Mystery Worshipper: Rhipidion the Sacred Fan
Church: Jesus Christ Fellowship
Location: Middletown, California, USA
Date of visit: Friday, 22 April 2011, 6:00pm
A simple white wooden structure on the outside, which does not suggest its updated interior. The worship space is a large multi-purpose room with fresh white paint and new carpet. At the front were a number of crosses, potted plants, a piano, keyboard, drum set, sound system, electric cords, a video screen, and something that appeared to be a basket with a blanket that made me think of a dog bed. There were a number of banners along the walls. Some windows were covered with material, no doubt to block the sun during morning services.
According to their website, their vision is to be a worship center open 24/7, where groups from all over can meet to build unity in the Body of Christ. They appear to want to connect with other churches in the area. Earlier in the year they hosted a revival that included invitations to other pastors in the area to take part.
Middletown is situated about 60 miles north of the San Francisco Bay area in a locale rich in natural springs. Up until the mid 20th century it was a popular vacation spot for people wishing to "take the waters." But as travel by air became less expensive, tourism diminished and many of the resorts were forced to close. But a new use has been found for Middletown's geothermal resources, namely the generation of electricity by steam. The area is popular today as a reasonable alternative to the high-priced Bay Area housing market.
The Revd Jeff Daly, pastor of Jesus Christ Fellowship; the Revd Hank Lescher, associate pastor; and Mrs Karen Lescher. Also participating were Voris Brumfield, certified lay pastor of the Middletown Community United Methodist Church; and the Revd Roger Martin, pastor of the First Baptist Church.
What was the name of the service?Community Good Friday Service, with Stations of the Cross by Dennis Bratcher. Dennis Bratcher is director of the Christian Resource Institute, a non-profit organization that provides resources for teaching, preaching, and personal spiritual growth.
How full was the building?
About half full, 45 or so people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There were two greeters at the door. Then, after I was seated, several women came over and introduced themselves. I believe they may have been members of the Middletown Community United Methodist Church, but I am not certain.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a new folding chair with a padded seat. It was comfortable. Afterward I saw that mixed in with the folding chairs were some well padded wooden chairs with arms. I thought they would have been a good choice for a longer service.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pictures were on the video screen. Light Christian rock music was playing in the background. There was some quiet talking.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome. Thank you to Jesus Christ Fellowship for hosting our Stations of the Cross. This may be the first time Stations of the Cross have been done in Middletown." (Could the pastor have been unaware that there is a Roman Catholic Church up the street? I am pretty sure that this was not the first Stations of the Cross in Middletown.)
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. We had a printed order of service, and the words of the songs were on the large video screen.
What musical instruments were played?
Pastor Hank Lescher played the guitar and led us in song.
Did anything distract you?
I noticed that one of the women had on a pair of peep toed, sling backed, black shoes. I found myself taking a fancy to them when I should have been listening to the words of Jesus.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Quiet, meditative service with a few hands raised during the singing of the worship songs. They read Dennis Bratcher's text but changed the music and did not have responsive readings. After each station was read from the front by one of the participants, we were invited to get up if we wished and follow a leader carrying a cross around the inside of the church back to our seats. There were no actual stations as in a Catholic church, and no candles were used.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon as such, but each leader read a meditation after each Station of the Cross was announced.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Some of the readers projected better than others, but overall the meditations were well read and it appeared that each reader was well prepared.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
How we respond in our hearts and lives to what Jesus teaches us by his passion.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I found the meditations written by Dennis Bratcher very moving.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
When we returned to our seats from walking around the church, we were in reverse order, which was cumbersome and caused a bit of a traffic jam. If the leader had used both side aisles rather than just the center aisle, this could have been avoided.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No hanging around. We were encouraged to leave the church in silence. I noted that there was little talking in the parking lot as people returned to their cars.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – By the setup of the church, I do not believe it would be my style for regular worship, but I would very much hope to attended more community worship services.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
How very special it was to worship with members of several different churches.