Growing up, my postal address was Fulton, California, but we lived out in the country rather than next to the post office, couple of country stores, a gas station and houses that made up the town proper. Oh, and there was a church.
I lived in that house for about two fifths of my life and went by that church hundreds and hundreds of times. And never went inside. Many of the times we passed the church we were on the way to our church (for years at Santa Rosa First Presbyterian Church and for years at Wikiup/Santa Rosa Evangelical Free Church). This made the Fulton Pentecostal Church of God in Christ a priority for Mindy and me in our church tours.
As it turned out, this was a special but difficult day in the life of the church. Their pastor for the last 26 years, James Franklin Marchbanks, passed away May 4th, and this past week the official memorial services were held. Therefore, much of this service was a continuation of those remembrances.
Mindy had misremembered the time of the service, looking for it on the sign outside the church. She thought the worship service time was 10:00 am, but when we arrived we saw that the sign actually said Sunday School was at 10:00 am and the worship service was at 11:30 am. Mindy went inside to make sure, and was told the service time was actually noon.
So we went home and came back a bit before the service began. At a quarter to twelve there were plenty of seats in the pews to choose from, though there were some folks already there, including seniors and mothers with small children. (The little girl in the pew of front of us was occupied with her action figures: among then a Star Wars storm trooper and Batman's Bane, both capable of flight. Many of the kids in the service were occupied with their parent's phones). When the service began at noon, most seats were filled and as the service went on more people came and crammed themselves in or stood in the back of the room or on the side.
There were no screens for songs and no hymnals or song sheets. The singing was mostly done with a call and response but at times I didn't catch the words. But we could always clap. A variety of people led music through the service; a keyboard, three guitars, singers, drums and tambourines in the congregation accompanied the songs.
A young woman read Psalm 133 about the brothers living together in unity, though she didn't identify the Scripture. (Mindy said there was a program for the service that probably identified the Scripture but there weren't many copies. I never saw one.)
In tribute to Pastor Marchbanks there were also two songs accompanied by dance (although I don't think it was called dance, it was called "spiritual movement" or something like that); both women who performed did so gracefully and in a true spirit of worship, with one of them wearing a choir robe.
A time was provided to share memories about Pastor Marchbanks, but people were encouraged to speak for only a couple of minutes and respect the time of others. A number of people spoke of Pastor Marchbanks and his wife, First Lady Deborah, as having welcomed them as family into their lives.
A woman came forward and introduced herself as Felicia. She spoke of Pastor Marchbanks assisting with the track and cross country teams while she attended Comstock Junior High School and Piner High School.
Sidebar - Our chosen theme for this month is rural and small town churches, but a subtheme has emerged: the first week this month, we met a friend of mine from Comstock and Piner in Nevada City where his son-in-law is pastor of a church. Last week we met a Comstock/Piner friend of mine in Ukiah and went to church. To keep up the trend, I posted a facebook request for a Piner friend to go to church with us this week, but no one responded. And then Felicia, who went to Comstock and Piner with me, spoke in front of the church. And we had a chance to chat after church. Sidebar done.
Felicia went on to say that she was a part of the local Native American community that had been welcomed into this primarily African American church. Not only did Pastor Marchbanks facilitate ministry in the Native American community, a Hispanic pastor came forward to talk about the church's ministry to his community. Through an interpreter he gave praise to the departed Pastor Marchbanks and the Lord. First Lady Deborah shared that years ago they noticed that they had Spanish speaking visitors that came for the music ministry of the church, but couldn't learn from the Word that was spoken. So they brought in someone to lead Spanish language services that continue at the church to this day.
After a number of people had a chance to share, the choir came up for a final number. Then a visiting speaker, Brother Tillis shared a short message about the encouragement he received from Pastor Marchbanks.
There's something strange about attending a memorial of someone you didn't know. I felt regret for all those years I bypassed this church and a chance to get to know this man admired by many for his godliness. On the other hand, heaven will be full of joyful meetings with people I heard about, but never go to know on earth.
Service Length: 1 hour 32 minutes
Sermon Length: 10 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were welcomed at the door and greeted by several people after we sat down. No greeting time in the service, and no method for recording visitors. There was a meal afterward that all were casually invited to.
Our Rough Count: 60
Probable Ushers' Count: 100
Snacks: meal in the kitchen, but we didn't look in
Songs: My Soul Loves Jesus
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah since I Lay my Burdens Down
Ain't Nobody Loves me like Jesus
Jesus Said it
(dance) I Can't Live without You
(solo) What a Mighty God we Serve
(dance) I'm Overwhelmed by You
(choir) He Lives
Miles to place: 1.5
Total California Miles: 7,903