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"
"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