A plain but tidy A-frame building bisected at right angles by a wing much longer on the right than the left. The inside features a dark wood ceiling with red steel beams. A wooden altar sits on a raised platform, with a separate Blessed Sacrament altar to the right. A portrait of Christ in glory hangs on the east wall. Stained glass depicts scenes from the life of Christ.
They sponsor home groups for fellowship and Bible study. The rector, Canon Gary Heniser, produces and distributes via e-mail a scripture-based educational and inspirational newsletter called The Daily Nosh. There is one worship service each Sunday.
Oceanside, in southern California, is home to the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. The church is located on Ditmar Street just off the Pacific Coast Highway, in South Oceanside, in a working-class residential neighborhood. This part of town is well removed from the gentrified honky-tonk atmosphere of downtown Oceanside that caters to Marines on liberty and vacationers at leisure.
The Revd Canon Gary Heniser, rector, and the Revd James Younce, assistant rector, concelebrated, with Father Younce preaching. They were assisted by the Revd Deacon Russel LaPier. Karen Schwan, Mary Shrock and Evelyn Batterton read the lessons, and Anna Younce led the intercessions.
What was the name of the service?Praise, Worship and Holy Eucharist.
How full was the building?
It's a small church - I counted room only for about 50 people and there were 17 present. Mostly single women; I saw only one family with children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not at the door, but once I was settled in my pew, a lady named Evelyn came over to me, shook my hand, welcomed me, and asked me how I had heard about the church. I'll have more to say about Evelyn later. One or two other people also came up to me and welcomed me.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes - cushioned wooden pew. There were no kneelers, however. Most people knelt on the floor when called to do so, but one or two had obtained small foam rubber kneeling blocks from somewhere.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Most people entered at the moment the service began, but those who were there beforehand visited amongst themselves. The keyboardist doodled on her instrument.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to the presence of our living King." The entrance procession veritably strutted up the aisle, with lots of hand waving and clapping.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A bulletin contained everything we needed.
What musical instruments were played?
Digital keyboard and electric guitar. There was also a soloist, although the keyboardist and guitarist also sang. The musicians were located in the rear of the church.
Did anything distract you?
I found all the happy-clappy stuff quite distracting. I was also distracted by how the altar party vested. Canon Heniser wore an amice, alb without cincture, and red stole, and sported white socks and white sneakers. He donned a red chasuble at the offertory. Father Younce wore an alb that was too short for him, cincture, and red stole, but his choice of black trousers, socks and shoes was correct. Deacon LaPier was the only member of the altar party whose vestiture completely passed muster: alb of the proper length, cincture, red deacon's stole, and black haberdashery. He donned a white dalmatic with red orphreys at the offertory. The server wore an alb so short that it could be mistaken for a skirt, under which he sported brown slacks and shoes.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It couldnt be any happier or any clappier! It was basically an amalgam of Prayer Book Rites I and II, with lots of arm waving, clapping, shouting out, dancing in the aisles, and general charismatic fervor. There was lots of ad-lib Pentecostal-style praying (for example: "The Holy Spirit is raining down on us today; wash yourself in his rain"). The lady named Evelyn, whom I mentioned above, was getting so jiggy with it that I thought she'd fall down in the Spirit at any moment (but she didn't). The congregation commented often on what was taking place, engaging in dialog with the clergy. There was incense galore, and bells at the customary moments. The music was all lite Christian rock.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Younce spoke without notes, engaging the congregation in what amounted to a spiritual conversation. The guitarist strummed softly throughout the sermon.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Going to church should be as energizing as going to a football game. It should be the highlight of our week (from the congregation: "It is! Hallelujah!"). It is a time when the Father's family gets together to celebrate. It happens all over the world (there is, after all, only one eucharist). God is the world's biggest partier - come party with him! And if you don't agree with this vision of church, get yourself saved! There are some places in the world where people can't celebrate church without risking arrest or even death. (At the end of the sermon, a lady raised her hand and said, "I want to thank you for that sermon.")
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This is not my style of worship, but I can't fault this congregation for their fervor. They were clearly into it, with all their clapping, shouting out, dancing, and everything else.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But the music went on, and on, and on, interminably! There was a 15-minute praise session in between the gospel and sermon, plus those repetitive Christian rock songs in all the places you'd expect hymns in a more traditional service. Some of the younger children in the congregation looked as bored as I was.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I literally ran screaming from the place (well, screaming silently) right after communion.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The annual parish picnic was taking place that afternoon, but there's no way that I would attend.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – In the words of that old hymn, "Give me that old time religion": the traditional style of worship "was good for my old granny, and it's good enough for me!"
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Evelyn and another lady getting jiggy with it and dancing in the aisles.