This is the oldest church in Oceanside, having been built in 1886 as a Congregational church. It was sold to the Methodists in 1896 and was occupied by them until 1995. It has a traditional churchy look both inside and out, with the inside featuring pointed arches, chandeliers, and abstract stained glass. A stage holds a lectern, musical instruments, and a variety of potted plants; with I AM in large letters on the back wall.
Judging from their website and from what I observed this morning, this is a tight-knit Bible-believing conservative group of working class folk. They sponsor men's, women's and youth groups, an outreach to the homeless, and a pregnancy resource center, among other ministries. The handout mentioned a Sunday night fellowship dinner and a recovery ministry for (quoting from the handout) "anyone who needs to be set free."
They are located on Seagaze Drive, one of the east-west streets leading inland from the ocean beaches, a short distance from the upscale tourist meets honky-tonk downtown of this military town, home to the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base.
No one was identified, and their website does not include photos of the staff. However, I think it is safe to assume that the Revd Brad Lambert, pastor, was the preacher. Another unidentified gentleman led the service. Tony Castro spoke about ongoing renovations to the church building.
What was the name of the service?Morning Worship Service.
How full was the building?
There were about 200 chairs occupied by about 50 people at start time. More people drifted in during the half-hour long musical worship, and I'd say the place was about three-quarters full by the start of the sermon.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman said "Good morning" as he handed me an informational leaflet.
Was your pew comfortable?
Upholstered metal chair OK.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of loud visiting.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Everything was projected. The handout was merely informational and did not include an order of service.
What musical instruments were played?
Acoustic guitar (electronically amplified), electronic bass guitar, drums. The guitarist was left-handed and played a left-handed instrument. He also sang along with two vocalists. An upright piano on stage remained silent.
Did anything distract you?
I'd say that at least one-quarter of the gentlemen present had forgotten that their mothers taught them to remove their hats in church. One gentleman sported what looked like a bird's nest on top of his head, which I eventually realized was the way he had styled his hair.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It began with the customary 30-minute musical worship of the rock variety. The musicians were adequate but not exceptional. Most people remained sitting, but some stood, some raised their hands and waved their arms. Some of the music seemed to be a cut above the ordinary fare one hears in this style of worship; one song in particular by the Bethel Music community was rather inspiring. This was followed by announcements, a short talk about ongoing renovations to the building, a fellowship moment (more about this below), and the sermon.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – This one is hard to rate because the preacher had researched his text well (Hebrews 13:5-6 - be content with what you have; God will never forsake you) and his talk was heavily peppered with biblical references. He spoke clearly and made good eye contact for the most part. However, I was tempted to begin counting the number of times he used the phrase "you know" as oral punctuation, and I thought he could easily have made his point in one-third the time he actually took to make it.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God wants us to love one another but not covet what others have. Those who covet always want more - they are never satisfied. Possessions can be good, but the tempter (he never used the word devil) can pervert our attitude toward them. We are in this world but not of this world. Be content with what you have. The content heart pleases God and is open to growth. Have confidence in God, who loves us and is intimately involved in our lives. God puts all the resources of heaven at our disposal. If we trust in God, what can man do to us? (At this point a cell phone went off, and the preacher answered his question by saying, "I think were about to find out." This generated much laughter.) The Spirit who lives within us conquers covetousness.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This is not really my kind of worship, but in spite of myself I had to admire the sincerity with which these 150-or-so souls had come together on a Sunday morning to worship God. It was clear that they were there because they wanted to be, and that they were enjoying themselves.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But let's talk about the moment of fellowship, shall we? The gentleman making announcements before the sermon concluded by saying, "And now let us have a moment of fellowship," whereupon a party atmosphere instantly broke out. Everybody got up and visited with everybody else. Lots of loud talking, laughing, even climbing over chairs to get from one social group to another. This went on for about ten minutes. I would have left had I not been Mystery Worshipping. In the midst of it all, only two people behooved themselves to shake the hand of a stranger. (This despite the pastor having reminded the congregation of last week's text: Hebrews 13:2 - show hospitality to strangers.)
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the sermon the band started up again. There had been no collection, so I left my Mystery Worship Calling Card on the chair and took advantage of the opportunity to slip out the back door.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
If there was any on offer, I didn't stay for it.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – Nope, not for me. In the unlikely event that I do return, however, I'll remember to wear my hat.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The sermon did, yes, but not the worship style.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The number of gentlemen who wore hats.