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Oaks Presbyterian, Fair Oaks, California, USA
Presbyterian, Fair Oaks, California, USA.
Church. The EPC was formed in 1981 by pastors and elders
objecting to what they considered to be "liberal"
tendencies of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The grounds of Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church make up an eleven-acre
campus, including a large auditorium-style worship space, large
halls for social programs and the "alt" worship, and numerous
education and program buildings. The worship space is like a
theater, with plush pews, a balcony, and a vaulted wood ceiling.
A communion table sits in front of a stage on which there is
choir seating, enough room for a small symphony orchestra, and,
on the back wall, the pipes of a magnificent organ. Above the
stage is suspended a plain wooden cross.
FOPC is a large program-sized church. The order of service was
a single sheet tucked in a folding bulletin that details all
the various programs (for children, youth, young adults, singles,
families, men, women, seniors, recovery, etc.) and how to contact
one of the 30 or so staff responsible for coordinating these
programs. There are two worship services each Sunday, one traditional
and one contemporary, plus three Bible study sessions. They
belong to the New
Wineskins Association of Churches, a conservative Presbyterian
Fair Oaks is a former village and present suburb northeast of
Sacramento. It is where the pancake flatness of California's
great Central Valley gives way to the gradually steepening wedge
that becomes the mighty Sierra Nevada ("snowy mountains"
in Spanish). Suburban development started in earnest in the
1960s and boomed during the 1970s. The area used to be agricultural;
today the only remnants of this heritage are the names of the
small shopping centers (e.g. "Almond Orchard") near
the church. The church itself is just outside of the village,
off the main commercial strip, and is surrounded by ranch houses,
well-kept townhouses and garden apartments, as well as other
churches. The founders of FOPC had the foresight to buy property
The Revd Kirk Bottomly, lead pastor, was in charge of the service.
He was assisted by the Revd Cliff Graves, pastor for congregational
care. The choir was under the direction of Lestelle Manley Nichols.
There were also several lay readers, a troupe of actors, various
musicians, and numerous engineers and technicians, all of whom
were named in the program.
The date & time:
Thursday, December 24, 2009, 8.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
Traditional Christmas Eve Service with Carols.
How full was the building?
The main floor and balcony were pretty much full (several hundred
people), with very little downstairs seating available 15 minutes
before start time (when I arrived). What few spaces there were
filled in quickly.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted warmly by the parking lot attendant (even though
I didn't park in the lot, he saw me walking across the street),
a greeter (who I learned later was the head usher), and the
person who gave me the program.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – padded with plenty of legroom.
How would you describe the pre-service
Buzzing with anticipation and with friends exchanging Christmas
What were the exact opening words of the
"Merry Christmas, and welcome to Fair Oaks Presbyterian."
What books did the congregation use during the
The pew racks had Bibles and hymnals in them, but everything
was projected up on the large overhead projectors to the side
of the chancel.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, brass quintet, hand bells, and flute. It was quite
a joyful noise.
Did anything distract you?
See below about "the other place."
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
I'm not sure what kind of label I could put on it even if I
wanted to. It was traditional in a lot of its feel, and I was
amused and delighted to see that some of the structure looked
very much like an Anglican lessons and carols service lectors
read the story of Jesus' birth, ending with John chapter 1 ("In
the beginning was the Word"). But the church is very up to date
and multimedia savvy, and the pastor has a very modern style
and delivery. Thus, our carol service had the overhead projectors
going, a dramatic skit, and a long Christmas meditation, erm,
sermon, where the pastor said "wow" a lot, told funny stories
and showed cartoons.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Pastor Bottomly was quite engaging in his delivery
and used the OHPs to excellent effect, starting with Christmas
humor cartoons to loosen the congregation up. I laughed so hard
at some of them I started coughing. His remarks on the incarnation
were sound. I won't, however, give him full marks because I
know he could have wrapped it up sooner.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The Christmas gift of Jesus: the incarnation, the Word, God
Almighty given to everybody.
Which part of the service was like being in
There was a brief visual meditation on the overhead projector
that had some very beautiful traditional Nativity art, and during
which the church was blessedly quiet. I also very much enjoyed
the enthusiastic and generally tuneful carol singing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A dramatic skit (which had more of an Advent theme) was presented
that included "Christmas miracles." One of these was
snow. Sacramento may see snow about once every 10 years (this
year happening to be one of those times). Since Fair Oaks is
a wealthy and media-savvy congregation, they had snow-making
machines blowing white flakes of something over the congregation's
heads. I can see how this was dramatically important for the
play, but having these noisy machines still going during both
the scriptural reading and the first verse of "Silent Night"
was just... so... completely... wrong! Way to miss the point,
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were all cordially invited for hot cider (non-alcoholic)
and cookies afterward, but I skedaddled off home to finish stuffing
stockings and enjoy something a little stronger than cider.
I'm also not big on huge crowd scenes, which this was.
How would you describe the after-service
It sounded like it was a fairly standard Protestant punch-and-cookies
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 This was, except for the overenthusiastic use of the
snow machines, a wonderful worship service. The problem for
me is that Fair Oaks is not an open and inclusive church. Indeed,
there is some active work in the other direction, as evidenced
by their affiliation with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church
and New Wineskins. I would not be comfortable giving my time,
talent, and treasure to such a congregation. To me their conservative
leanings are deeply incompatible with the gospel message.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Cartoons during the sermon and that darn snow-maker.
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