Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Redeemed Life Church, Santa Rosa

parking is more of a challenge at a house churchWe broke a couple of our self-established rules last Sunday in visiting The Redeemed Life Church. We'd planned to go to the church of a different old youth group member, but that wasn't to be this time (you're in our prayers Joan and Kim, Jim, Dave and Isaac). 

the church meets hereOne of the goals of this blog is to experience churches as first time visitors. We'd like to help churches realize what they look like when they visit a church for the first time. And we'd like to encourage people to have the boldness to visit churches themselves.

But we've been to this church a number of times before. Attendees at this church include former youth group (and Anti-Youth Group) members Jordan Johnson and John Grandberg (though work precluded John from being there Sunday).

a warm welcome for a welcome friend
The church meets in the home of Todd and Heather Towner. Todd said not to worry about this being our third or fourth visit instead of the first. He said that most anyone who visits their church is already a friend of a member, so they don't have that same first time visitor awkwardness. I don't completely buy that, but I'll take any help in rationalization I can get.

I don't know if shoes are removed because it's holy ground, or just to preserve the carpetWe also usually prefer to remain observers in a service (yes, we always sing along, but we usually don't want to say anything in the service). But in a home meeting like this, pretty much everyone interacts in some way.

singing timeThe scheduled starting time for church is 10:30 am, but some people arrived late, and there was a good deal of chatting and catching up, so the service proper started about 11:00. One of the church members, Brent Hitman, opened the service with Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around." He played guitar and Jordan played drum box. (I want to make it clear that in spite of the use of this apocalyptic song, the church is not an APOCALYPIC DEATH CULT! I was given permission though, by the Towners, to use phrases like "Apocalyptic Death Cult" since it might increase our page views.)

After the opening songs, there was a time of sharing praise and prayers. Todd and Heather praised God for getting them through a hike the day before that proved much more harrowing, and much longer, than they expected. (Todd referred to the hike frequently in his sermon.) People shared needs for health and housing, and we prayed for those needs.
view from the kitchen table 
song sheet/order of worshipThere was more singing, then Todd asked for a volunteer to read Genesis 33 (the story of Jacob's return to his brother Esau). I could be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure Todd chuckled at the word, "Succoth", which anyone with a bit of junior high spirit would do as well. In the sermon time,  they've been working through the book of Genesis. Todd usually shares, but Jordan and others do on occasion. No one in the church has formal theological training or ordination. (Well, Todd and Jordan have both received online ordinations to officiate at weddings, but that's not exactly Harvard Divinity.)

Todd's message from Scripture for the morning was that, just as this passage includes many rather mundane details of life, we can trust that God will be with us as we work through the mundane details of our lives.
kids' area in the living room
The closing song was "May the Lord" with lyrics printed on the song sheet. This apparently is an ongoing dispute between Brent and Todd. Todd would like to end services with a yretsyM gnoS (Mystery Song) to surprise people at the end of the service. Brent likes the lyrics to be there for people, and he is the one leading the songs. This week, Brent got his way.

treats!People chatted for a while after the service was over.  The women set out to plan a get together for themselves; since it had been quite a while since a shower (wedding or baby) had been necessary. Kids finished playing or working on art projects in the living room, where they hang out during the worship service, with easy access to parents in the other room. (We used that time to ask Jordan a few questions about his church experiences, and then we stuck around and chatted).

We love the people of this church, so it's always a pleasure to get together with them, even if it involves breaking our little rules.
-- Dean


Service Length: 1 hour 5 minutes
Sermon Length: 19 minutes
Visitor Treatment: no particular recognition of visitors
Our Exact Count: 19, including children and latecomers
Probable Ushers' Count: no ushers, no count
Snacks: one family brought warm banana oatmeal chocolate chip muffins, coffee (etc) was available in the kitchen
Songs: The Man Comes Around, Empty Me, Hungry, I'll Fly Away, 'Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus, Psalm 121, May the Lord
Miles to place: 4 miles

Total California Miles: 6,070

Monday, March 30, 2015

Visits with old Youth Group Students -- John and Jordan (the Anti-Youth Group)

twenty-year old JordanFor a short time, I was doing interim youth ministry in the church John Grandberg and my nephew, Jordan Johnson, attended. But that isn’t the primary reason they are included in this month of visiting old youth group students, because more importantly, we formed the “Anti-Youth Group."

Jordan and his son
I met with Jordan after church last Sunday and asked him a question I’ve asked for the last four weeks interviewing former youth group students from three different churches, “What was good about church growing up?”
 Jordan said, “Learning Bible stories in church and Sunday School. I didn’t understand them then, but they gave me background for when I did come to know God.”
Jordan's wife, Allyson, and their daughter   
What he didn’t say was what got my immediate attention. For the last four weeks when I’ve asked this question, I’ve gotten roughly the same answer: “Church was a second family. There were older people who were second parents, second grandparents, that cared for me.”  Not what Jordan said.

In fact, when I asked what the bad parts of church were growing up, he said, “Everything else.” He never felt accepted by people in the church, except by his own family and only two people he came to know through the church, Todd Towner and John. He felt the church was a country club atmosphere with expectations he never met. In recent years he attended a memorial service for someone from the church, and when he entered the building, the same sense of awkwardness and exclusion returned.
Jordan was, in fact, kicked out of the youth group. A precipitating event that led to his ouster was a skit in which a youth group kid was supposed to get a pie in the face. Instead, Jordan threw the pie in a leader’s face. The leader was not at all pleased. By the way, this offends my code for youth ministry, but more importantly, in this case, my understanding of comedy. Someone in authority getting a pie in the face is funny; someone in authority embarrassing someone under authority is not funny (except in a National Socialist State, of course, where bullying is the source of great hilarity).
john and phalloeun circa 2000   
John, also, was also asked to leave the youth group. A leader came to John’s home to let John’s parents know that since John wasn’t working with the program he wasn't welcome. Both John and Jordan feel there was a strong sense that the program and playing the games (literally games -- Steal the Bacon, we’re talking here) were more important than people.

John with two of his kidsJohn also had few good things to remember about church growing up. He appreciated the chance to hang out with Jordan (and Jordan’s brother, Jared).  There were a few adults he remembered caring for him (shout-out to you, Leembo!), but not many.

I was no longer working at the church when Jordan and John were kicked out (though I was still attending), and we decided to form the “Anti-Youth Group”. We agreed to meet regularly, usually to shoot pool and eat snacks, but also take a bit of time to look at something in the Bible. We often looked at gross passages -- most anything that featured violence and/or sex. Amazingly, they both look back on that as a time they were challenged to think about God and His Word in a positive way.

John's wife Phalloeun with two of their kidsOne of the most important things about attending their former church for both John and Jordan is that it is where they met the person organizing their current home church, Todd Towner. For both of them, Todd showed love in a sacrificial way that drew them to God.

John and family with DeanToddJordan said the relationships in his current church gave him the confidence to be the husband, father, student and worker that he is today. John can’t always attend Sunday morning worship due to his work schedule, but he said that the relationships in his church aren’t about just Sunday morning, but the whole week long.

Though church wasn’t a “good thing” for either of them growing up (and Jordan expressed a concern that many people share those negative church experiences), both now appreciate how God cares for them through their church. Jordan said he couldn’t live the Christian life as a “Lone Ranger.”

Thinking about John's and Jordan’s experiences made me think two things, one bad and one good. There are many churches that don’t show God’s love to a lot of people. On the other hand, many times, one person showing God’s love can be enough. Can that one person be you?
-- Dean

Thursday, March 26, 2015

2014 Christian Movie Churches -- Left Behind

Last month we looked at churches in movies that were nominated for or won an Oscar for Best Picture. This film was also up for awards last month, for actor and screenplay and overall production -- but not for the Oscars. This film had multiple nominations for the Razzies, which are given for the worst achievements in filmmaking.

I can't tell you how faithful this book is to the first book in Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' bestselling series of novels, because I only made it a few pages into the reading. The book struck me as rather hackneyed, starting with the character names of airline pilot Ray Steele (Nick Cage) and news reporter Cam "Buck" Williams (Chad Michael Murray, who "Gilmore Girls" and "Agent Carter" fans may recognize as Special Agent Tristan). But from what I can tell, though the names haven't changed, the plot has been in the transition from book to film.

The film is in many ways a remake of the widely reviled disaster film "Airport 1975" (which was released, incidentally, in 1975). Both films are about a commercial jet liner that collides with a small commercial plane and the bulk of the film deals with the attempt to safely land the jet. The slight difference in the plots of the two films is that in the first film, the collision is caused by the small plane's pilot having a heart attack, wherein this film has the small plane's pilot vanish in the Rapture, God's homecoming for millions of His people.

The action, writing and acting hit great heights of cheesiness. In one scene, Steele's daughter, Chloe, returns home from college and is greeted by her little brother, Raymie. The brother asks, "Did you buy me a present at the airport?" Because, being the son of an airline pilot, the kid knows all the best shopping deals are found at airports. She lets the kid look in her bag and he exclaims, "A new baseball mitt? That's just what I've been asking for!" I don't know which is odder: that the kid is surprised to get what he's been asking for or that Cloe managed to find a baseball mitt at an airport.

The special effects are CGI of a "Sharknado" level of excellence. We get end of the world vanishings, car crashes and fires. And there is no more special effect in films these days than Nick Cage going all manic. The whole thing is really horrible but vastly entertaining.

Fortunately, these reviews aren't about the quality of the film, which is, you may have discerned, awful, but about churches in the film. It's not even about the theology of the film; which is, if you are concerned about such things, written from a dispensational, premillennial, pre-tribulation perspective. Now I'm not at all sure that this is how God is going to do things, but I'm pretty sure the End Times won't have a Sci-Fi channel vibe to it.

No, I'm not here to review the quality of the film or its theology, but just the church in the film. After the rapture and while Ray and Buck are trying to trying to land that plane (which also has gun toting, crazy mother Jordin Sparks on board), Chloe goes to her mother Irene's church.
Chloe's mom's to decision to become Christian had caused conflict with her husband, Ray. (Pre-rapture, Raymie told Chloe their dad said, "Pastor Barnes was washing mom's brain." What Ray probably really said was "Pastor Barnes brainwashed your mom". But the kid misstates the phrase for comic effect. The film is full of humor like that.)

Anyway, as I was writing, after the rapture, Chloe goes to her mom's church. It's empty, except for Pastor Barnes. Cloe asks how he could still be there since all the Christians were supposed taken in the rapture. Pastor Barnes says that though he preached about faith in Jesus and the rapture, he'd never believed it.

Which poses an interesting question: Is a church doing worthwhile work if it preaches the Word truly, but the Pastor doesn't believe it? After all, at least Irene came to faith and was raptured. Raymie was raptured as well, but it's never clear whether he came to faith or this rapture had a relatively high criteria for the age of accountability.

Overall, though, I wouldn't want to go to a church where the pastor doesn't believe what he's saying. Now as for this church in a post rapture state, it might be nice to visit for the quiet.

-- Dean 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Visits with Old Youth Group Students -- Kevin and Sarah

Sarah and Kevin at San Lorenzo Valley High SchoolKevin Lockwood qualifies as one of my former youth group students, but barely. He was in his senior year of high school when I came to Felton Evangelical Free Church; during most of Kevin's junior and senior high years the most excellent Dave Wolter was the youth pastor. But I enjoyed spending a lot of time with Kevin and his then girlfriend, Sarah Hoff, as they served as volunteers in the church youth ministry. They were mature for their age and were faithful in their service. (Plus, for the first two months we lived in the area, we lived in an apartment in the basement of Kevin's parents' house.)
Sarah with Felton EVC youth 

Mindy and I have seen Kevin and Sarah (now Sarah Lockwood) on occasion through the years, but we were happy to have a stretch of time with them this last Sunday, going to their church and then going to their house for lunch.
Kevin at Hume Lake camp

Kevin grew up in Felton Evangelical Free Church (now Felton Bible Church) and Sarah grew up going to San Lorenzo Valley Baptist Church until the middle of high school. I asked both of them to tell me what they appreciated about church growing up. Both of them shared the same word, "family." Kevin said his family always made a priority of church. He grew up thinking of the people of the church as his family, as did Sarah in her church. Kevin mentioned men like Larry Barnes as examples of leadership in his life.

Kevin with Daniel, Katie, Michael and Eli outside the church nurseryKevin and Sarah have gone to a variety of churches together through their married life, and when they came to live in the mountains near Yosemite they looked for church home for themselves and their (now) five children.

Lockwood kids at homeThe first church they attended in the area was associated with a preschool that interested them, but they began to have questions about the church's theology (a little too much love for Benny Hinn and not nearly enough scripture). Then not once, but more than twice, the church's nursery lost track of their kids. And so they left the church, though they are still part of the preschool.

The treatment of children is very important to the Lockwoods. Their children are not only adopted but several of them have special needs. I asked them share their experience of what churches have done right and done wrong in dealing with special needs children.

Hannah, who's four A good thing about kids with obvious special needs is that people often look for ways they can help. Their initial response is to be kind. But often, mistakes are made.

Once they brought their three year old to a church, and they were advised to leave their non-walking child in the nursery for "crawlers" i.e. the babies that couldn't walk. But their child wasn't intellectually or emotionally right for that age group.

Michael, who's six, pointing out where he was bornAt times it's been appropriate to keep their children with them in the worship service. Sometimes people in churches seem much more concerned about the noise little children make than the children themselves.

Sarah has a friend with an autistic child. This woman's husband, a firefighter, often works Sundays. When the friend brought her child to the appropriate age group Sunday School class, she was told she'd need to stay with her child. In effect, she was told she couldn't worship there.

Daniel, who's three
Kevin and Sarah have greatly appreciated the ministry of Joni and Friends, which ministers to special needs kids and their families. Arriving at an event staged by the organization, the Lockwoods didn't have to ask for help. The staffers immediately called over trained college students to care for kids by means of a buddy system. They're fans of the buddy system; it's a practical way many churches could meet the special needs of children, parents and families just by providing one caring person per child, allowing children to be in groups with others of their own age without overburdening the teacher.

Many churches aren't ready to help parents with their kids, even those without special needs. There are churches with older people who will say they've "done their time" with kids, and it's time for the younger people (which usually means parents of small children) to step up. But parents need an opportunity to concentrate on the Lord apart from their kids. This can be an even greater need for parents with special needs kids.
Kevin and Sarah Lockwood and their children

Parents with special needs kids have doctor's appointments and therapy, along with work and school and everything else that consumes a family's time through the week. A wonderful way a church can help is to provide a buddy for their kids, so the parents and the children can seek the Lord.
-- Dean


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Oakhurst Evangelical Free Church

Oakhurst Evangelical Free Church sign In general, worship at Evangelical Free Churches is rather sedate. Amidst the congregation at the 10:00 am worship service at the Free Church in Oakhurst there were some who worshiped with hands raised, including the senior pastor who raised a single hand. But in the back of the sanctuary, one man danced with abandon. And when each song ended he clapped loudly when others seemed to feel worshipful quiet was the appropriate response.
Spring at Oakhurst Evangelical Free Church
quiet preparation for worship

We came to visit this particular church because it's the current church home of Kevin Lockwood, a former youth group student (his wife, Sarah, had graduated from high school before we met her). After the service I asked Kevin about the man in the back of the sanctuary. Apparently, three years ago he was a recipient of the church's outreach to the homeless. At that time he was without work as well. Now not only is the man working but he's buying a home and has regained part time custody of his son. Speaks well of the church's ministry of outreach.

I recognized the pastor during worship because he had introduced himself beforehand. I guess he was curious about strangers taking pictures of the outside and inside of his church. Pastor Bob has been at the church 23 years. When he came to the church, he was a truck driver. He'd pastored before, but it had been a bad experience and he had left ministry for a time. He came to worship at Oakhurst and was eventually asked to serve as senior pastor.

worship team practice before service begins
audio visual control board and flags The worship service opened with the hymn, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," a reminder that Easter was just a couple of weeks away. The youth pastor led the worship in a mixture of traditional hymns and contemporary choruses (what's called "blended" in the ecclesiological literature). Along with the two guitars and piano to accompany the singing there was a beat box and a hand drum (bigger than a bongo). I enjoyed the worship and was especially happy with the concluding chorus of "Shout to the Lord", a song that often leads me to sing louder than I probably should.
well used church library
During the greeting time, we met the couple sitting in front of us, who had led the youth ministry of the church a couple of decades ago -- before the church hired their first full time youth minister (there have been three or four since then). Sometimes on these onetime church visits, I meet people I'd like to get to know, but I know I won't. Guess that's one of the many things heaven is for.
not all kids are able to walk alone

Kevin and Sarah's kids joined a good group of children who sang along and motioned to musical accompaniment. The great thing about children's performances in church is no one is worried about getting it just right. In fact, the things that go a little wrong just make it better. After they sang, the kids left for their worship time.
please find your seat
A little later, the overhead had a message to dismiss the kids to children's church. (The overhead also let us know when it was time to be seated after the greeting time. We didn't get a picture of the slide with helpful arrows pointing down in case we weren't sure where our chairs were.)

mural in the infant nurseryThe sermon was Part 8 in a series, "God's Design for Relationships," and the scripture used was Ephesians 5: 23 - 33. The topic was marriage. Over the last couple of decades, when the sermon topic is marriage, I've come to expect a disclaimer addressed to single people in the congregation, assuring them that since marriage was an image of Christ and His church, they would benefit from the sermon as well. But there was no such disclaimer. Later in the sermon there was an address to singles, advising them what to look for in a spouse. But the call for some to singlehood that Jesus taught in Matthew 19 and Paul in I Corinthians 7 wasn't mentioned. Perhaps it was in other weeks of the series.

mural in the toddler nurseryPastor Bob encouraged the encouraged the congregation to catch up on the rest of the series from CDs that were available or from streaming on the church website. He said this showed the internet was good for something. Good to know.

The theme of the sermon was how the husband was to serve his wife and by providing her he would find satisfaction in life. (He referred both to the saying, "Happy wife, happy life" and "If momma ain't happy, nobody's happy".)  He said the "buck stops" at the husband who is the coach, the CEO of the family.

Sunday school hallway with photos of kidsFrom the sermon notes: "The man who's willing to trust Christ to create that kind of atmosphere and that kind of love in his home will be the satisfying lover of his wife and children." But the pastor pointed out said that marriage and the family were currently under attack from the world ("every day a liberal judge issues a ruling against marriage"). Again from the notes: "Matthew 16:18, 'the gates of hell will not overpower' that home" and "God's promise still remains for the wife who's willing to be subject to her own husband, and for the husband who loves his wife as Christ loves the church!"

visitor card
He said that, sadly, many marriages that don't follow these teachings "start as ideal, become an ordeal and then people look for a new deal." He said instead we should "Do it once, and do it right!" I wondered how those words would sound to the widowed or especially to those who were divorced.

coffee or tea?At the conclusion of the service we heard the happy voices of older children outside the sanctuary door. We went downstairs to the nursery and children's department to pick up Kevin and Sarah's younger kids. They DID NOT want to leave, which as it should be for kids in church.


Service Length: 1 hour 32 minutes
Sermon Length: 46 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were recognized as visitors in the lobby; there was a greeting time during worship, and visitors were encouraged to get a welcome folder from ushers. The packets contained a tract, information about the church, a pen and a visitor card to fill out and drop in the offering later in the service

Our Rough Count: 165
Probable Ushers' Count: 190
Snacks: Coffee and tea right inside the front door of the building

Songs: Christ the Lord is Risen Today,
            Lead me to the Cross
            There is a Fountain
         You are my King
         Shout to the Lord
Miles to place:  259 miles
Total California Miles: 6,060 miles

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service -- In theaters now!

For quite a few years now, Hollywood has had a villain shortage. I’m not saying there aren’t bad guys in movies anymore. But the screenwriter's challenge has been to find villainous groups.
Back in the day, Westerns had Indians (no, they were never called Native Americans then) as the bad guys. So there could be action sequences where dozens of Indians were shot off their horses by our heroes, the Cowboys, with reasonable assurance the audiences would cheer their deaths. But now that we think of them as Native Americans (and, you know, people), cheering their deaths just doesn’t seem like the American thing to do.

The Nazis made great villains, from a little before World War II to well beyond. When the Dirty Dozen (made in 1967) attacked a ballroom full of Nazis, no one was too concerned that some of them were pretty women in gowns. As Indiana Jones said, “Nazis, I hate those guys.” But Nazis now are a little pathetic; sure they’re villains in The Blues Brothers, but comic, mockable villains.
Communists provided fine villains throughout the Cold War, but that’s been done for decades now. Terrorists would be the go-to villains, but since the terrorists we’re concerned with are Islamic terrorists, that causes a problem. Hollywood has a concern about not portraying all Muslims as bomb-happy; a reasonable concern.
 So what does a screenwriter do when they want to have a set-piece with a lot of human carnage that won’t upset audiences unduly? The makers of the spy film, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” found their solution in the church.
To talk about the movie church in this film, we need to give away major plot points. This shouldn’t greatly disturb some of our readers because “Kingsman” is hardly a film that will be used on a church’s family movie night. There is extreme violence and gore in the film, but some of it is animated and stylized to show it’s all in good fun. There is a crude gag used at the end of the film that might lead James Bond himself use the word "misogynist."
But as always, we aren’t here to review the film, but the church and clergy in the film.
As I said, the filmmakers had a problem. The arch villain in the film, Valentine, has developed technology to make people viciously attack and kill each other. He must find a group of people to test the tech on. Since he sees himself as a sweetheart (played by Sam L. Jackson) he’s not going to test it in a kindergarten class.
So we are introduced to the South Glade Mission Church. This fictional church is obviously based on the sadly real Westboro Baptist Church, which gained fame by protesting at military funerals with the twisted rationale that the government supported homosexuality.
In the film, South Glade Mission Church is preaching against Jews (the preacher uses this word), workers in the sex industry (he uses a different word), Catholics (he uses this word), gays, and African Americans (alternate words for the latter two). The super spy, Galahad, played by Colin Firth attends this service as part of his investigation.
During the service, Valentine activates his device and everyone in the congregation attacks one another. Apparently, knives and even guns are brought to this church only a little less commonly than Bibles. Bloody chaos ensues, but since Galahad has more experience at hand-to-hand combat than the average usher, he eventually stands alone over a sanctuary full of corpses.
It seems that filmmakers are saying, in this world full of division, isn’t this a group we can all hate together? In the past, there have certainly been individual clerical villains (Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter comes to mind), but now apparently whole congregations can be the bad guys.
If this hateful congregation, far from the teachings of Jesus, is the image anyone has of the church of Christ, then it seems Christians have some P.R. to do.
(Bonus clergy bit in the film. One can see a tabloid with the headline, “Naughty Nun Touched My Bum.” And theological bonus, Valentine argues that he isn’t a villain for wanting to cull the world’s population any more than Noah or God in the story of the Flood.)
-- Dean

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Livingwater -- Berkeley

inside sanctuary as worship team preparesI have no doubt that Mindy and I were the oldest people in the sanctuary. There have been Sunday worship services in the last year when we've been among the youngest in the building, and when that was the case we always felt like it was a little sad. Our guess of the average age at the service we attended this past Sunday would be about 21.  Being the oldest people at Livingwater in Berkeley was kind of cool.

sound board and organLivingwater meets in the afternoons at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Berkeley. According to the website the 3:30 pm service is the college service, which amused me a little when I entered the 1:30 pm service and noticed that most everyone looked like they were of college age. It might not be worth noting that we were among the few Caucasians in a congregation made up primarily of Asians, but I'm noting it anyway.

worship team getting readyStudying the website a little more later I found that they encourage freshman students to attend the later service, and that the earlier afternoon service is primarily attended by upper class students and recent graduates. (There is also a morning worship service in Alameda that seems to have more age diversity, considering the fact that service includes a children's ministry.)

worship team praying together before serviceWe were attending the service with Shaina and Stefan, currently students at U.C. Berkeley and formerly a regular part of Healdsburg Community Church. Our visiting theme this month is going to church with former youth from my former churches. Livingwater is where Stefan has been attending for the last four months. Shaina started at Berkeley in January and hasn't yet found a church, so this was a first visit for her, too.

The screen in the front of the sanctuary encouraged people to pray from 1:20 - 1:30 pm in preparation for the service, but most people seemed to be chatting amiably. Stefan warned us the church wouldn't start on time because they ran on Berkeley time. He told us all the classes at Berkeley started about ten minutes later than the scheduled time, allowing everyone to be there. Shaina concurred. But the service was only seven minutes late in starting, not ten.
it wasn't particularly silent prayer in preparation

The service opened with choruses -- not surprisingly all the music was choruses -- with a competent worship team with guys playing the instruments and a couple of young women singing. At one point during worship, the leader asked the congregation to raise their hands in praise, and about half of the congregation did.

One of the staff pastors gave the announcements, reading the three announcements off his phone. He introduced a mission team that will be going Cambodia and Thailand. Wearing matching shirts, they performed a dance to "Open the Eyes of My Heart" (whether in Khmer or Siamese, I have no idea). As a prayer was offered for the team, who will be leaving on Saturday, and the congregation was asked to reach their hands toward them in blessing. The offering was taken immediately after, with ushers giving plain white envelopes for those who wanted to contribute to the mission team along with or instead of to the general fund.

view of the lobby and table of info The executive pastor of the Berkeley congregation gave the sermon (from the website I noticed five people on the staff, including a director of children's ministry in Alameda). The text of the sermon was I John 3: 10 - 16, in a series titled "God is Love." The pastor focused on the inconsistency of hate with the Christian life. He recalled working with an angry chef in a restaurant during his college years. The chef seemed to hate him for reasons beyond his comprehending. And he had to deal with feelings of hate for that man. He encouraged forgiveness and imitation of Christ's example of sacrifice. At the sermon's end, he encouraged people who had a hard time forgiving to come forward to pray, and a few people did.

entranceMindy and I spent time on the U. C. Berkeley campus prior to meeting with Shaina and Stefan. We saw a number of signs for Christian fellowships, but one hears of a great deal of hostility toward the doctrine and values of the Christian faith in classes and in the environment of schools in the U.C. system. It was good to be with a couple of Berkeley students we knew (and a lot of students we didn't know) honoring Christ. It's almost enough to make old people like us invite kids onto our lawn.

Service Length: 1 hour 29 minutes        
Sermon Length: 41 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Greeting time early in the service, visitors encouraged to fill out cards available from designated people near the doors of the sanctuary
Our Rough Count: 150
Probable Ushers' Count: 175
Snacks: none that we saw
Songs: Your Love Never Fails, His Glory Appears, Christ is Enough, At the Cross
Miles to place: 63
Total California Miles: 5,542
-- Dean