When last I wrote I was a the northern tip of Washington where it was snowing. Now I am home in Lemoore, CA and I am much warmer. It took a few days to get here. I spent two nights in Portland on the way. There are at least three great discount golf shops there that grabbed my attention last Saturday. I ended up buying a new Cobra driver, a new Ping putter, and a set of Nike irons. Weather was lousy in Portland, too.
After worshiping at the Imago Dei Community in Portalnd on Sunday I headed south to Brookings, hoping that the weather might allow a round of golf at the Salmon Run Golf Course there. It did not. However, on the way to Brookings I took some time to see placed near Coos Bay that I used to visit often when we lived there. Shore Acres State Park and Cape Arago are beautiful and while there I experienced the best sunny weather I had found in days. The morning brought much moisture in the air and no opportunity for golf, so I headed south to Gridley.
Gridley, CA is the site of a congregation I formerly served as pastor. We spent 10 happy years there. Sarah was born while we were there. I stayed with friends who have now left that congregation and are active members and leaders in the neighboring congregation at Marysville. There was a split in the Gridley congregation two pastors after me. It was over the "Worship Wars," though issues are never quite that simple. I regret any splits when there are winners and losers, but as splits go this one has had some good results. Those who left Gridley went as a group to Marysville in search of a more traditional worship style. One of those who left took on the position of organist at Marysville. She is a virtuoso performer and deserves to play on the exceptional organ in the Marysville church. The others moved into the church and almost immediately began filling leadership roles and bringing new energy to that congregation. The Gridley congregation has not yet recovered from the loss of people, but they have been able to establish their new style, continue to employ a youth director, begin to attract young families, and get ready for their next pastor to lead them into the future.
One of the major themes of this Sabbatical is worship. I have been and am determined to avoid the "Worship Wars" that split the Gridley congregation. I have been worshiping in congregations that do things differently than the Lemoore Presbyterian Church. All three are far less formal, though not necessarily more warm and open, than the Lemoore congregation. Informality seems to be about clothing more than anything else. The new uniform for preachers seems to be blue jeans, a Hawaiian print shirt, and tennis shoes. (I could make this sacrifice. What do you think?) The group playing music is usually dressed the same.
My first worship experience on this trip was at the Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco. This is a New Church Development (NCD) of the Presbytery of San Francisco of the PCUSA. The warehouse room was arranged with seats around coffee shop tables and some couches. There was a music stand used by the pastor and the music team was behind this. They made excellent use of the media screens, including a sort of countdown on the screen. The beginning of the service was precisely on time. The music was well done, the pastor led the service effectively and preached well. This particular worship service included the opportunity to engage in artistic expression having to do with the Scripture text, Genesis 1. Some paiinted a mural, others wrote poetry, some wrote in a journal, and I made a flower out of pink and yellow pipe cleaners and gave it to Jeanne. The service was very enjoyable. I hope to have longer to talk with Pastor Bruce in the future.
The second worship experience was at the "Everything Must Change Tour" which I attended in Seattle. The worship at the conference was deeply spiritual and prayerful and very much to my liking. The music was new, a combination of upbeat and ancient. There were many opportunities for quiet contemplation and for interaction with other worshipers. I bought CDs of music.
The second Sunday of my trip found me following the suggestion of Pastor Bruce and worshiping with the Quest Church of Seattle. This is an NCD of the Evangelical Covenant Church and is led by Pastor Eugene Cho. This service was the most like ours in Lemoore. The music was completely contemporary but all the familiar parts of the worship were there. Pastor Cho is a good preacher and delivered an excellent message from Acts 6, about leadership in the church. The people of this church were very warm and welcoming. I was immediately greeted and made to feel at home.
My third Sunday worship experience was in a service that was very different from what I am used to, but somehow very moving. I worshiped with the Imago Dei Community in Portland. (Great website!) They meet in the auditorium of a high school in South East Portland. There are three services at 9, 10:30, and 12 noon. I attended the one at 9 a.m. with probably about 300 others. The service was simple: two songs, taking the offering, the sermon, two more songs while Communion was served. The worshipers were mostly, but not entirely, younger than me. The sermon from Pastor Rick was excellent, from II Samuel 6 in a series he calls, "A Rugged Spirituality: the Life of David." I liked it so much that I think some of the ideas from it will show up in Lemoore some day.
I particularly enjoyed the service of Communion. Stations with baskets of pieces of bread and two cups (one of wine, the other of grape juice) were set up across the front of the stage on the level with the congregations. We went forward as we desired to partake and serve ourselves. What I observed was that people would go up as couples or groups of friends and serve each other. Some, like me, went alone, but never felt rushed to finish our prayer so others could take the spot. I was inspired by the beauty of young couples serving the bread and wine of our Lord to each other. What a wonderful thing.
Also at Imago Dei was a hallway full of mission opportunities. Booths were set up with information about how to connect with some way of serving God and following Christ. This was excellent!
That is enough for now. I continue to look for, and find, worship opportunities. God is good.