The congregation was formed in 1960. Ground was broken for the present building on Palm Sunday 1994 and it was completed in the fall of that year. From the outside it's a sort of boxy looking concrete structure with detached bell tower sitting high on a hill scarred by a concrete drainage ditch. The church is located in a courtyard with parish hall, columbarium, and a small statue on a pedestal of a rather undernourished Jesus, his ribs showing and his arms outstretched. Inside is a square room, very bright, with white walls and triangular panels of stained glass framing the altar. Choir seating is to the right, with organ pipes above. The baptismal font is in the rear.
They sponsor a number of social activities, including museum trips, beach parties, movie nights, and bowling, to name a few. Their work with the homeless includes a food bank, quilting, and contributions to various shelters. They have support groups for the families of military personnel who have been deployed overseas. There are also men's and women's groups. Each Sunday they have both a traditional and contemporary service as well as Bible study and kids' time.
The church is on MacDonald Street just off Oceanside Boulevard, about a half mile walk from the Crouch Street station on the Sprinter interurban rail line. There is also a bus stop at the corner of Oceanside Boulevard and MacDonald Street, but alas, there is no Sunday service on that route. Sprinter, opened in 2008, uses track belonging to the Santa Fe Railroad and provides passenger service between Oceanside and a cluster of cities to the east. This strip of Oceanside Boulevard is lined with rather seedy commercial establishments. However, as one turns the corner of MacDonald Street and goes up the hill, one encounters lots of apartment complexes and working-class single family homes.
The Revd Joel Martyn, pastor, wearing a charcoal suit with clerical collar. This was Pastor Martyn's first day on the job, and I think he may have his work cut out for him (read on!). He was assisted by Sandy Darrow, assistant minister. The Contemporary Worship Band provided the music. The Piecemakers Quilt Group supervised the coffee hour, and Geneva Loyland was the greeter.
What was the name of the service?Contemporary Worship. (I would have preferred the traditional service but could not get up early enough to catch the Sprinter train and still be on time.)
How full was the building?
It can hold about 150 and I counted about 45. The entire left side of the nave was roped off, so we sat only on the right. Mostly a middle aged to elderly crowd - only about a half dozen small children, including the pastor's two children, and no teenagers or young couples. This surprised me for a contemporary worship service.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I had noticed a sign saying that polling place worker training would be taking place. As I entered the courtyard, a gentleman asked, "Are you here for the polling place training?" When I replied that I was there for church, he said, "The service won't start for a while yet. Would you like some coffee?" Coffee, iced tea, lemonade and cut-up fruit were available for free, as well as baked items that were being offered for sale. I was feeling a bit peaked after climbing up the MacDonald Street hill, so I helped myself to some iced tea (the weakest I've ever tasted - ice water with a hint of tea flavoring would better describe it) and sat down a spell in the courtyard. No one else said anything to me. Inside the church, the greeter, Geneva Loyland, had either not yet taken up her post when I arrived or she didn't see me for some reason. I took a bulletin from a table. Again, no one said anything to me.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes - wooden pew with red cushion.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A grandmother with two small children seemed to be the center of attention. The guitarist was practicing some hummy-strummy bits, and he stopped playing to step down and fuss over the children. Others, as they entered, likewise fussed over them. Lots of visiting and talking, but still no one took any notice of me.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of our Lord Jesus, good morning."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Evangelical Lutheran Worship was in the pews, but we used it only for one hymn: "A mighty fortress," in keeping with Reformation Sunday. Everything else was in a handout.
What musical instruments were played?
Digital keyboard, acoustic guitar, organ only for A mighty fortress. The organ is a three-manual Rodgers electronic instrument with a single rank of pipes (diapason) flanking the speakers mounted on the wall. The guitarist sang, and there was also a female vocalist.
Did anything distract you?
The grandmother with the two children sat directly in front of me. The children were constantly in and out, returning with coloring books, bags of Halloween candy, etc. and babbling to their grandmother, who tried her best to shush them without being stern (what grandmother is stern?). One of the young boys who went up for the children's talk (he couldn't have been more than eight or nine years old) had blond streaks in his brown hair and wore a shirt that was completely unbuttoned, revealing a white t-shirt underneath. I was a little surprised that his parents allowed him to dress for church like that.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very informal, following the standard Lutheran order of service very loosely. The music was by Cathy Skogen-Soldner, who specializes in children's Christian music. Let me just say that it was not impressive and not memorable I didn't leave humming the tunes. The exchange of peace was handshakes all around, but not excessive. The Lord's Prayer was the modern language version, which I don't like. At communion we intincted the host either in a chalice of wine or grape juice, as we preferred.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
4 minutes (children's talk), 20 minutes (adult sermon).
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Pastor Martyn spoke clearly, loudly and informally without referring to notes. It was obvious that he enjoys preaching.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
(Children's talk) On the last Sunday of the month we take up a special collection to end hunger. Let us thank God for providing for our needs, and let us pray that our offering may change someone's life. (Adult sermon) The pastor's text was the gospel reading for the day, John 8:31-36 (You are slaves to sin but the Son will set you free). This passage shows how much Jesus has done for us. Who has not sinned? To be a disciple of Jesus is to be freed of sin. A disciple follows Jesus but also does what Jesus taught us to do: love one another, care for the sick, feed the hungry, help the poor, house the homeless, bring home those who live on the fringes of society. Lift people up, don't tear them down. Getting people to smile is the simplest way of showing God's love. To evangelize is to live your life so that it reflects Jesus. We experience truth when we do what Jesus commanded. Jesus is Truth, and Truth will set us free from brokenness in life. Let others see how happy you are by doing what Jesus did.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing "A mighty fortress" to organ accompaniment was heavenly. The organist was not named, but I'm assuming it was Lynn Hieb, music director, who provided good congregational support while bringing out the glorious sound for which Rodgers organs are famous. Also, the digital keyboard had a harp stop, and the keyboardist used it for his offertory solo. Very nice.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The guitarist, on the other hand, a tenor, favored head tones and falsetto as well as the flat, hollow vowel sounds that country singers use. I don't want to be too harsh on him, as he sang with conviction and inspiration, and the congregation clearly enjoyed his singing. However, I found it tiresome and grating, especially when combined with Mrs Skogen-Soldner's insipid compositions.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The congregation had not engaged me up to this point, so I was really not in the mood to engage them. I had fantasized about a kindly parishioner, preferably a young gentleman, taking pity on me at coffee hour and offering me a ride to the Sprinter station (call Miss Amanda what you will, but she enjoys riding in cars with young men). Clearly, however, it wasn't going to happen here. And so I slipped out during the final benediction and headed down to the station on foot, where I caught the train with only a minute or two to spare.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
See above re my comments re pre-service iced tea.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I would have to try the traditional service before deciding. The bulletin noted that last week's attendance was 68 at the traditional service and 20 at the contemporary one. I wonder if they were all middle aged to elderly at the early service too. Where are the children and young adults in this parish? And although I don't like being fawned over, may I just say that the way to attract new members to a congregation is not to ignore them when they do show up.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
"A mighty fortress."