Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Evergreen Valley Church and Church on the Hill, San Jose

Throughout the month of November, Mindy and I visited churches that were featured in movies, so for the last month, I've dealt with false expectations you may have from those films ("The church used for Sister Act doesn't sing sanctified doo-wop," "Horses are not tied in front of the church location for High Noon," "Dustin Hoffman is not eternally knocking on the glass of the church from The Graduate"). So I was going to deal this week with false expectations you might have with the churches from the film I'm in Love with a Church Girl.

But who are we fooling here? You haven't seen I'm in Love with a Church Girl. You could watch it on Netflix, Amazon or even YouTube, but you haven't yet, so it would be silly to deal with false expectations you'd have from watching the film. There are, however, some interesting things about the origin of that film that I'd like to write about before we visit the churches.

IiLwaCG was written by Galley Molina while he was serving time in prison. He had been a drug dealer, and he wrote a fictionalized story of the experiences that led him out of his life of crime to faith in Jesus Christ. He came to serve at Evergreen Valley Church in San Jose. He raised funds to make a film of his story, but Evergreen Valley Church was too small to serve as a film location, so the production company went to the nearby Church on the Hill, also in San Jose. This Sunday we experienced a happy double feature, visiting both churches.

First of all, on the off chance there is someone reading who saw the film; I should let you know that there was no Lamborghini in the parking lot at Evergreen Valley Church. Before the 9:00 am service, I talked to one of the pastors on staff, Greg Trapp. He told me Pastor Galley is one of their ministers of worship at Evergreen Valley, but he wouldn't be there that morning.

I could understand why the film wasn't made at Evergreen. The sanctuary was relatively small and narrow. But it did fill up, and this was one of three services for the weekend. The music also filled the room. (I was warned by a parishioner named George before the service that the music could be loud; obviously concerned it might bother us. Thank you, George; it did not.)

"I was a manager at a Kmart for ten years. Last Friday was Black Friday. I don't like Black Friday. But I like Good Friday. Black Friday brings chaos, but Good Friday brings peace." That was how one of the other pastors, Dennis Hadley, introduced communion. (There are seven pastors on the staff of this relatively small church.) Communion was served in a rather unique way. The trays passed contained plastic cups in stacks of two. The top cup had grape juice and the bottom cup had a wafer. The church serves communion every week, believing that most important thing they do is commemorate Christ's sacrifice for our sin.

The sermon was given by the Senior Pastor, Tim Wood (and yes, rare IiLwaCG viewers, that is Pastor Tim from the film) on the theme of Thanksgiving. "We may be Post Thanksgiving Day, but we are not post thanksgiving."

When the first day of Advent falls after Thanksgiving, it sometimes provides a quandary for service planners. Should the theme of the service be Thanksgiving or Advent? This week we were able to celebrate both. Thanksgiving was the theme at Evergreen, but at Church on the Hill they were celebrating the First Sunday of Advent.

The church is visible at distance with a unique look, a bit like a circus tent with a globe on the top. There is a school on the property, so soccer fields are next door to the building. Music from a variety of Christian artists can be heard from the parking lot.

Approaching the building greeters shook our hands. Inside the lobby there were people enjoying beverages and snacks from the café. I looked in the sanctuary and was handed a bulletin (Mindy had gone in a few minutes earlier). Though musicians were playing, I thought they were practicing because there were a number of empty seats. But the service had, in fact, begun. (And only about half of the large space had chairs. There was a good deal of empty space.)

After some worship choruses, we sang my first carol of the season, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” During the announcements, people were invited to an evening of decorating the church lobby for Christmas, “so that we won’t just have the prettiest place in San Jose but also the most welcoming.”

A woman was invited forward to give her testimony and light the first Advent candle of the season, the Candle of Hope. A nicely done video also presented the theme of hope, presenting a variety of sentiments (from “I hope for peace on earth” to “I hope Dad stays sober.”)

The sermon was, not surprisingly, on the theme of Hope, using the first chapter of John and a survey of that Gospel. The pastor acknowledged that there are plenty of reasons why people might lose hope (everything from reports of terrorism in the news to personal tragedy), but insisted hope can be found in Christ.

I had a chance to talk to a gentleman named Paul who was in the lobby with a couple of his young children. I asked him why he came to the Church on the Hill. He said he appreciated their young pastor. He also said he had grown up in the church, and “I’m a faithful guy.”

It was obvious looking around that there were people who hadn’t stayed faithful to the church. It was a bit strange. It was a large facility and people seemed to act as if they were still a mega church, but were no longer that. Mindy did a bit of research, and found that Church on the Hill had indeed had some struggles in the recent past. It seems like there are still good folks at the place, and I hope that God can continue to work through this ministry. As the preacher said, there is always hope, particularly in this season of Advent. I trust God will continue to work on the Hill and in the Valley in San Jose.

Evergreen Valley Church
Service Length: 1 hour 10 minutes
Sermon Length: 21 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Just like in the movie (sort of), Mindy was escorted in when we arrived...but only as far as the restroom door. We were greeted and given bulletins as soon as we came in the building, and each of us was greeted as we walked around before the service began (we think at least three of the people who greeted us were pastors). Pastor Greg was especially welcoming. There was a greeting time during the service when people went out of their way to greet us, and after the service, an usher made sure we went to the information table for the visitors' gift (a logo'd shopping bag with a devotional). We filled out the visitor card that was available in a number of locations around the building.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: We got a personal email on Sunday from Pastor Greg
Our Rough Count: 87 plus balcony (we didn't see how many were there, but guess around 30)
Probable Ushers' Count: 135
Snacks: none, but there was a table with bags of bakery bread (with Bible verses) in front of the church (we took some that had caraway seeds. It is delicious)
Musicians: 1 man on various percussion instruments, 1 man on drums, worship leader (man) on keyboard, 1 man on electric bass, 1 man and two women singers
Songs: "First Loved me"
"When I Think about the Lord"
"Thank You for Loving me"
Miles to place: 117
Total California Miles: 17,160
Church website: evcsj.com

Church on the Hill
Service Length: 1 hour 10 minutes
Sermon Length: 43 minutes
Visitor Treatment: One of the two greeters outside the building shook our hands and welcomed us. We filled out the visitor card in the pew.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none  an email invitation Tuesday afternoon for the evening's lobby decorating party and an email from the pastor asking us to say hello in the lobby next week (we saw him in the lobby this week but didn't want to interrupt the conversation he was having)
Our Rough Count: 180
Probable Ushers' Count: 200
Snacks: Coffee and a variety of foods available at the Cafe. (Among the service opportunities listed in the bulletin was doing the shopping to stock the Cafe)
Musicians: worship leader (man) on acoustic guitar, man on drums, man on electric bass, woman singer
Songs: "Cornerstone"
"O Come, All ye Faithful"
"Song of Hope (Heaven Come Down)"
Miles to place: 12
Total California Miles: 17,160
Church website: churchonthehill.com