Mystery Worshipper: Origen
Church: Mountain View Mennonite
Location: Upland, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 December 2009, 10:45am
A simple modern design with slanted columns. Inside the sanctuary were rows of chairs with Christmas greenery all over. At the front were a wooden cross, the altar and a pulpit.
Mountain View runs a local pre-school kindergarten in cooperation with Bethany Baptist Church in nearby Montclair. The congregation is truly inter-generational and involves the children in the work of the church, particularly in social justice, including purchasing gifts for children of prisoners and delivering Christmas stockings to children in hospitals.
Upland is a city nestled at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains about 30 miles due east of Los Angeles, in the area known as the Inland Empire. Founded in 1906, it was originally an agricultural center but is today primarily residential. Many of the older houses and shops have been preserved, and the city exudes a quiet charm. The church is located in a suburban neighborhood and is across the street from a school.
The Revd Roger Richer, pastor, assisted by Sallie Richards, worship leader.
What was the name of the service?Worship and Celebration.
How full was the building?
Mostly full with the exception of a few front chairs.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered the sanctuary, at least five different people, including Pastor Richer, greeted me. I was handed an order of service and signed the visitors book. We had some casual chat about where I'm from, my graduate studies, my experience in other Anabaptist churches, and my personal faith journey.
Was your pew comfortable?
My chair was very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pre-service had some conversation but it turned reverential when the prelude started playing.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to worship. Let us hear the revelation of God's promise."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymnal: A Worship Book. Also available but not used was Maranatha Praise.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
A couple of worshipers arriving late.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Soulful and meditative. It was a lessons and carols service. Pastor Richer sang the gospel reading, which was the story of Jesus' birth as told by Luke (King James translation). When the pastor was at seminary, he served as cantor in a local synagogue.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The pastor engaged the biblical text and yet allowed for deeper exploration of its meaning and interpretation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Get on board with the baby! The story of Jesus' birth begins in the heavens and then is proclaimed throughout the heavens. Every time a child is born is a holy time that brings new possibilities. The birth of a child reveals the kingdom of God in our midst.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Pastor Richer singing the scripture reading. Congregational singing was also heavenly, as were the children's moment and the sermon.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Moving a couple of seats in order to accommodate late arriving worshipers.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service, several people invited me to a potluck luncheon that had been planned. There, we continued to share our life experiences.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The food at the potluck included but was not limited to fried chicken (from Colonel Sanders), lasagna, assorted fruits and desserts, and other culinary novelties. Lemonade was available – cold and refreshing.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – I loved it!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Most definitely. This church follows in the spirit of Jesus, whose acts of inclusion often scandalized those around him but embodied God's radical grace and love.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Pastor Richer singing the gospel lesson.