Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dean and Mindy go to Movie Churches!

Movie Churches Return 
Shortly after we began this blog about a year ago, we began a weekly feature about movies in churches. But we soon decided that the reviews of churches should probably be a blog unto itself, and we began

This month we've decided to have a blog crossover event. Our Sunday churches will all have facilities that have been featured in movies. Before we go to the church, we'll write about the movie at Movie Churches. Then we'll go to the real church to see what it's really like. Our first church was featured in the film, "Sister Act," and I will be extremely disappointed if the church doesn't have a choir that singsadapted sixties pop songs as praise anthems -- just as I expect the church featured in "High Noon" to have horses tied up in front, and when we go the church featured in "The Graduate," I expect the service to be interrupted by a cross-wielding Dustin Hoffman.

I am preparing for the possibility the churches we visit will be nothing at all like the churches featured in the films. We might find God is doing something even better.

(Find the review of the Movie Church in the film "Sister Act" here
-- Dean

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bethel Church Redding

As a congregation, we were asked to pray for a miracle.

Skyler, the four year old child of one of the staff members, had been  found unresponsive in bed that morning, with a fever and swelling of the brain. The child was evacuated by helicopter to a hospital in Davis. The congregation was encouraged to pray for the child, to "sing in the Spirit and release the power."

A member of the worship team said that God gives words of prophecy. He said that such a word had been received, "You're going to live and not die says God." He said this word was for Skyler. A miracle was expected. And Bethel Church in Redding has a reputation for miracles.

We first heard about the church through a book by a friend of ours, Miracles by Tim Stafford. In that book, Tim writes about a young man, Jeff Moore, who attended First Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa. Jeff became lame, and his feet were in such pain that he needed to use a wheel chair. Jeff was invited to attend a service at Bethel. He did and went forward found he was healed. The pain had left his feet.

Tim is a journalist. He knew Jeff before the visit to visit to Bethel and after. He interviewed Jeff and his family as well those close to him. He concluded that the word "miracle" was an apt one for what occurred.

The word "healing" was used many times in the service we attended. There had been a youth conference over the weekend and a number of the attendees were still present that morning. (There was an announcement that though they'd hoped for 500 at the conference, 900 had come.) In the row in front of us there was a group young people (high school students, I'd guess) from Dallas, Oregon who had been part of  the conference. I asked one of the young men what the highlight of the weekend had been. He replied, "God healed a lot of people; we felt God's presence."

Eric Johnson, the preacher that morning (described in the website as being a part of the "Core Leadership, Senior Team"), spoke about a recent trip to Detroit. He had seen God heal many at the conference there. "Nine people with hip injuries were healed. God likes hips. He made them." He also spoke of a boy who had come forward to be healed of diabetes. They believed he had been healed of that. But then the boy came forward again and said that his feet also had been healed. His feet had been crooked before, but were now straight. Even though his feet hadn't been prayed for, they had been made right.

There wasn't just an expectation that God would work in physical healing but in other ways as well. Before the offering, a woman ("great with child" as they say in the Christmas programs) gave the announcements. Her husband introduced the time of offering and, commenting on his wife's condition, said, "God is pregnant with hope for your financial future." All were encouraged to join a reading that expressed expectation that if one made God a "financial partner," God would bring about successful employment, promotions, raises, favorable settlements; in short, financial rewards of every kind.
I appreciated that he also said (before the offering) that if one was visiting the church, it would be best not to give there but to give to one's home church.

At the end of the service, there was an altar call. Of the hundreds that were there that morning, three people raised their hands and came forward expressing their desire to trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior. People were also encouraged to come forward for prayer if they were in need of physical healing or were in financial straits. Dozens of people came forward in response to that offer.

Whether those people's prayers were answered, well, I doubt I'll hear a report. (My friend, Tim, has other writing projects at this time.) I may not ever get a report on Skyler. But I'm praying. Perhaps you could pray for Skyler as well.

P.S. We sat next to a young woman named Tessa. She, too, was visiting the church for the first time. She mentioned she had never seen people lined up to go to church -- she and her husband attended a small community church in British Columbia. She was alone in the second service because her husband was with their son after attending the 8:00 a.m. worship service.  (The College View campus of Bethel Church Redding has three Sunday morning services: 8:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m. -- which we attended -- and 1:00 p.m.) Tessa's husband is a professional skier, and they were traveling this year, living in a camper. Usually, he's had to leave home for his job, but this year they're all able to be together. Tessa said Bethel was the most fun church they've attended on their journey so far.

Mindy and I were excited to meet someone else who's taking a year to travel, because we'll be spending 2016 traveling the country, visiting and blogging about a church in a different state each week. I doubt we'll get to see Tessa and Dave again as we travel, because they'll be looking for snow, and we'll be trying to avoid snow and all other difficult winter driving. But it's nice to know they're out there. (You can learn more about Dave here.)
-- Dean


Service Length: 1 hour 50 minutes
Sermon Length: 45 minutes      
Visitor Treatment: two greeting times during the worship service when we were instructed to greet several people we'd never seen before. First time visitors were asked to raise their hands so ushers could give them a welcome card (with detachable coupons for a free cd of the day's sermon and a discount at the bookstore) to fill out and put in the offering.

Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 2,000 (ushers were doing their best to fill every seat in the room)
Probable Ushers' Count: 2,000 plus overflow room, which we didn't see (but we could hear whenever the door near us opened; the speaker's voice was slightly delayed)
Snacks: none, but there is a coffee shop with a variety of items for sale
Musicians: 2 women singers, 2 men singers, keyboard (woman), drums (man), electric guitar (man), acoustic guitar (man), bass (man). Also at least two different people (one man, one woman) waved flags during the singing
Songs: "Glory to Glory"
            "I'll Fly Away"
            "What Can Separate us from Your Love"
            "Hope's Anthem"
            "You're Gonna Live and Not Die, Says God"
Miles to place: 231

Total California Miles: 14,540

Church website:

Monday, October 26, 2015

Five Things I Didn't Know about Redding

1. The Sacramento River runs right through it. The city is located at the extreme northwestern end of California's Central Valley, a major agricultural area. On the north, west and east, the city reaches into the foothills of the Cascades. The city has the second-highest average possible sunshine in the United States (88% -- Yuma, Arizona has the highest), and they get an average of almost five inches of (wet) snow every year.

2. The Southern Pacific built a stop named for railroad man Benjamin B. Redding, but in 1874, town residents decided it should be spelled "Reading" for the pioneer Pierson B. Reading, who had owned the area under an 1844 Mexican land grant . Since the railroad didn't accept that name officially, the town returned to spelling its name "Redding" in 1880. The Redding Area Bus Authority main depot is located next to the train station. Amtrak trains, freight trains, city buses and intercity buses are available there. 

2. Redding is the county seat of Shasta county and with a population of around 90,000, Redding is the largest city in the Shasta Cascade region (which includes eight other counties in the area that, on the north and east, border Oregon and Nevada). The smallest age groups in the 2010 census were people between 18 and 24 and people over 65. Those two groups together were roughly equal to any of the other age groupings (under 18, 25 to 44, and 45 to 64). Women outnumber men and more than 85% of people identify themselves as white. And City Hall has a sculpture garden. 

4. Turtle Bay Exploration Park includes a museum and gardens on about 300 acres. The Sundial Bridge is also located in the park, providing a pedestrian bridge across the Sacramento River. The sundial is accurate only on the summer solstice, but the tip of its shadow moves at about a foot a minute, allowing viewers to watch the effect of the earth's rotation. The walkway across the bridge is glass, and no part of the 700 foot long bridge touches the river. Plus there are feral cats and a nifty box that makes animal sounds!

5. The Cascade Theatre, an Art Deco movie palace which opened in 1935, was capable of seating over 20% of Redding's population of the time. Today, it is a multiuse performing arts center. It is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. It was the city's first air conditioned public building, and originally seated 1,348 people.
-- Mindy

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Middletown Bible Church

"It's been a few weeks since we've been in the book of Matthew," Pastor Doug said. "We've been in that book for five years but something happened on September 12th that threw us off." For the people of Middletown, California, September 12th, 2015 will be a date burnt in memory as 9/11/01 is for the nation as a whole.

Last month a fire swept through thecommunity with remarkable speed and devastating results. According to Cal Fire's final report on the Valley Fire, 76,067 acres were burned. A total of 1,958 structures were destroyed including 1,280 homes, 27 multi-family structures, 66 commercial properties, and 585 other minor structures (by which I guess they mean barns and sheds and such). And this fire was the fourth in a series of fires which struck the area during the summer.

The congregation of Middletown Bible Church was, of course, afflicted greatly by the fire. Several families in the church lost their homes. In the first days of the fire there were reports that Middletown Christian School, a ministry of the church that shares the campus, had been destroyed. (Fortunately, those reports proved false. Rumors, true and false, added great stress to the community in those early days of the fire.)

The unharmed campus was offered for the use of fire fighters. P, G & E took over many of the buildings and filled the parking lot and the surrounding fields with trucks and equipment. Mercy Chefs, a non-profit, faith based charitable organization committed to serving high quality professionally prepared meals during local, state, and national disasters and emergencies, also found a place to work on the campus. (During Sunday's service there was an announcement that Mercy Chefs would return in November to serve a Thanksgiving meal for the community.)

Middletown Bible Church is providing a unique service for the community. They have opened a Community Relief Center in a downtown property donated for the cause. The purpose of the center is to meet immediate and specific needs. They accept some used goods (furniture, dishes, and appliances for example) for dispersal. But some items such as socks, underwear and children's toys must be new.

I spoke with Rachel, Pastor Doug Thompson's daughter, who is currently working full time at the facility (open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.). She said that this is a ministry that God gave to the church quite unexpectedly. Besides providing for basic needs, many special needs have arisen. One woman had lost her painting supplies,and the center was able to allow her to return to work on the canvas. Rachel said the center has been able to care for people who in the past have expressed no interest in the church. She said the church hopes that beyond providing material needs, the facility will provide the hope of the Gospel. Plans are in the works for the center continuing in the long term, after the ongoing crises, providing for the poor and homeless.

During prayer time in the worship service, requests were made for wisdom for using the resources of the church for the many needs of the community. In the announcement time, first time visitors were invited to introduce themselves. A half dozen of the visitors were from various relief agencies, including a gentleman from the S.B.A. (the Small Business Administration) and two Local Crisis Response workers who will be working in the area for years to come, helping get people back in homes as well as back to work "probably living in our dirt field," someone joked.

I experienced a happy surprise during the greeting time. Marty Price, a friend I attended church with growing up, came up and shook my hand. Mindy and I had lunch with Marty and his wife, Brenda. They've volunteered through the years with Samaritan's Purse in disaster relief. He said many familiar faces appeared in the wake of the fire, people he had worked with in previous disasters. Marty said it was then, when he saw the other workers, that he realized the scope of the disaster. He said, "This is the third greatest fire in California history and maybe the fifth worst in national history. You don't expect a small town like this to receive such attention."

We had lunch at a Middletown restaurant, eating outside in a patio area. Marty called it a bit of an oasis in the midst of the disaster. Several members of the Middletown Bible congregation came to the same place, and Marty introduced us to a woman named Julie.

Julie lost her home in the fire, but was in good spirits. She and her husband recently purchased other land to build on, and they had planned to look it over at the time the fire swept their home, but something kept them from going. Her husband looked out and saw smoke, and they were going to pack up. When he saw flames, they left immediately -- and soon their house was gone. Julie was thankful her son was at work, so he had his truck and work clothes. They were home to save their dogs. She said she had real peace through all of this because of her faith in Jesus.

For those keeping track of such things, you might remember that this month is Miracles, Signs, and Wonders Month here at the blog. A portion of the Middletown Bible Church statement of faith, in the section on the Holy Spirit, reads, "Some of these gifts (e.g. prophecy, miracles, healings, and tongues) were sign gifts given to authenticate the Apostles as revealers of divine truth. As the office of Apostle has ceased and the canon of Scripture is complete, these confirming gifts have also ceased." But when I see the peaceful spirit of someone like Julie in the midst of lost, the word that comes to mind is "miraculous."
-- Dean
Service Length: 1 hour 33 minutes
Sermon Length: 37 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were welcomed by a woman in the choir as we came into the sanctuary (she wasn't an usher or a greeter); visitors were asked to introduce themselves just before the greeting time (turned out we were in visitors' row...the other four people sitting in our pew were also visitors). There were several family members visiting, a couple of former residents back for a visit, half a dozen relief workers of one kind or another, and several people who either had recently or were just about to move into the area. First time visitors were given a folder with information about the church and the school. There was a slip of paper in the bulletin and one in the folder for visitors (or regulars) to fill out.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none -- but we forgot to put our slip of paper into the offering plate. (Mindy asked someone what to do, and he said he'd put it on the church secretary's desk.)
Our Rough Count: 105
Probable Ushers' Count: 125
Snacks: bagels and cream cheese, coffee, hot water for tea
Musicians: six men and six women singers off to one side, 2 acoustic guitars, 1 piano, 1 percussion box, 1 singer up front (all men)
Songs: All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
            Glories of Calvary
            Fairest Lord Jesus (to the tune of Morning has Broken)
            I will Glory in my Redeemer
            Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners
            Glorious Christ
Miles to place: 50
Total California Miles: 14,113

Church website:

Monday, October 19, 2015

Pop quiz: Counties*

*with answer key!

Yesterday, as we were driving across three counties to go to church, Dean wondered how many of California's 58 counties we'd worshiped this year. So here's a quiz!

Feel free to cheat; this page names all the counties, and this page lists where we've visited. Or just pick answers at random. Anyway, all the answers are at the bottom of the post. Here's your chance to relive fourth grade state history class, without the need to build a model of a California Mission.

1. Which county have we visited most?
a. Santa Cruz
b. San Benito
c. Shasta
d. Sonoma

2. Which county has the church requiring the longest drive from home in Santa Rosa?
a. Sonoma
b. San Benito
c. San Bernardino
d. Alameda

3. By population, which is the biggest county we've visited?
a. Amador
b. San Benito
c. San Bernardino
d. Los Angeles

4. By area, which is the smallest county we've visited? (bonus: compare it to something small)
a. San Francisco
b. San Benito
c. Butte
d. Sonoma

5. Which county that we've worshiped in this year ISN'T a county we've lived in?
a. Santa Clara
b. San Benito
c. Sonoma
d. Mono

6. Of California's 58 counties, how many have we visited this year?
a. 5
b. 23
c. 14
d. 42

7. Which county have we not visited at all?
a. Contra Costa
b. San Benito
c. Sonoma
d. San Mateo

8. Which county did we visit October 18?
a. Lake
b. San Benito
c. San Joaquin
d. Sonoma

9. What county do we expect to visit next?
a. Calaveras
b. San Benito
c. Shasta
d. Santa Barbara

10. How many counties do we hope to have worshiped in by the end of the year?
a. 58
b. 25
c. 42
d. 50

Bonus: What's the strangest of all California county names and why?

Answer key:
1. d
2. c
3. d
4. a
5. a
6. b
7. b
8. a
9. c
10. b
-- Mindy

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood

"He is risen!" called out Senior Pastor Dan Baumgartner.

"He is risen indeed!" responded the congregation.
Dan called out more loudly, "He is risen!" and the response was louder still, "He is risen indeed!"

We sang "He Lives." It was great to visit the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood on Easter Sunday. Yes, it was October. Their calendar is a little off this year. They had their Christmas in June. Creation itself took place in January. They're working through the story of the Bible, and we were there for the conclusion of the Gospels; Acts, the Epistles and the Revelation will be filling out the rest of their calendar year.

This is Miracles, Signs and Wonders Month here at D&MGtC, so it seemed right that we arrived on a day focused on the Resurrection, which is perhaps the greatest miracle of Scripture. But the miracles don't stop there. The very existence of this vibrant evangelical church in the city that has the worldwide reputation for depravity is something of a wonder.

When most people think of Hollywood, the first thing they think of is movies and the business of show.  First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood has, throughout its history, ministered to a number of people in the industry and continues to do so. The church has made the industry part of their ministry. At the top of their web site there is a link to information for campus rental for film and television shoots.

A unique part of their ministry is Actors Co-op. On the church grounds there is a theater and a production company with year round productions. At the time we visited, "The Baker's Wife" was playing (a musical from the creator of "Wicked" and "Pippin"), and "The Hound of the Baskervilles" was scheduled to open later in the month. The Actor's Co-op mission statement reads that they are "a company of Christian actors driven by passion for the Lord Jesus Christ. We are dedicated to pursuing the highest standards of theatrical excellence and to building up our members spiritually, personally and professionally in order to be an outreach of Christ's hope". Daily Variety has called the theater "the 99 seat miracle."

The morning we visited sign-ups were being taken for an upcoming one day retreat in Griffith Park. I found it interesting that along with activities one would expect at most church retreats -- workshops, games, hiking and such, there was also an emphasis on art and music. Creativity and esthetics are quite obviously important values in the church.

The campus itself is quite beautiful. The sanctuary was built in 1923 (which makes it, for those of us on the West Coast, a piece of antiquity). Between the structures there are lovely terrace areas and gardens that provide a focus for fellowship. There is not only a very nice library, but also a separate children's library. I was interested to see that their catalog of books wasn't exclusively religious. Both libraries had secular novels and nonfiction (but Tom the librarian pointed out they're careful to exclude anything that might be deemed "controversial". So if you hoped to brush up on the oeuvre of the recently deceased Jackie Collins, this is not the place to go.)

The sanctuary has a full pipe organ and, unlike some churches, makes regular use of it. We attended the traditional service and didn't just hear the adult choir perform, but also a children's choir (both groups in traditional robes). As one might guess by the names of the services, hymns were sung in the traditional service and worship choruses in the contemporary service (which we also attended, and the children's choir sang again -- without their choir robes).

There was a short greeting time during the service. We met a woman named Ann, a graphic artist. After the service she introduced us to Pastor Dan and also his wife, who were both quite gracious. Also after the service, Ann needed to take pictures of stained glass in the church for an art project for the one day retreat. (Side note -- Yay, Ann. Thank you so much!)

During the worship service, we heard the first in what we were told would be a series of testimonies entitled, "Making a Difference." The testimony we heard from a married couple, Kara and Brian Thevenot, provided a most encouraging picture of God's work at Hollywood Pres. The couple moved to the area a couple of years ago when Brian got a job with The L.A. Times. Kara  became a part of a Bible study and decided to give her life to Christ. Someone in the Bible study recommended First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.

Kara wanted to bring the family to the church, but was concerned about their 16 year old daughter who is deaf. She called the church and found that they not only printed up all the sermons, but they had an interpreter for the deaf in the 9:30 service. Kara was excited that her daughter for the first time was gaining an understanding of Scripture.

Brian began attending the church even though he would have described himself at the time as an agnostic. He was impressed by the culture of study and debate. He attended a Sunday School class taught by Dr. Dale Bruner, one of the nation's foremost Biblical scholars. One Sunday they brought in a guest speaker to discuss the subject of homosexuality. The guest's opinions were at odds with the teaching of the church, and Brian appreciated the freedom of the discussion. Brian believes dogmatism drives people away from many churches, but that wasn't the case at this church. He soon came to faith in Christ as well.
-- Dean

I trust that Kara's and Brian's story is just one of the little miracles of Christ working through the ministry of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood -- as many such miracles have come before and will continue on in the future.

Service Length: 1 hour 2 minutes
Sermon Length: 17 minutes
Visitor Treatment: greeting time during worship, parking lot designated for first or second time visitors (and handicapped parking), visitor card in pew rack to be put in offering plate (although our row didn't have any, the other rows all seemed to have a couple)
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none*
Our Rough Count: 200
Probable Ushers' Count: 225
Snacks: coffee and water (water was available in several locations around the campus...temperatures had been over 100 degrees F for several days). Donuts were available for purchase as well
Musicians: adult choir had 27 singers, plus organist, pianist and an oboe soloist; children's choir had 27 singers an an adult leader (and piano accompaniment)
Songs: "He Lives"
            "My Heart is Ready to Sing" (children's choir)
            "Prayer" (choir call to prayer)
            "Nearer, Still Nearer" (choir offertory)
            "I Know that my Redeemer Lives"
Miles to place: 578
Total California Miles: 14,013
Church website:

*We got an email during on Wednesday with an attached welcome letter