Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Saddleback Church, Lake Forest

Most Sundays Mindy and I feel a little awkward bringing our cameras and notebooks to church. There are times when people look at us and whisper as we take photos. We usually go over and explain about the blog; at times we've been told to put the camera away. This day we weren't the only ones with cameras. A number of people were taking selfies and group shots in front of church signs and the sanctuary. Also popular photo opportunities were provided by the waterfall and food stations. Inside the worship center an official photographer was snapping shots, over our heads a camera on a boom and other cameras were focused on the stage.

Obviously there were a lot of first time visitors, even though Rick Warren wasn't there. Considering we didn't call in advance any Sunday, we've done pretty well during "I Read the Book" Month, visiting churches with writers we admire. All the previous Sunday the authors have not only been at the church, but we've had a chance to chat with them. Maybe if we'd called in advance we would have known which Saddleback campus Warren was on and we could have gone there. But this Sunday he was on the campus in Manila, so... (Saddleback has ten regional campuses including the one we visited in Lake Forest, and four international campuses. Beside the one in the Philippines; there are campuses in Buenos Aires, Hong Kong and Berlin.)
Before the service started, a video on the big screens celebrated the 35 years of Saddleback history along with a brief introduction to the church's small groups (over 8000), ministries (such as food pantry and legal aid) and ways to give (with an Android app). Another video set of announcements during the service told about an upcoming conference on mental health (you can find out about it here).

We noticed a woman in the front of the sanctuary below the stage translating into American Sign Language, which is available at some services. The congregation did have diversity in race, apparent economic levels and age. What made this diversity a little more surprising is that even on that campus there were other choices of styles of worship; one with traditional hymns and choruses and another featuring gospel and jazz.
As the worship band played, I thought of a church we visited a couple of weeks ago that apologized in advance about the volume of the music. The volume here was much greater. The volume didn't bother me in either place. In fact, the worship team was talented and enthusiastic, and I enjoyed their performance. But it did seem to be a performance. I looked around during the singing times and saw perhaps one person out of ten singing along.

Since Warren wasn't there, another teaching pastor on the staff, Buddy Owens, spoke on "The Power to Live Your New Life;" a basic message on living in the Spirit through a life of prayer and studying Scripture.

He read from John 15:5 the words of Jesus, "Apart from me you can do nothing." Owens then asked the audience to say, "Nothing." This confused me momentarily as I considered whether to say the word, "Nothing," or if I should say, you know, nothing. But the congregation vocalized the word. 
I did like his suggestion to kick a shoe underneath the bed before going to sleep, so you need to start the day on your knees, in prayer. (He also said, "The Bible says when you bow your knees, you bow your heart." I'm not sure where the Bible says that. If you know, a Scripture citation would be welcome in the comments section.)

He used a great illustration for the filling of God's Spirit. He used a glass of water to represent our lives. He then added to it: some vinegar to represent self-righteousness, cayenne pepper sauce to represent anger, and a great many other things to represent sins that pollute our lives. He opened a beer to pour it in. He said, "Hey, the senior pastor's away. When the cat's away..." (You don't expect to see beer in church, outside of, say, a Lutheran church.) He said he was going to drink from the cup and some in the audience gasped. Then he poured pitcher after pitcher of water into the cup until it was clean -- and then he did drink from it. It was a great illustration and the audience really, um, drank it up.
He spoke about the need to be continually filled with the Word of God. He said that if the only feeding of the Word you get is from church on Sunday mornings, it's like only eating breakfast on Sunday morning and expecting that to keep you nourished for the week. 

I appreciated him encouraging people to read the Word, but I did have problems with the way he talked about reading for depth rather than distance. He warned about trying to read through great chunks of Scripture without understanding. Now there is some truth in that. But he took it a little too far. He talked about a time he had agreed to read the Bible in a year, reading the One Year Bible but it became the "Guilt Trip Bible". He said when he got to the "begats" of Scripture, he got bored.

I believe in reading small portions of Scripture and meditating on them. I also think there is value in reading long portions of Scripture. I have profited from the One Year Bible. Mindy said that she resented an assignment at Trinity to read through the New Testament in a short time -- until it proved to be a great spiritual experience.

Next year, Mindy and I are looking to travel the whole United States, so we have a US map on the wall. When we are actually traveling, that map won't do us much good. We'll need to be using GPS and more detailed maps. But both kinds of maps have a function, just as reading long stretches of Scripture and also mediating on a single verse can be spiritually useful. Also wonderful for giving some perspective on God's work in the world: the "begats," the passages of genealogies found in Scripture. As Paul wrote, all Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16), including the passages that quickly show God's faithfulness and purpose through many generations.

I was curious if there would be any mention the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage, but nothing was said. I guess you could say discussion of the Spirit giving us strength to influence the world, to be "thermostats rather than thermometers" relates...but I think I'm just reading into things there.

At the conclusion of the sermon, the pastor said they'd take the offering, sing and he'd close the service in prayer. But as the worship team sang, many people headed for the doors. I've never really seen that before in a service, but I guess, Dodger fans.

We took the tram back to our car. Kids scramble to get in the front of the tram so they can yell "Open Sesame" (or maybe "open says me") to open the a gate in the road. We had a bit of time to talk to members of the tram team before the service. They took great joy in their service. Fortunately there are plenty of services, so the many teams of servants on campus can also worship.

We were glad to have such an opportunity as well. (And so do you; just go here. Of course, the ice cream cart and the fitness course are not available online.)

Service Length: 1 hour 17 minutes
Sermon Length: 51 minutes
Visitor Treatment: several booths available for information and help (and a gift!) but nobody was available (they were helping others) after the service when we came by
Our Rough Count:  2,500
Probable Ushers' Count: I did see an usher counting, but didn't have a chance to ask 2,600
Snacks: coffee, tea and ice water at several locations around the campus. Ice cream treats, hamburgers and other sandwiches available for sale from an adorable travel trailer
Musicians: Keyboards (male)
                  Electric bass (male)
                  Electric guitar (two males)
                  Drums (male)
                  Singers (two female, one male worship leader who also played acoustic guitar)     
Songs:  "Do What You Want to"
            "Great are You, Lord"
            musical accompaniment to words of Psalm 95:1-6 projected on screen
            "Great God"
            "Spirit of the Living God"
Miles to place: 512 miles
Total California Miles: 9,756 miles

-- Dean

Monday, June 29, 2015

Rick Warren

Rick Warren's preaching ministry had an indirect and rather bizarre impact on my life before I read anything he wrote. I was a candidate for a church youth pastor position. Before I signed on, I was warned that the senior pastor might be asked to leave soon because of a number of issues. One of those issues was that when he was a candidate for his position, a little over a year before, he had preached one of Warren's sermons as his own.

Warren encourages other pastors to use his sermons if they find them useful and says he doesn't care whether he receives attribution, which is quite generous of him, but many in the church felt that presenting someone else's work as part of your own in order to be evaluated for a position wasn't what your better trained Boy Scout would do -- let alone a pastor. There were other factors involved, but that pastor left a week after I came on to the church staff.

Before I read a book by Rick Warren, I read a companion book by someone else (Warren wrote the forward). As a youth pastor, I read Purpose Driven Youth Ministry (1998) by Doug Fields. It focused on the need to rely not on gimmicks for youth ministry, but to instead build a solid foundation based on Scriptural principles. The title and main ideas of Fields' book were not intended to be wholly original, but were adapted from Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Vision (1995).

When The Purpose Driven Church came out, it was The Thing pastors were talking about. The bottom line of the book was the need to build a healthy church rather than targeting church growth. Still, there was the assumption that the book's principles would cause a healthy church to grow.  Warren argued that the five purposes of the church are worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism. Not exactly unheard of ideas, but he presented them clearly and concisely.

Another book of his, The Purpose Driven Life, published in 2002, drew even more attention. By 2007 over 30 million copies of the book had been sold. Many churches, including Healdsburg Comunity Church (which Mindy and I attended and where I served), used the book for a course of study. Not surprisingly, it used the same purposes for the church and applied them to the life of the individual: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism.

It could well be argued that after Billy Graham, Warren is the most prominent and respected Protestant leader in the country. In 2008 he hosted a forum of discussion for Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama and he gave the invocation at President Obama' inauguration in 2009. Of course, entering the political fray in such a way has also led to some controversy, which Warren has for the most part handled well.

I'll have to admit that though I respect Warren very much, I find his writing practical and useful but not personally inspiring. But I appreciate that God has used his work to inspire millions of others. 

-- Dean

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, San Francisco

 "Step with your right foot to the right, move your left to the right in front, step with the right foot..." We were receiving instructions on performing a modified Hora, as we circled the communion altar. We also held the lyrics of a song to sing in one hand while the other hand was on the shoulder of another congregant. If our choreography was observed by a resurrected Agnes De Mille, I'm afraid she would not have been impressed. Martha Graham, dancing on the walls above us with 88 other saints, looked more or less benign.
Just as churches everywhere provide the talented and the tone deaf an opportunity to sing, St. Gregory's provides those who are graceful and those with two left feet an opportunity to praise God through dance; using the arts and sensual experience are central tools for worship in the ministry of this church in a business and warehouse district of San Francisco.

We were drawn to the church by the work of writer (and now St. Gregory's Directory of Ministry) Sara Miles. And it was these aesthetic values that initially drew Miles to the church. A nonbeliever, she was attracted by the architecture of building and once inside, was intrigued by the art on the walls. Then came the home baked bread for communion served with a good wine rather than stale grape juice. The reality of Christ's presence came to her through the bread and the cup. (I found it interesting that we noticed no concessions made for teetotalers or the glucose intolerant.)

People are provided with various opportunities to develop their gifts. We heard announcements for classes for bread baking and icon painting. We attended the first service, which didn't have a choir, but we heard the second service does and all are welcome to be a part of it. Even the children's ministry has a similar focus. The lesson material, from the Godly Play Foundation, uses Montessori methods to help children learn Bible stories through art, storytelling and imaginative interaction.

Mindy and I arrived a few minutes late for the Daybreak time of prayer, psalms and meditation, just after 8:00 am. We realized quickly we wouldn't be using our pens and notebooks. In a church with pews, it's usually easy to take notes rather inconspicuously, but instead we were seated in a semi-circle. We joined in chanting a number of Psalms (which, even without music, were surprisingly simple to follow). Many Fundamentalist and Evangelical churches say that the Scriptures are central to worship, but few devote as much time as this church (and many Episcopal churches) to the reading of Scripture. At Saint Gregory's the Bible is spoken and sung throughout the worship times. Between times of singing and prayer, the worship leader would ring one of the prayer bowls to indicate a transition.

As the worship leader pulled the rope to ring a bell in the church tower, the half hour Daybreak service flowed in the 8:30 worship service (Holy Eucharist). Liturgical books of songs and readings were on every other chair, along with a few printed papers with announcements and music to songs not in the books. We sang a number of songs, often from long-ago periods of church history. Between songs, readings and prayers, time was often allowed for periods of silence (true for the Daybreak service, as well).

The Gospel reading was the story of Jesus calming the storm. The sermon that followed introduced a topic that I'm sure was on the minds and hearts of many who came to worship that morning. The woman who spoke (seated, rather than standing) said that when she considered the Scripture early in the week, she thought of personal storms she'd faced in her life; vocational crises, the death of her father, the birth of a child.

But midweek, she realized she'd have to deal with a national, shared storm: the shooting of the nine people at church in Charleston, South Carolina. The mention of this event resonated in the congregation, I feel like we all longed for and dreaded its mention.

She went on to talk about the storm of racism that continues to engulf the nation, coming up in squalls like the killing of blacks by police. "For crying out loud," she said, "Even the President of the United States is criticized for his race instead of his policies!" She talked about the difficulty of facing such a vast problem (with a mention of Jon Stewart's take on the issue). She urged us to face the storm with assurance of Christ's presence.

After the sermon, people were given an opportunity to share how God had spoken to them. One woman shared the encouragement she had received studying the lives of the apostles. A man shared the Scripture from Job (which he had read aloud during the Daybreak service) where God answers the questions of Job.

After the worship service concluded with the Eucharist, the bread and cup are removed from the altar and replaced with morning snacks (which included bacon, but don't expect that every week. Fresh fruit and pastries are generally available). I asked a woman named Carla what led her to the church. She said she'd been attending for nine years now. She'd grown up in the South and had grown weary of the church's not only failing to condemn racism, but practicing it. When her mother came out as a lesbian, she saw the church treating her with "gay hate."

Living in San Francisco, she wasn't looking to be a part of a church. But one Christmas Eve, she just wanted to hear some carols. She came to St. Gregory's and felt something different was going on there. She was invited to come back on Sundays and she did because she had been made to feel welcome.

Mindy and I appreciated that we too were made to feel welcome at St. Gregory's.

Service Length:  50 minutes      
Sermon Length:  13 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were given nametags shortly after we sat down, and during the refreshment time were asked to sign the guestbook if we'd like
Our Rough Count:  38
Probable Ushers' Count: 50
Snacks: cherries and other fruit, coffee, tea, bagels (with a toaster) and cheese spread, various pastries, chocolate cake, leftover communion bread (but not wine), bacon, sausage
Musicians: none, although during the dance around the altar, tambourines and other hand held percussion instruments were available, especially to children.
Songs: "Holy God"
            "Surely it is God Who Saves me"
            "The Lord's Prayer"
            "How Firm a Foundation"
Miles to place:  63
Total California Miles:  8,766
-- Dean

Monday, June 22, 2015

Sara Miles

One early, cloudy morning when I was forty-six, I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. A routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans -- except that up up until that moment I'd led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. This was my first communion. It changed everything.

In this opening paragraph of Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, Sara Miles introduces her tale of a remarkable, virtually instantaneous work God did in her life. She describes herself as a leftist radical lesbian atheist who, through this simple encounter with Jesus through the bread and the cup changed into a very different person: a leftist radical lesbian Christian.

And because God used bread to speak to Miles' heart, she began to feed the poor in her new home church, St Gregory's, by opening a food pantry. Her website describes the ministry this way:

The food pantry buys around five tons of food each week, for just pennies a pound, and offers it free to everyone who comes. Families select the food they need from a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, rice, pasta, beans, cereal, and dry goods The Food Pantry is run entirely by volunteers, most of them people who came to get food and stayed to help out"

Mindy and I both enjoyed Miles' honesty and directness in telling her tale.

She has two other books: in 2010 she published Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead, and this year City of God: Faith in the Streets.

Reading Take This Bread there were a number of theological, political and moral issues on which I would disagree with Miles. Some of these issues would include the use of icons, the place of Mary in the church, and the nature of the communion table. But most peopledon't care a whit about those issues these days. It seems these days the only moral and theological issues that engage the public at large about the Church are those of sexuality.

From my reading of Scripture, I believe homosexual practice is sinful and same sex marriage is contrary to Jesus' teaching on marriage in Matthew 19. Obviously, Sara Miles would disagree with my beliefs. I'm sure many people would be happy in this situation to say that one of us is a Christian, and the other is not.

Fortunately, God's grace is pretty huge. Looking back through history, we can see Christians have disagreed on some pretty profound issues, such as slavery, governmental authority, and whether or not to eat a piece of meat that had been in front of a little gold statue. On some of these issues, we've come to a consensus in the Church, and some we haven't. But God's love always proves bigger than the issues Christians disagree about.

Reading the work of Sara Miles, she expresses her love for Jesus eloquently, and even more clearly, she has written of God's love for her. About that, what is ultimately the most important thing, we agree.
-- Dean

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Menlo Park Presbyterian Church

"We were looking for a church that challenged us intellectually. So many churches are emotionally driven," Valerie said over tacos. That Menlo Park Presbyterian would have such a focus is not surprising, considering where it's located. Often with church there's a bit of destiny in geography and MPPC is just a couple of miles from Stanford University, so yeah, there are people there interested in things of the mind.

It makes sense, then, that the church called someone like John Ortberg, who has his doctorate in psychology as well as his masters of divinity, and who has achieved some renown for his writing and teaching. His preaching is clear and focused and Christ centered. And I can say from the couple of minutes we spoke with him, he also seemed quite gracious. Claudia, a very kind woman we met when we arrived at the church, approached Pastor Ortberg just before the service started and asked him to meet us.

On Saturday evening, the sermon is recorded for use at the other campuses on Sunday morning, and  just before a service is not always a time when pastors love to meet new people, but Pastor Ortberg gave no evidence of being displeased or rushed, and even asked about our blog. When I said we'd been to Anne Lamott's church the previous weekend he certainly perked up. I believe I remember hearing him praise Lamott years ago when we attended an arts conference at Willow Creek Community Church, unless my memory is playing tricks on me (and my memory does play tricks on me, because I remember the diving board at Healdsburg Memorial Beach was 1000 feet tall when I was a kid, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't). One thing that very much impressed me was seeing Ortberg stay after the service to pray with people; which I heard is his regular practice.

MPPC has other blessings and challenges due to its geography. The community is wealthy, and members of the church are generous. This allows the church to do projects like Compassion Weekend -- in addition to service and mission projects throughout the year, one weekend the whole congregation (or most of it, over 3000 people) takes on projects all around the Bay Area: at schools, homeless shelters and other places with great need, teaming with a number of groups, religious and secular. A lot of money (I heard the figure $400,000) is used to help people.

The church has also needed and has used significant sums to plant other campuses in this pricy part of the country. Another great financial need came up a couple of years ago when the church decided to leave the PCUSA denomination and join the ECO (A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians) denomination. The PCUSA required the church to buy back its property and building to leave. One of the reasons they decided to leave the PCUSA was to have the freedom to plant daughter churches. (A number of churches less financially blessed have had the difficult choice of remaining in a denomination with which they have fundamental disagreements or lose their building and property.)

Another challenge of this area at this time is that there are many people in the community who don't think kindly about churches. Many people in the Bay Area think of churches as festering clusters of bigots and haters.

The idea of churches as places of prejudice comes from a few churches that have been pretty awful, as well as bad press and, I believe, lies from Satan. To counter such hostility, the church emphasizes and tries to live by the following motto: "Everyone's Welcome, Nobody's Perfect and Anything's Possible."

New acquaintances told us before the service that over the last few years the church has been trying to overcome some perceived weaknesses. Though people have been free in giving financially, they've been less generous with their time -- so there has been an emphasis on service. They've also have been working through a perception of not being a friendly church, (which was quite strange to hear in the midst of a conversation with a group of very friendly people). But hey, people get different impressions and have different expectations when they go through church doors.

For instance, we were warned before the service that the music would be very loud. Apparently this has been a complaint from some longtime members. It's caused some people to check out other churches, even though there is an early Sunday morning service with traditional music (from the hymnal). Some people, we were told, choose to worship from the library, which has screens displaying what's going on in the sanctuary. Maybe it was because there were no drums in the service we attended, maybe it's that years of youth ministry have made me rather callous to "loud music," but I was baffled by this being a source of conflict (though most churches have bafflingly sources of conflict). I did appreciate the lyrics of the songs being quite legible on the screens (showcasing the worship band and leaders).

I mentioned tacos earlier, and perhaps, if you haven't had lunch, that's all you've been thinking of since you started reading. During the summer, the church is serving dinner after the Saturday evening service (which we attended this week). There is a charge for the meal, but first time visitors eat free -- and it seemed that those in need were provided for as well. There was also a bounce room in a second courtyard area for the kids, with tables nearby where most of the young families ate.

The tacos were very good (catered by a local restaurant). But the welcome we received, the worship, the teaching... all of these things were even better.

Service Length: 1 hour 5 minutes
Sermon Length: 38 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were welcomed as we walked around before church. There wasn't a greeting time during the service, but there was a card for visitors or regular attenders to fill out. First time visitors were especially encouraged to join the meal (right outside the church doors) afterward, as the church's guests.
Our Rough Count:  200
Probable Ushers' Count: 245
Snacks: a table with free trade, organic decaf coffee, water and lemonade was just outside the main entrance to the sanctuary before and after the service
Musicians:  keyboard (man, also sang)
            2 acoustic guitars (men, also sang)
            singer (woman)
            electric bass (man, didn't sing)
            drum setup, but no drummer this time
Songs:  You are the Giver
            By Your Grace I'm Saved
            All Creatures of our God and King
            Come Thou Fount
            Amazing Grace
            You are my Vision
Miles to place:  94
Total California Miles:  8,633

-- Dean

Monday, June 15, 2015

John Ortberg

I interned at a large church with a "celebrity" pastor, Chuck Swindoll. As a best-selling author and radio preacher, people would visit the church just to see Chuck. The office would get phone calls from people asking, "Who's preaching this week?" This would bother Chuck, who felt people should come to church for God and not for him. It bothered him even more when people referred to "Chuck Swindoll's church." "It's God's church," he'd say.

Which makes it rather embarrassing to admit we chose this week's church because it was "John Ortberg's church."

Some of the best small group studies we had at Healdsburg Community Church (the church Mindy and I attended before we began this adventure) used books by John Ortberg. Often, among the materials provided were DVDs of Ortberg introducing the chapters to be discussed. His gifts as a pastor and a writer combined made for a profitable learning experience.

Ortberg served previously as a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, an early "seeker friendly" mega churches. Mindy and I visited that church shortly before Ortberg made the move out to California. We heard from someone at Menlo Park Presbyterian that  he chose to serve there partly because Menlo Park allows him to to write as well as pastor.

His books have sold millions of copies and won a variety of awards. I'd recommend (in order of preference, starting with my favorite): If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat, The Life You've Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, and The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God's Best Version of You.

Ortberg received his Master of Divinity from Fuller Seminary as well as a Doctorate in clinical psychology. His understanding of God's Word and people provides him with a unique ministry as a writer and as a pastor.
-- Dean

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, Marin City

My parents got married in Vegas on a Saturday, at one of the many little chapels. The pastor invited them to come to his church the next morning. The next morning, the pastor was astounded to see someone had finally taken him up on the invitation he always made but that (obviously) was seldom was responded to.

The people at St. Andrew Presbyterian in Marin City, on the other hand,  have obviously long ceased being surprised about people accepting the invitation Anne Lamott extends  in her books, Facebook posts and at writers' conferences. The morning we visited there was couple from Washington, another from the Bay Area, and a gentleman from Maryland, all who seemed to be there (along with us) in a kind of homage to Ms. Lamott. Looking at the guest book, I noted people from various parts of the country visiting in the previous weeks as well.

The marvelous thing is that the regulars of the church took us visitors not just in stride, but with genuine joy and friendliness. The woman in the pew in front of us warned us that during the greeting time we would be invited to stand and introduce ourselves. We did, and the other guests did as well. During "the passing of the peace," many people greeted us warmly (including a woman who hugged everyone happily). Ms. Lamott came across the sanctuary to greet us. When I said we came in response to her invitation in one of her books, she said we were always welcome.

Prior to the service, during the prelude ("They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love"), a young boy was making happy sounds to go with the music. The pianist commented that he provided a sweet accompaniment. The boy's mother said he was jealous, he wanted to play the piano.

The service began with a procession of those leading the service, in something between a march and a dance down the center aisle.  The pastor, Veronica Goines, wore a black robe with the blue and white of a long dress peeking out the bottom. She wore a colorful stole as did all those playing a role in the service (including the pianist).

The congregation is relatively small (three dozen people or so) which allows for certain advantages. The "prayers of the people" time was open for all to pray. Many people prayed -- for loved ones, friends and relatives, those who were sick, often with cancer. One woman prayed for the upcoming wedding of one of her children, acknowledging that such an event brings out family tensions, and she prayed for resolution and God's peace.

In a large church it becomes logistically impossible to have open prayer. Often, there is a justified concern about the time such activity might take, and a respect for the schedule of attendees. I understand those concerns, but I've always appreciated such times in the Evangelical Free Church where I grew up, as well as in other churches I've been a part of through the years.

The New Testament reading was from Mark 5, the story of Jairus' daughter and the hemorrhaging woman. We were told the page number of the passage in the pew Bible and given time to look it up, something I always appreciate.

Pastor Goines began the sermon with a song, a first person account of the sick woman from the passage in Mark. She has a truly lovely voice and the song was a good introduction to an affirmation of God's desire to touch us and bring healing into our lives. The six-member choir backed her up, and eventually, the congregation joined in as little as well. She shared a story of a member of the congregation who worried that her prayer request wasn't worthy of the pastor's time. Pastor Goines said this passage shows that God doesn't prioritize away our needs; He's concerned about them all. There is no shortage of grace with God.

Though she didn't have an altar call, Pastor Goines encouraged all to consider whether they wished to follow Jesus and receive God's grace into their lives. In that, and many other ways, Pastor Goines' Baptist background showed itself in this Presbyterian setting.

Following the service, there was a potluck lunch, and visitors were made quite welcome to attend. Ms. Lamott encouraged me to try "Gail's World Famous Potato Salad." I'm sadly ill-informed on potato salad trends, and didn't know of this salad's fame. But it really was very good, and I was able to tell Gail so (the gentleman from Maryland had seconds). "There's more today than usual," a woman mentioned to Mindy, because the meal provided a transition to the congregational meeting that would follow.

We left before the meeting. Obviously, it wasn't the place for visitors, but we greatly appreciated that as visitors, we were made to feel so very welcome.

Service Length: 1 hour 27 minutes
Sermon Length: 35 minutes
Visitor Treatment: warm welcome at the door, before worship started, and after each visitor introduced himself or herself, the congregation greeted them in unison. During the "passing of the peace," people seemed to take the opportunity to greet each person there with a handshake or a hug.
Our Rough Count: 41
Probable Ushers' Count: 50
Snacks: pizza, chicken wings, cornbread, salad, Gail's famous potato salad, pies, fruit, juice, coffee, tea, water
Musicians: one woman played the prelude, while another accompanied the choir and the congregational singing. There were three men and three women in the choir, plus Pastor Goines
Songs: "The Spirit of the Lord is Here"
            "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy"
            "Gloria Patri"
            "There is a Balm in Gilead"
            "Be Blessed" (choir anthem)
            "Touch the Hem of His Garment"
            "Let us Talents and Tongues Employ" (accompaniment during communion)
Miles to place: 52 

Total California Miles: 8,445 
-- Dean