Tuesday, January 24, 2017

We Go to Church (but is it Really a Church?) before a Meal

Redwood Gospel Mission, Santa Rosa, California
Our trip last year, where we visited a worship service in every state, could have been completed so much more quickly -- perhaps in two months rather than a year -- if we’d mostly gone to places like Redwood Gospel Mission. Last year, each state required a week since we generally attended Saturday or Sunday services, but RGM has a worship service every evening at 6:00 pm.

Technically, one could argue that Redwood Gospel Mission is not a church. The people at the Mission would not call themselves a church. During the worship service, worshipers are encouraged to attend a church. But RGM certainly has worship services, so if we said that we would visit a worship service (rather than a worship service in a church), we might have found missions throughout the country, and the trip would have been a lot quicker. (Still, we have no regrets.)

When we arrived at the Mission a few minutes before the evening worship service, we saw an ambulance outside. Inside the building,I heard people speculating about who was in the ambulance and the reason the person was in it. No one seemed to really know, but speculation abounded.

As we looked around the chapel, we noticed a few women, but men filled almost all the seats in the chapel. I noticed a few men on their phones, and the man in front of us was looking at a local weekly. Christmas decorations were hanging up near the ceiling.

A minute or two before the scheduled time, a man stood in front of the group and quickly read through a list of announcements (among them, the fact that there’s a 6:00 pm worship service at the mission every day of the year, followed by the 7:00 dinner; he also announced a 6:30 am service followed immediately by breakfast). He also let the group know about the Mission’s drug and alcohol recovery program, the Manna Home ministry for women and children, and shelter availability for the night.

Someone led a prayer of thanksgiving for the day’s lovely weather and for the lovely mission. The two men on stage with guitars introduced themselves as Tim and Steve, who attend two different churches that meet in the same building (The Bridge and Alliance Christian Fellowship). Redwood Gospel Mission has a rotation of churches that lead worship for their evening service.

A few technical difficulties with the sound needed to be worked through (“Your mic’s not working yet!” “Got it!” “Karen, can you turn down the guitars a bit?”), but they carried on with a bit of static coming through the system. Tim said, “If we can lift God up and praise Him, it’s a blessing to everyone.” Almost every comment and song was met with scattered “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” from the crowd.

Tim introduced a Bob Dylan song by reminding us that we all need to make some choices (“It may be the devil, it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”) Someone praised his singing with a loud “Brave-Oh!”

As we sang, a man came from behind us and tousled the hair of the man looking at the newspaper in front of us. The man responded good naturedly. A different man went to the front of the chapel and raised his clenched fist triumphantly for no reason we could discern.

Karen, who had been doing the sound, came forward to give the message. I heard a man behind me make a crude remark that would have more often be heard in a strip club than a chapel, but fortunately he quit after that.

Karen initially had problems with the sound system and also apologized for a scratchy throat. She apparently had been to the Mission before, saying, “I see a lot of faces I’ve known for a long time.”  She read a bit from the Robert Frost poem about the road less traveled, drawing a parallel with Matthew 7:15 where Jesus talked about the wide road leading to destruction and the narrow road to salvation.

She spoke of the many choices we make in our day to day life, but said the most crucial choice was whether we would accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, a choice between eternal life and eternal condemnation. She quoted Scripture demonstrating our need for God’s forgiveness for our sins that condemn us to death. She told the story of a California governor who offered clemency to a convict on death row. The convict refused the reprieve and went to his death. She said we have the same choice about whether to accept God’s offer of life. (Side note: Mindy wasn't able to verify this story)

She closed with an offer to pray the sinner’s prayer accepting God’s gift of salvation. “Close your eyes and say these words in your heart,” she said, but many in the chapel repeated her words of contrition and request for forgiveness out loud. “If you prayed that prayer, you are a new creation,” Karen said as she closed.

People stirred, getting ready to go into the meal. “Women and children first” was repeated by several people, and it seemed to be a regular prelude to forming the line to the dining room.

We went in to eat with the crowd, hoping to engage in conversation but almost everyone was  much more intent on clearing their very full plates rather than talking. (I did hear a man at another table say, “I have the munchies from hell; if anyone doesn’t want anything on your plate, it’s going in my pockets, somehow.”)

A few days later, I went without Mindy to the 6:30 am Bible study that preceded breakfast. On my way to the Mission, I saw many people walking from the freeway underpass (where they had spent the night) to the warmth of the Mission.

Before the service there was gossip about a rumor that people from the nearby shopping mall were taking pictures of the homeless that might be used to evict folks. Someone said the photographers might be coming to the services, which led one woman to respond, “You don’t have to be homeless to come to church here.” As in the evening service, the seats were pretty well filled, and there was a greater percentage of women.

A leader read a devotion from The Daily Bread and then asked if anyone had any Scripture to share. A woman shared an extended portion from Isaiah, a man shared from John 15 (“I am the vine and you are the branches”), and another man shared a quote from Joyce Myers.

People were then dismissed for breakfast, again with the admonition, “Women and children first”.

During our 2016 journey to every state, we went to a number of missions along the way. Though most of those places wouldn’t call themselves “churches,” at those places and at Redwood Gospel Mission, we certainly saw the Church at work.

Evening Service / Morning Service
Service Length: 59 minutes / 15 minutes
Sermon Length: 17 minutes / none
Visitor Treatment: No special recognition of visitors, but there was a time for people to greet those around them.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none (no attendance record)
Our Rough Count: 47 / 50
Probable Ushers’ Count: none
Snacks: spagetti, fruit salad, green salad, French bread, green beans, cupcakes, pie, milk, water /didn’t stay for breakfast
Musicians: acoustic guitars (2 men) / none
Songs: “Our God”
“Hear our Praises”
“Gotta Serve Somebody” (solo)
“Mighty to Save”
“Revelatation Song”
“Lord, in Your Name we Lift up our Hands”
“How Marvelous, How Wonderful”
“Listen to our Hearts”
Miles to Church: 2
Church Website: srmission.org
WiFi Availability: none
Tie/Suit Count: 0 / 0