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253: Pacific Palisades Presbyterian, Pacific Palisades, California, USA
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Pacific Palisades Presbyterian, California
Mystery Worshipper: Calvinist Klein.
The church: Pacific Palisades Presbyterian Church, Pacific Palisades, California, USA.
Denomination: Presbyterian Church (USA).
The building: A stunner. Completed just last year, this beautiful post-modern study in California blonde, dove grey and peachy-pink seems to coordinate perfectly with the mostly California blonde, dove grey and peachy-pink congregants. The 62-foot bell tower includes stones from Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral and John Calvin Church in Geneva. The focal point of the sanctuary is a large, unfinished Celtic cross (see below) carved into the wall to allow sunlight to stream through. According to the church's website, it represents that "the work of the cross is far from finished. It is a lifetime obligation for each of us." I could quibble with the theology behind the statement that the work of the cross isn't finished, but perhaps I'm reading too much into the symbolism. Overall, the building is an argument-ending rejoinder to those who say "they don't build 'em like they used to."
The neighbourhood: Located in Pacific Palisades, a ritzy suburb of Los Angeles, the church is situated about a mile from the ocean on (no kidding) Sunset Boulevard, sandwiched next to a handsome Lutheran church and a synagogue.
The cast: Dr John Todd. Children's sermon by Rev. Eric Schaefer.
What was the name of the service?
St Andrew's Sunday, 10.15am service.

How full was the building?
Mostly full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
My hand was heartily shaken at the door by two enthusiastic greeters. In addition, the usher's very young son handed me the bulletin with a charmingly adamant "you have to take one of these." But the warmest welcome came from the uniformed Parking Czar who ably sardined cars into the small parking lot.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The congregation gathered in a lovely breezeway to listen to a bagpiper playing in honor of St Andrew's Sunday.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed Order of Worship and the Presbyterian Hymnal. The pew Bible was the New Revised Standard Version.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, bagpipe and drums.

Did anything distract you?
In the middle of the quite moving baptism of two teenage boys and their three-year-old sister, a cell phone shattered the mood.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Appropriate Scottish Presbyterian decorum with just a smidge of Hollywood glitz. During the sermon, the pastor worked the room gracefully rather than chaining himself to the pulpit. He also stopped the organist in the middle of a hymn to kiddingly chastise the congregation for not singing loudly enough.

Pacific Palisades Presbyterian, California

Exactly how long was the sermon?
21 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8. With a PhD in Scottish history from the University of Edinburgh, the pastor looks a bit like Scottish comedian/actor Billy Connolly with a little Richard Branson thrown in. He carried a small, well-worn prayer book held together, it appeared, by equal parts faith and duct tape.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
John the Baptist was an introducer, a shake-things-up type who announced to the world the arrival of Jesus. Christians today are called upon to be introducers, too.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The pastor's compelling no-script performance of the Pharisees' questioning of John the Baptist.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
All together now: Turn off your cell phones in church.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood around the breezeway stopping at various tables with literature about upcoming church events. No one approached me, but I can't say that I felt unwelcome.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee and pink lemonade out in the breezeway.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8. In addition to the Order of Worship, the dutiful young usher-in-training handed out envelopes filled with brochures about upcoming events that suggested a spirited church life.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Before the sacrament of communion, the pastor took pains to make it clear that the table was open to all Christians. He also made gracious mentions in his sermon about the good work of other pastors in the neighborhood.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The striking contrast between the stunning sanctuary and the pastor's duct-taped prayer book. There's a metaphor in there somewhere.

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