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.)
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"
"You're Gonna Live and Not Die, Says God"
Miles to place: 231
Total California Miles: 14,540
Church website: Bethelredding.com