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1967: Holy Cross, Pacifica, California, USA
Holy Cross, Pacifica, California, USA
Mystery Worshipper: BWA.
The church: Holy Cross, Pacifica, California, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The building: A squarely built two story brick building on a somewhat hilly street. The building is just that – squarish. No bell tower. On the side of the building facing the street is a white cross two stories high. (OK, that was striking.) The rest of the building is painted a sort of softened brick red. There are a few brick planters, but so deeply built I couldn't see what was in them. There are also some greens around the door to the lower level (the parish hall). The second floor is actually the main entrance, accessible from the upper parking lot. The interior is done in light pine and teal greens. There are three sets of pews, one each along the east, north and south walls. The simple altar is flanked by an American flag and the Christian flag. Along the west wall, large clear glass windows afford a breathtaking view of the ocean.
The church: There is an impressive roster of local musicians who have performed during services in the past. The church also seems to have some connections with local military bases, because some of their featured past events included appearances by both the Army and Navy Color Guard. They are associated with Thrivent, a faith-based not-for-profit financial service for Lutherans, and contribute to events such as Fog Fest (see below), high school trips, missionary activity in Mexico, etc.
The neighborhood: Pacifica sits on the California coast a few miles south of San Francisco. Thus, it experiences the thick fogs that tend to roll in from the ocean late afternoons and early mornings. Each autumn the town celebrates Fog Fest, a street fair featuring music, arts and crafts, food and drinks, and places to sit and chat; all proceeds are returned to the community groups that organize and participate in the event. The town is a combination of serene suburbia and funky blue-collar art. The church is located in a section considered more desirable: quiet and hilly. Next door is a highly respected private school. Up the road, a Spanish-Colonial adobe is open as a local history museum, and the Sanchez Art Center – a center of much community bustling – is next door to that.
The cast: The Revd Thomas A. Nibbe, pastor, officiated, with the help of Teresa Naqishbendi, music director. (Mrs Naqishbendi also maintains their website.) There were two unnamed young men who served as crucifer and chalice bearer – or rather, small-cup tray-bearer.
The date & time: Third Sunday of Easter, April 18, 2010, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
I walked in a few minutes early and was pretty much the only person seated. Within ten minutes, though, the building was mostly full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted with a shy smile and a handshake by a young man in acolyte vestments who turned out to be the crucifer. I got several polite nods and hellos from people as I settled in, along with an exuberant hand-clasp from the pastor and a long hard stare from a woman sitting in a pew facing me. I guess I looked familiar.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was smooth pine, reasonably accommodating, with a well-stocked pew rack.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People came in quietly and found their seats, looking around for friends and nodding at each other.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning! I just went down to the beach and nobody was there, so hopefully that means everybody will be here in the next ten minutes!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Lutheran Book of Worship (aka the Green Hymnal); Hymns for the Family of God; Maranatha! Praise Music Chorus Book; The Holy Bible, New International Version. I also saw a couple of miscellaneous other Bible translations here and there.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano only this morning.

Did anything distract you?
The views (sigh!). I think it was pretty clever of the pastor to buzz the beaches before the service, as it was a glorious fresh spring day and the west-facing windows afforded every seat some breathtaking views. There was a wide strip of intoxicating blue surf behind charming little houses that took up the entire wall. It is simultaneously the best and the worst seating arrangement I have seen. And there was something less pleasant, but more about that later.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Moderately praise-y. The Green Hymnal, our main resource, has a basically traditional liturgy that is somewhat modernized as far as language. Some of the sung liturgical elements are appealing enough to stand alone as hymns.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
23 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – It took me a while to figure out where the pastor was going. The first two minutes or so were so chatty that I wasn't aware he was really starting the sermon. Having said that, I found his style relaxed and engaging, and it seemed to reflect a certain response to the wave length of that particular congregation. In other words, he knew his crowd, and he worked it well.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pastor Nibbe took as his text Acts 9:1-20 (Paul undergoes conversion on the road to Damascus but is blinded; Ananias restores his sight). He spoke of a cat named Charles, who was discovered wandering the streets of Chicago and was about to be euthanized. But an ID implant enabled authorities to locate Charles' owner in Albuquerque. The owner arranged for Charles to be returned home. In like manner, Saul, not yet called Paul, was wandering about with his hate-based view of God. He couldn't get back to the right place without help, in this case from our Savior.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At the passing of the peace, I shook hands with one woman who clung to my hand a little longer than I expected. I was a little alarmed, but she explained it was important that I know that the church practised open communion, and so long as I was a believing Christian, I was welcome to participate. I was looking forward to communion and so was appreciative of the eager offer. We sang "This is the Feast" for communion preparation, and it is one of the most joyous, exuberant liturgy-based songs I have encountered.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Now for the less pleasant distraction. At the start of the first lesson, a woman came in late and settled right behind me with her family. She immediately unwrapped a cough drop. Crackle! Crackle! I admit I find that noise extra grating, but I gritted my teeth for 10 seconds and then it was over – or so I thought! Then the sucking began. Suck! Suck! Slurp! Slurp! And it was loud! It sounded like a parakeet chirping. I looked around me to see if anyone else was bothered, and noticed a gentleman in front of me jump at an extra-loud slurp and glance back. The pastor, seated all the way across the sanctuary, kept looking over and frowning. Finally the communion-tray-bearer turned around and leveled the most fantastic stink-eye in the direction of the sucking. Had I been the target of such a look, I'm sure my skin would have split! But it didn't faze the woman in the least! (In fact, I did receive one of the boy's murderous glances when I flashed him the peace sign during the exchange. But I forgive him.) The relentless sucking went on for the entire rest of the service – almost a full hour! It must have been the biggest dang cough drop on the market.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood around in the narthex poking at announcements and staring around pitifully. Everyone who passed gave me a warm goodbye, but no one said anything about a coffee hour. Finally the pastor came bounding over, held his arms out wide, and embraced me in a big hug. I hugged him right back! Then he shook my hand, said "Welcome!" and led me over to the visitor's book, which I signed (messily, I'm afraid). Then came all the usual questions: where was I from, what did I do for a living, etc. When he had literally exhausted all such topics, he just stood there staring at me with a puzzled smile. I kept thinking, "Show me the coffee!" and tried my best to telecommunicate my thoughts to him. It must have worked, as after a second or two he pointed to a staircase and said there were cookies and coffee available downstairs in the parish hall. "Thank you! I could really use a cup of coffee!" I said with as much gratitude as I could muster, and down I headed.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was actually quite good. Also on offer were brownie cupcakes, some crudités, tea, and juice. I sat down at a long thin table, the kind that forces you to get in your opposite seatmate's face and have some chat. A nice gentleman chatted with me across the table. The only thing that was somewhat off-putting was the small group that swept past everybody upon entering the parish hall and spent the first ten minutes of coffee hour huddled over the serving counter and talking in low voices, punctuated by not-very-kind sounding snickers. Probably all very innocent, but it gave the appearance of "dishing".

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I'd probably wind up going here if I lived on the block. I was interested in some of the musical services they had promoted.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, in a laid-back sort of way.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Suck! Suck! Slurp! Slurp! And Johnny Stink-eye.
 
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