|358: La Jolla Presbyterian, La Jolla, California|
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Mystery Worshipper: Wishbone.
The church: La Jolla Presbyterian, 7715 Draper Avenue, La Jolla, California.
Denomination: Presbyterian Church USA.
The building: The building is an attractive, white, Mexican mission style-church, cruciform in shape.
The church: Across the street is a city park, where adults and children were playing basketball, one of America's other religions.
The neighbourhood: The avenue is typical of Southern California: clean, wide and lined with palm trees.
The cast: Rev. Stephen T. Murray, senior pastor; Sheila Vinton Hittle, director of worship and arts; Dr Keith Pedersen, director of choral ministries; and Bill Lullo, organist.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The sanctuary holds an estimated 300-400. It was comfortably filled with a good mix of age levels.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Planning to attend the 10.30am service, I arrived shortly after the 9.00am service had ended. Exiting and arriving worshippers were hanging around the church's courtyard, chatting amiably, but nobody spoke or offered a greeting. A large sign, reading "welcome visitors" (a reminder for members or a welcome to guests?) was prominently placed in the center of the courtyard, so I stood in front of it for a few minutes. Ignored and self-conscious, I finally entered the nave and, taking a seat, noticed that the minister was walking up the aisle greeting everyone before the service began. He stopped a few rows before he got to me, which added to my feeling of neglect.
Was your pew comfortable?
They were padded and supportive without being too soft.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The pre-service chatting in the congregation quieted slightly when the organ prelude began, but the talking gradually grew louder and louder until it almost completely drowned out the lovely Mendelssohn adagio, to the dismay of those who were trying to meditate, pray, listen to the music, or prepare their minds and hearts for worship.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to worship. Would you please take just a moment to turn and introduce yourself to those around you." AT LAST, I was greeted, but, somehow, being TOLD to welcome guests is not as effective as doing it spontaneously, so it didn't do much to assuage my feelings of neglect.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The evangelical "Hymns for the Family of God" and the New International Version of the Bible.
What musical instruments were played?
A pipe organ and, in the center of the chancel, a grand piano.
Did anything distract you?
In addition to the distraction of the loud talking during the organ prelude, a couple of cell phones rang during the service. A mother immediately removed her baby who had started to cry. At several points during the service, the lights in the chancel and nave were dimmed, just as they are in a movie theater when the main attraction is about to begin.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Although the service was primarily traditional, it included a few "blended" elements: the piano accompanied a "praise" song that was printed in the bulletin; and the choir's anthem, although well-sung, was a cloyingly sweet piece with a piano accompaniment of arpeggios that modulated each stanza higher and higher.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
33 minutes too long! However, by omitting parts of the service that many Presbyterians consider integral, such as the affirmation of faith, gloria patri and prayer of confession, the entire service was completed within an hour.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Young, intelligent and personable, the preacher had a good, easy, informal delivery. His grammar was fine and his sermon was interesting, but, after 25 minutes, my mind was too numb to concentrate. The rating of his preaching would have been higher if his sermon had been shorter!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The title was "Calling All Dads." Rev. Murray stressed the importance of the relationship of fathers to children that fathers need to be involved in the lives of their children, as our Father God is involved in our lives.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Generally, the upbeat, uplifting feeling of the congregation in worship.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The loud talking during the prelude and the length of the sermon were real downers.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. Nobody spoke to me. I stood near several groups of people, even lingering again under the "welcome visitors" sign, but I was left out in the cold. Nobody thanked me for coming or invited me to return.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee table, unmanned, was placed several feet away from the courtyard where the people were exiting. It was a warm, sunny California day, so very few were sipping hot coffee. No cookies, tea or cakes were available.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 The church has great potential. If the members can be taught the importance of greeting strangers and making them feel welcomed, and, if the preacher can learn to shorten his sermons, this church will do well.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it's obviously a thriving, active church. Overall, the service went very well. Its upbeat feeling gave lift to my spirit.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The choir's exiting the choir loft before the sermon. They had obviously sung for an earlier service and were eager to leave, but it was slightly disturbing and depressing to see them go.