Calvary Bible Church, Bakersfield, California, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Calvary Bible Church
Location: Bakersfield, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 14 May 2017, 10:45am

The building

Something of a contemporary Spanish colonial style structure with orange clay tile roofing. It dates from 1978, the congregation having met in two other locations before that. More buildings were added in 1980, and the sanctuary was remodeled in 2002. A smaller chapel was also added at that time.

The church

They seem to be a good mix, amenable to programs that run the gamut from general contemporary to country-western. Their several ministries for members of all ages are well documented on their website. Each year they put on Junk-A-Tique, an outdoor flea market, the proceeds of which they donate to their various ministries. Plagued in recent years by bad weather and other difficulties, they are working on setting up a thrift shop to replace Junk-A-Tique, but that plan has met with difficulties also. There are two worship services each Sunday, traditional and contemporary, plus classes and a grief share meeting. There is also something happening almost every weekday, including Bible study, worship, support groups, and even a community dinner.

The neighborhood

Bakersfield, in south-central California, lies at the foot of the San Joaquin Valley, a large inland lake in prehistoric times but now dry for the most part. Today the valley is an important agricultural and ranching region, and also the site of oil and gas wells. Its vastness and relative isolation have also made it a popular venue for prisons, including the California State Prison at Corcoran, where notorious cult leader Charles Manson is incarcerated. Bakersfield is home to a lot of oil and agricultural industry, but there seems to be a wide variety of people. The church sits off by itself somewhat, not in the middle of foot traffic.

The cast

Don Bertrand ("Pastor Don"), pastor of pastoral care, opened; passed it to Steve Truitt ("Pastor Steve"), pastor of outreach and missions); then to Rob Tompkins ("Pastor Rob"), worship pastor; then finally to Terry Treiberg, lay elder, who preached.

What was the name of the service?

The Blessings of Family

How full was the building?

About three-quarters full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. A very helpful lady exiting the earlier service gave me directions. Then a man also coming out of the earlier service saw me and extended his hand, saying "Welcome." The man handing out the bulletins had a very positive greeting for me, but then repeated the same words to every single person in my group. Clearly a rather canned message.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, the seating was fine. The sanctuary is somewhat modern and everything is comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very social, leading into the opening announcements, which were very informal and jovial and began with some attempt at quieting the congregation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. Welcome to Calvary Bible Church!" (pause) "Let's close in a word of prayer." (laughter)
It was humorous.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

On the seats were the Celebration Hymnal and The Holy Bible, New King James Version. Everything was projected, though, so we didn't need the books. Furthermore, the sermon was entirely out of the New Living Translation.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano, guitar, drums, three vocalists.

Did anything distract you?

The variety of people I would say was a positive distraction. I just thought how there were all kinds. I couldn't say how integrated they are, but there were people of all races, probably in the same proportion as the town's demographic, with a predominance of whites.

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

It was right in the middle-of-the-road: everyone stands for worship, some clap to the beat. Many people sang, but many did not. I thought that might be on account of the song selections, but it did seem that most people were engaged and worshipful. There was a brief period of congregational handshaking at the beginning (similar to passing the peace), but nobody stopped long enough to say anything or introduce themselves; it just seemed like an uncomfortable time of shaking as many hands as you could before you could sit back down and get on with it.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

46 minutes, including short film clips at beginning and end.

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

7 – Terry Treiberg was very personable, liked sharing stories of his life, and had a few humorous comments that received some chuckles. He was a bit one-note, however, and his style was very classroom-like with outlines and fill-in the blanks. It all seemed a bit contrived.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He spoke about mothers raising kids (to fit into the Mothers' Day theme).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

First coming into the church. People were genuinely welcoming. Also, the sanctuary itself exudes a pleasantness and inclines the worshippers to a fairly good experience. And the mood of the people seemed healthy.

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

The never-ending announcements and advertisements in the beginning and end. It took 15 minutes from the start of the service to get through all the reminders and what-nots. Another problem was that there seemed to be some difficulty with the PowerPoint slides, as the wrong lyrics would appear and then go back and forth during worship.

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

We did not hang around, as the service went overtime and we had to leave for an appointment. No one questioned us on the way out, so we had to track down a church worker to learn where we should put our offering, as it was never received during the service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

While we came to the contemporary, later service, the earlier traditional service was letting out, so we witnessed the free coffee and conviviality: nice people manning ministry booths, people chatting and directing to coffee, etc. I was told that the coffee couldn't go into the sanctuary with me, though. Rats! I saw nothing to eat, but it may be that they sell that stuff in their little shop attached to the sanctuary.

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

8 – I think the church needs to shore up some things and think about first impressions as well as sustaining the initially impressed. If I were a Christian in the neighborhood, I would probably find this to be a place for me to consider strongly and to get involved with. I am aware that this church is in transition with regard to a senior pastor, so it may be that the service I experienced was only partly indicative of what one might experience at a later visit.

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

Sort of. There was a good sense of genuineness there, and I didn't feel ashamed or embarrassed by the service, except that I wish the sermon was a tad more engaging and that more depth and poetic beauty were sought in the song lyrics. That can all be addressed if anyone would venture to do so.

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

That Bakersfield has a nice evangelical church in its midst that has a lot of nice people with whom I wouldn't mind making friends.

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