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Vineyard, San Carlos, California, USA
The church: Mid-Peninsula
Vineyard, San Carlos, California, USA.
Association of Vineyard Churches.
The building: They
meet in an unassuming, modern building, which they have named
"Godshack". Since itís not very tall, it is instead
made noticeable from the street by large, tasteful signs on
both entrances. The interior is plain and free of distractions,
and is comprisied of white cinder block, wood paneling and blinds,
and light mauve carpeting. The windows and angles form a space
conducive to focusing on the abstract. Noise-reducing panels
on the ceiling, padded chairs, and carpeting affect the acoustics,
for a contemplative and expectant atmosphere. A rough-hewn wooden
cross with rope bindings where hands and feet would go is affixed
to the wall above the worship stage.
The church: According
to their website, they started out as a University of California,
San Francisco (UCSF) student Bible study and became a church
in the early 1980s. They became affiliated with the Vineyard
Movement in 1990 and later moved to their present location in
San Carlos. They are currently looking for a pastor. Judging
from my visit, the small congregation seemed to be composed
mostly of middle-aged families and singles, and was relatively
racially diverse. They conduct Sunday morning Bible classes
each week before the service, and there are other weekly Bible
studies as well as home groups. They have a particular focus
on the visual arts, facilitating creative worship services,
workshops, meetups, and art classes. They also offer counseling
services and host a 12-step recovery program. Additionally,
they volunteer in a residential fruit tree gleaning program
for food shelters a brilliant idea in California!
San Carlos is an affluent suburban town 20 miles south of San Francisco, at the northern tip of Silicon Valley. Mid-Peninsula Vineyard is located in a residential neighborhood three blocks from the main street. It is also just across the street from a public middle school, with which they have an active relationship, including helping maintain the school property.
The cast: Worship
was led solely by visiting musician Danny Daniels, an internationally
known songwriter, worship leader, and educator. The message
was given by Chris Wessling, who is part of the teaching team.
Lisa Sharek, a member of the board of directors, gave a welcome
message and the announcements.
The date & time: Sunday,
September 8, 2013, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The sanctuary seats about 120. At the start of the service,
it was 10 per cent full with a dozen people in attendance. Forty
minutes later when the music ended and the message was given,
there were about twice as many people there. I cannot fathom
how 25 people could support a building of that size and so many
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two people shook my hand in the anteroom and made introductions before directing me into the sanctuary. I looked around for programs, but didnít see any. Later in the service, I noticed many people had programs. I got up to search for them, and found a stack on a chair at the back of the sanctuary.
Was your pew comfortable?
They use interlocking padded chairs, which I am familiar with and consider to be the gold standard of comfortable seating for the masses. I took to heart the worship leaderís instruction to make ourselves comfortable sitting or standing, and sat cross-legged for much of the service.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Sound tests provided a warm and familiar background. A few people
talked very naturally. The people sitting nearby spotted me
as new, introduced themselves, and made conversation. Because
of the acoustics of the room and its relative emptiness, it
was simultaneously possible for others to sit quietly and pray.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Visiting worship leader Danny Daniels opened the service with
a short rendition of "Amazing Grace". After that,
he said, "Have we started? Is this it?" After a smile
and pause, he began a prayer: "Father, bless us with your
What books did the congregation use during the
Halfway through the message, the teacher directed us to a passage
of scripture. He said there were Bibles available if we hadnít
brought one, which most people had. There were no Bibles in
the pockets on the chair backs, so I looked around and asked
the woman behind us if she knew where they were. She handed
us a paperback version of The Holy Bible, New International
Version owned by the church; Iím not sure where she got
What musical instruments were played?
Danny Daniels played a mellow-sounding electric guitar with outstanding skill, and sang. There was no other musical accompaniment.
Did anything distract you?
At one point, the medley of music transitioned into The Beatlesí
"Here Comes the Sun", with a couple of lyric substitutions.
My ears perked up and it took me a minute to place the song.
After the chorus, the worship leader stopped and proclaimed,
"Everything can be redeemed!" That earned an approving
laugh, and he launched into the next song. I agree in principle,
but since itís not a song I frequently have running through
my head, trying to figure out why it sounded familiar, remember
the words, and process the substitutions was mildly distracting.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
There were over a dozen contemporary worship songs, some of
which I recognized, such as "Draw Me Close" by Michael
W. Smith. These were interspersed with a few hymns: "Be
Thou My Vision", "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know",
and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross". All were played
in a pleasant, laid-back, somewhat bluesy folk style. The congregation
sang along barely audibly. Some raised their hands. A few children
and adults stood or danced at the back and twirled colored banners,
the children sometimes racing around the front of the room as
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
3 The first five minutes were entirely disconnected from
the rest, and Chris Wessling paused to think for about five
seconds between every few sentences. I am not sure whether he
had much notice that he was going to be giving the message that
morning. If he did have time to prepare, it could have been
condensed, and if not, it could have been shortened. To his
credit, it did contain coherent concepts, and his humility was
evident. About 15 minutes in, he stopped to pray for Godís guidance
about what to say.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The sermon title was "Going It Alone". Chris Wessling
related how he hadnít been to home group in a while, and he
noticed less spiritual fruit and more sin in his life as a result.
The further we grow in Christ, the more we need him, but sometimes
it also means we become more capable on our own, which can tempt
us to go it alone. Here he introduced 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
(My power is made perfect in weakness). "The invitation
this morning," he said, "is to join me in weakness."
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The guitar playing was truly beautiful.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The slides for the music lyrics projected on the screen were almost always late, sometimes only changing once half the next verse was over. It made it difficult to sing along except where I knew the words by heart.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
The worship leader ended the service with: "Itís about
11.30; letís hang out." He then invited people to pray
for each other in small groups near the front, and continued
playing. Amusingly, I didnít realize the service was over. After
about five more minutes, Chris Wessling came over to me and
said cheerily, "Weíre officially over!" He explained
that a lot of visitors donít pick up on the transition. We talked
a while there in the sanctuary. I was met by another person
on my way out, and was handed a visitorís gift of a book of
poems, A Collection of Love Gifts by Helen Steiner Rice.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Midway through the service, I noticed about half the people had coffee with them, which they must have gotten before the service. I saw it in the anteroom on my way out, but nobody was gathering there. It was not pointed out to me before the service.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 I am familiar and comfortable with the charismatic
tradition, but found this service lacking in substance. I would
also miss the eucharist and liturgy I am accustomed to.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes and no. I appreciated their evident desire for God and their
practice of resting in him. However, I was frustrated by their
avoidance of organization. Coordination and effort can also
be inspired by God, and could have made for a better service,
in my opinion. Given their small numbers and extensive range
of ministries, on the other hand, maybe theyíve purposely made
Sunday services a time to let go and relax. Itís hard to say
from a look at just this service.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The serene, expectant acoustic atmosphere of the sanctuary.
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