Upland Church Of Christ, Upland, California, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Upland Church Of Christ
Location: Upland, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 May 2019, 10:30am

The building

The congregation was formed in 1940 and met first in a women’s club, then in a former mortuary. The present building dates from 1958. A multipurpose building was added in 1986. It’s basically an A-frame building with a partial stone exterior. Nice. Clean. The interior looks like it might have been upgraded in the 1970s.

The church

This does seem to be a serious congregation! They conduct numerous missions throughout the world: in Ethiopia, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Korea, and elsewhere. They stream services via video, and offer Bible study, to a nearby nursing home. There are men’s, ladies’ and youth groups. They collect food and clothing for needy families. Each Sunday there is Bible study plus a morning and evening service. There is also Bible study on Wednesday evenings.

The neighborhood

Upland is a suburb to the east of Los Angeles in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Originally known for agriculture, especially citrus, the area became a highly desirable bedroom community with the opening in 1954 of the San Bernardino Freeway (later Interstate 10) connecting it to Los Angeles. There is nothing terribly unusual about the church’s locale – it does sit in a neighborhood of cul-de-sacs, however. Even the side street where you enter the parking lot comes to an end and you must u-turn to exit.

The cast

This was a very participatory group. Both men and women served as readers, announcers, collectioneers, etc.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Worship.

How full was the building?

About 75-80 per cent. It was successfully reaching a capacity group and I felt privileged to be numbered among them.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Multiple handshakes and smiles as we entered the sanctuary.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, the pews were comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Busy. We arrived right about starting time, and they were ushering everyone in with friendly smiles and handshakes.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

'Good morning. It's a blessing to be here.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?

While there were Bibles and hymnals in the pews, they were not needed. The song lyrics and sheet music for singing were projected; in fact, they were shape notes. The pastor would refer to the biblical text when preaching, and we could turn there or just follow on the screen along with his sermon points.

What musical instruments were played?

Churches of Christ do not use musical instruments; the singing is completely a cappella. A man stood in front and waved his hands and sang the loudest to lead. He wasn't the best singer, and some of the songs really got slowed down, but overall it was good and very hymn oriented.

Did anything distract you?

There was a baby fussing in one of the front pews in the next aisle. It seemed to go on for awhile, so I don't know if they have a cry room or if the mother didn't know what to do. Someone's cell phone went off. The decor was a bit dated, very vanilla, but very clean. The hymns were often sung very slowly, more so than one might expect or find pleasant.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Reverent. Not clappy. Not hip and modern. We didn’t stand to sing (or for much else). But very spiritual. Everyone was contributing his part, as all Christians should.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 — The preacher was very personable, very upbeat, very pleasant and admirable. He was kind of single toned (energetic) but very listenable, and one would expect that his delivery will get more varied and honed with time (he is youngish).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Trusting and obeying God. Using Joshua's battle of Jericho, we were encouraged to trust that God knows what he is doing, that he is Almighty God, and that we ought to live in obedience to our most trustworthy Lord. After all, God has already given the victory.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Well, we liked that people dressed for church. Not everyone was in a suit, but the pastor was, some parishioners were, and the rest were sort of business casual. We didn't see flip-flop wearing folks with Hawaiian shirts, which are so ubiquitous in Southern California churches. If there were any, they were an unseen minority. It's not that the church stressed any sort of dress code – it’s just that there seemed to be a circumspect culture of Sunday morning decorum.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

When the communion bread (matzoh) was sent around, we had to break big pieces into small pieces right in the dish as it made its way past. That was strange, fingery, and the matzoh crackers were stale. There was also no instruction as to what came next. Were we supposed to consume the bread immediately or wait for instruction? Confusing. Also, the lyrics on the projection screen were not changed fast enough so we weren't sure what to sing in the next line.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

A parishioner/deacon (?) saw us and immediately engaged us. He gave us a bulletin since we said we hadn't received one when we entered. The pastor stepped in and threw his friendly hand out to say "Hi" as well. They were on top of things regarding visitors, I believe. We liked their friendly gestures.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Didn't see any, nor were we directed to any.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 — We thought this was one of the better services we had recently attended. Mrs Hopper wants to come back soon. The singing was peppered throughout the service and we enjoyed that. The sermon made us walk away and discuss and think about it. This was the first time I had attended a service in a Restoration church, but I'll think about returning – if only because it’s nice to have a quality service rather than to have to look continually for what I think this church basically delivers.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, although I do miss musical instruments. There was a whole bevy of denominational tracts in the foyer offered when exiting. I thought this was a good example of Christian fellowship.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

That we sang hymns with shape notes. And, of course, I'll keep in mind the story of Joshua, as that really spoke to me in a unique way this time around.

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