Tuesday, August 4, 2015

First United Methodist Church, Napa

This month we're worshiping in churches of denominations we haven't yet written about. This week we worshiped in a Seventh Day Adventist Church building, but we already wrote about a visit to a Seventh Day Adventist Church, so before we talk about Sunday's worship, we'll talk facilities.

On August 24th, 2014, Rev. Lee Neish was awakened, as many people in the Bay Area were, at three in the morning by a sizeable earthquake. His house was fine. He had been pastoring in Los Gatos during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, so he'd already learned to secure the knick-knacks. But he was curious how the church had held up, so he drove over to see.

He could see immediately that the worship service would not be happening in that building that morning. In the sanctuary, sky was visible between parts of the walls and the ceiling. The damage was severe. The church would be red-tagged that week, marked unsafe for entry. He went back home.

The phone rang. A city supervisor who was scheduled to give an announcement in worship that morning was calling to apologize. There was an emergency city council meeting, and he couldn't make it to church. Rev. Neish assured him it wouldn't really be a problem.

Rev. Neish then received a phone call from the denomination's regional superintendent. She was checking to be sure everyone was safe and well. She also brought assurance that the church was covered under the Methodist Church's earthquake insurance. She assured Rev. Neish that they would support the congregation through the rebuilding project.

He got one more important phone call the next day. The pastor from the Napa Seventh Day Adventist Church called to say that his congregation would like to invite the Methodist Church to worship on Sundays in their facilities until rebuilding was complete. They offered the use of their facilities free of charge. (Rev. Neish said every Saturday the home congregation was quite fastidious about cleaning the church so it would be ready for the Methodist congregation to worship on Sunday.)

I asked Rev. Neish whether the city had been supportive of the church during the rebuilding. He assured me that was the case. Before the earthquake, the church was often the host of the city's musical events because of their excellent acoustics. The city decided to waive much of the permitting in the rebuilding process, saving the church tens of thousands of dollars. They hope to be back in their rebuilt facility by Thanksgiving.

This month, we are looking at a variety of denominations, but this week we saw an example of how many congregations meeting at many different times and different places is still One Church.

When we arrived at church Sunday morning, the first worship service was concluding. We heard the organ playing a hymn. After the benediction, many people went outside for refreshments but many congregants stayed in the pews for a bit listening to the organ. There were dozens of people in the first service, but it was certainly an elderly crowd.

We attended the eleven o'clock Fusion service that met in the chapel rather than the sanctuary. It was a small group; we were told the numbers were down since they had moved to the Seventh Day Adventist facility because many people had walked to the service (the two buildings are about a mile apart), and because of the diminished numbers common in summer.

But the people who were there were involved and enthusiastic in their worship. People were encouraged to stand or sit as they wished, to use a "God mailbox" in the back of the church to bring their written requests to God, or to light candles on a table at the entrance. The table also had a place for monetary donations, since passing the offering plate isn't part of the Fusion experience.

Both services were going through a series on challenging theological words. That day's word was "salvation." The Scripture read was Luke 19:10 from a translation that read, "The human one came to seek and save those who were lost." (I'm more used to the "Son of Man" which has more messianic resonance with me.) During this series, the church is using the analogy of a pitching staff for the preachers, with an opener named Austin, Rev. Neish serving as the middle relief and Jesse as the closer.

I was interested on the emphasis on distinguishing salvation from a "Baptist or Evangelical" understanding of the term. They focused on salvation as not a single, individualistic experience, but rather as a holistic, communal journey. We also enjoyed (and appreciated) the way the congregation felt free to comment during the sermon, even disagreeing a bit with points the speakers made. The teenaged boy who ran the overhead (and whose father was one of the morning's "pitchers") commented several times when he felt an idea needed clarification.

Mindy and I were happy to journey with the folks of First Methodist at Napa Community Seventh Day Adventist this Sunday.
-- Dean

Service Length: 1 hour 13 minutes        
Sermon Length: opener -- 21 minutes
                           relief -- 7 minutes
                           closer -- 7 minutes
Visitor Treatment: There was a greeting time and an attendance sheet during the worship service. We were greeted warmly by one woman as we hovered near the snack table between services.
Our Rough Count: 20
Probable Ushers' Count: 35
Snacks: Between the two worship services, a canopy tent was set up on the entrance sidewalk with chairs along one side. Boxes of Starbucks coffee (regular and decaf), a pitcher of ice water, lemonade mix, cookies and muffins were available (along with an opportunity to organize another week's snack offerings).
Musicians: keyboard -- woman
                  electric bass -- man
                  electric guitar -- man
                  percussion -- man
                  electric violin -- woman
                  vocals -- two women, one girl
Songs:  Bless the Lord, O My Soul (10,000 Reasons)
             Our Love is Loud
             One Thing Remains
             Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone
Miles to place:  45
Total California Miles: 10,796

Four Fun Facts about the United Methodist Church:

1. Though the movement known as Methodism dates back to 1736, the United Methodist Church was created in 1968 when The Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church joined to form a new denomination.

2. The primary legislative body of the denomination is the General Conference, which gathers every four years and works within the boundaries of the Church Constitution and General Rules.

3. On the umc.org website, four areas of ministry focus are outlined: engaging in ministry with the poor, improving global health, developing principled Christian leaders, and creating new and renewed congregations.

4. Although they're clearly spelled out, it's difficult to summarize the specific beliefs of The United Methodist Church, but you can read about them here.

-- Mindy