Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Epic Church, San Francisco

Mindy and I had decided that this month of April we'd visit urban churches -- but deciding that didn't narrow down very precisely where we would be worshiping Easter Sunday. Since we wanted to spend time with our Santa Rosa family, San Francisco was the closest big city option, but some winnowing still needed to take place to find our direction. So the internet search began. And seeing the name, Epic, we knew we needed an Epic Easter. 

Singular nouns seems like a trend in church naming. This year we've been to Livingwater, the Bridge, Shelter and the Rock, and prior to this year we visited places named the Lighthouse, the Refuge and the Vineyard. Names like the Second Federated Pentecostal Evangelical Congregation of the City just don't speak to people these days. So understand: I consider it a very positive thing to say we attended Epic because good marketing practices went into naming the place.

Epic doesn't look much like a church from the outside. When we arrived we had to wait a few moments at the entrance,  as people were streaming up the stairs and out the door from the previous service. We went in and headed downstairs, because Epic meets in a subterranean space beneath the CVS on Market Street in San Francisco. It has a bit of a catacombs feel to it, but it's not gloomy.

I went to the information booth and talked to a friendly man named Howard. He said he'd been going to the church for a year and that the church was only five years old (it's actually four years old). I learned that the church had only moved to their current location in October (and later, during the service, the pastor mentioned they have a ten year lease). Howard said the church is about half married people and half singles.

I also went back to look at the Sunday School rooms; they have a nursery and classes for kids through middle school. I talked to Kim, who teaches Sunday School and also works with social media in the church. I told her about our project of visiting churches and she said it was a goal of the church to be genuine and open.

Entering the meeting room, Mindy noticed that there weren't Easter decorations, flowers or banners. The screens gave the countdown to the service time while instrumental music played on the sound system. A number of the back rows were roped off so that people wouldn't cluster in the middle and back of the room (but the ropes were later removed, and every row was pretty much filled by mid-service).

Mindy and I were unfamiliar with most of the choruses, but after a rocky start with the first, we were able to sing along. There was a greeting time with "Happy Easter"s all around. The announcements were simple, pointing to the three items on the back of the bulletin (Newcomers' Reception, Epic Groups Starting and Baptism).
 
Pastor Ben came forward to read the morning's Scripture passage, but, after announcing the text, said he wouldn't begin until everyone who wanted to was able to follow along. He encouraged people to look at Bibles they brought or use their apps they had on their phones. He said if anyone didn't have a Bible, just raise your hand and an usher would bring you a Bible you could take home. I thought that was a cool thing. The screens showed the Bible passage along with page number of the passage for the Bibles handed out.

The sermon was a fairly straight forward presentation of the story of the Resurrection and the trustworthy nature of the message based on the disciples' transition from fear to faith. The pastor said the change in the disciples from cowering when they believed their master was dead to preaching His Gospel in the capital of the city would be the equivalent of a non-believer sitting in church that morning becoming the pastor there two months later. (Ben did say he wasn't about to give up his job because he needed to put food on the table and had no other marketable skills.)

Ben invited people to consider acting on the message of the Resurrection and to accept that day Jesus as their Lord and Savior. He invited people to discuss becoming a Christian with one of the people in the Connection Center (or Fishbowl, as the glass encased meeting room is sometimes called). He said if people weren't ready to receive Christ now, they were welcome to continue coming to the series of services inaugurated with this Easter sermon, "It's Not Over".
  
The service closed with another chorus and the baptism of a new (adult) member of the church. And there was an announcement about two new small groups that would be starting this month.

Though nothing can compare to the Epic work of God that first Easter Sunday, it seems God has been doing some epic work in this church over the last four years, and I trust He will continue to do so.

Statistics:

Service Length: 1 hour 5 minutes
Sermon Length: 34 minutes
Visitor Treatment: There was a welcome station at the foot of the stairs as we entered, where first time guests are greeted and offered either a mug or a notebook. During the service, guests were encouraged to give "as much information as you feel comfortable giving" on an envelope that's also used for offerings. We were greeted many times and felt welcome.
Our Rough Count:  477
Probable Ushers' Count:  500
Snacks: There was a coffee/tea bar just past the welcome station, with water as well.
Songs: More than Anything
            Beautiful the Blood
            This I Believe (The Creed)
            Sinking Deep
Miles to place:  62
Total California Miles: 6,194



(Mindy had one slightly uncomfortable encounter with a staff member. Since it touches on some issues involving privacy and publicity that are a part of this church blogging adventure, I'll talk about that in a separate post tomorrow.)