They occupy what looks to be an office or light industrial facility in what is euphemistically known as a corporate park. Inside, one enters a small lobby off which opens a rectangular, rather dark, windowless room with blue carpeting, gray walls, and a raised platform where the altar is located. I say the room was windowless, but there were two photos of stained glass windows that were projected onto the wall on either side of the altar. The area surrounding the altar was dressed with poinsettia plants and Nativity themed cutout figures. A creche sat on the floor in front of the altar.
The congregation was formed in 2006 when a majority of the parishioners at St Anne's Episcopal Church, Oceanside, voted to leave the Episcopal Church. That group claimed the church building for themselves and expelled that portion of the congregation who had voted to remain Episcopalian. The Episcopalians sued, and in 2010 a court settlement was reached whereby the breakaway group would return the building to the Episcopalians. Ironically, St Anne's parish was dissolved by the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego almost a year ago to the day, and the building has remained vacant since then. An announcement was made at today's service that Grace Church is considering renting the vacant St Anne's building. Be all that as it may, Grace Church calls itself (quoting from their website) "a loving Christian community ... a safe and sacred place where people ... will not be afraid to be authentic, connected, accepting, creative, and spiritually vibrant." They have a men's ministry, a women's ministry, and small group meetings for Bible study, prayer and fellowship. They support a mission in Bolivia. There are two celebrations of the eucharist each Sunday and one each Wednesday evening, and evening prayer on Tuesdays and Fridays.
They are located on Oceanside Boulevard a short walk from the College Boulevard station on the Sprinter interurban rail line, about five miles east of downtown Oceanside. A collection of corporate parks, hosting medical offices, exercise clubs, insurance agencies and the like, dominate the scenery.
The Revd Pastor Bill Mugford, rector. He was assisted by Jeremy Spain, pastoral intern; and Frances Slaughter, subdeacon (no deacon was listed). All were wearing albs; additionally, Pastor Bill wore a white stole and donned a white chasuble at the offertory. In street clothes were July Gillease, Doug Hall and Oley Ihenacho, readers. April Snyder played organ and digital keyboard. There was also a guitarist who was not named.
What was the name of the service?Worship Service.
How full was the building?
I counted about 150 chairs and there were about 50 people present - mostly middle aged to elderly; only a handful of children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered, I remarked to a gentleman that the church was hard to find, as it was located in the rear and to the side of the corporate park; I had to walk around quite a bit before I spotted it. He said something to the effect of, "Well, Im glad you found it. Welcome. Come into the fellowship hall for some coffee." He then showed me the way into the fellowship hall, where a gentleman named Walter introduced himself and made conversation. Then the pastoral assistant, Jeremy Spain, came in and introduced himself. We chatted a bit about how I had come to choose Grace Church today, and about what Walter called the Anglo-Episcopal schism.
Was your pew comfortable?
They were conference room-type chairs all hooked together, with fold-down kneelers attached. Comfortable enough.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I got a few hellos and Merry Christmases from a few of the people, but they primarily exchanged greetings among themselves. A woman asked the gentleman in back of me if he would carry up the gifts at the offertory. He expressed some hesitation as to what was expected of him, and so she asked me if I would help him. I replied that I was just visiting and that I would prefer to see a church member carry them up. "See how quickly we get friendly?" she said.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"G-g-g-good morning." No, the pastor wasn't stuttering; he was shivering! It was chilly inside and the heating system didn't seem to be doing much good. The pastor then tried his best to get people to move up closer toward the front and sit closer together "You'll be warmer if you do," he said with mixed success.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We had a handout that contained all the prayers, readings and words to the hymns, but it was not needed because everything was also projected onto the wall. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, was in the pews.
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ, digital keyboard, acoustic guitar.
Did anything distract you?
I thought at first that a woman behind me was singing harmony, but I soon realized that if it was indeed harmony, it was not written by even the most atonal of atonal composers. The poor dear, I dont think she hit one single correct note.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It roughly followed Rite II in the Prayer Book 1979 of the Episcopal Church, but with lots of liberties. For example, in lieu of the Gloria we sang "Angels we have heard on high." Whoever had prepared the projected text of the Nicene Creed had thought it necessary to add the word Christian in parentheses after the word catholic (small c). The subdeacon (there was no deacon) made the chalice but did not otherwise perform the deacon's duties. There were bells at the consecration, but no incense. The priest did not elevate the elements at the Per Ipsum. In the Lord's Prayer we asked God to deliver us from "all that is evil." At the dismissal, we were told to go in peace to love and serve the Lord, as we are in the Episcopal Church, but there was added, "We are free! Alleluia!" to which we replied, "In the name of Christ we go" followed by a triple Alleluia.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The pastor was very relaxed and conversational in his style, and did not use notes. He established good rapport with the congregation. I'm not going to rate him any higher than that, though, because he really started to lose me as he tried to explain the meaning of St Paul's original Greek words. Also, he said that he really didn't understand the Incarnation until, as a young man, he had been invited to his Italian-American fiancee's parents' house for Sunday dinner. As meat course after meat course was brought out, it dawned on him (he said) that God became meat!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
What a joy it was when Jesus came into the world! The Incarnation is a difficult concept to grasp even the ancients struggled with it. But Jesus was God with meat on him (he said)! As St Paul wrote in Philippians 2:1-11, God emptied himself into flesh. Jesus didnt come to force us to do anything, but he came with such love (as a baby, after all oooh, how cute!) so as to be irresistible. The Incarnation happened for us! It transforms us and saves us. Its purpose is salvation. There is nothing more grand or glorious so why not trust Jesus?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
As she read Philippians 2:1-11, the reader, Oley Ihenacho, suddenly got religion as she read the words "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" even going so far as to thump the Bible! It certainly caught everyone's attention - not that our attention was lagging, mind you.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Although most of the hymns were traditional Christmas carols, some were unfamiliar to me, as was the musical setting of the Lord's Prayer. although the congregation seemed to know both the carols and the Lord's Prayer setting.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I wanted to snap some photos of the projected stained glass windows. After that I shook the hands of the pastor and the pastoral assistant, who both wished me a merry Christmas and thanked me for coming. No one in the congregation said anything to me, though, although if truth be told I wasn't looking for them to do so.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't stay for the after-service coffee, having partaken of coffee plus a chocolate cookie and a piece of carrot cake (both delicious) in the fellowship hall before the service. I thought the coffee tasted like it had been mixed from an instant, although it was served from a large urn. Very strong and somewhat foamy.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – Well, I'm not breakaway Anglican, and I'm afraid I can't agree with some of the reasons why congregations such as this felt they had to leave the Episcopal Church, so I couldn't join them with a clear conscience. I do, however, appreciate their attention to liturgy and traditional music.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The projected stained glass windows.