the annual meeting in the afternoon.) Pastor So is mostly retired, but has been helping. On this Sunday he was preaching in the third service, the "contemporary" service that we unfortunately didn't have time to attend. He said that the church at one time had six hundred members but had birthed three daughter churches.

SFEFC describes itself as a community church and they do seem to be making an effort to minister to the community. With their stated priorities of "continuous prayer, caring, study, and being thankful" I'm sure their community will continue to benefit from their presence.

Service Length: 1 hour
Sermon Length: 30 minutes
Visitor Treatment: we were greeted warmly before, after and during the worship service, and during the service first-time visitors were invited to introduce themselves. Maggie introduced us in Cantonese during the Chinese service and in English during the first service.
Our Rough Count: 87
Probable Ushers' Count: 100
Snacks: the "ten minute party" happened after each service, with tea and snacks
Songs: a chorus, a traditional tune with Christian lyrics, a traditional Chinese New Year song, and the Doxology
Miles to place: 62
Total California Miles: 4685