Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: First Christian Church
Location: Oceanside, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 9 November 2014, 10:30am
It dates from 1928 and is an old-fashioned Protestant church on the outside, with a portico and an oversized belfry. Inside, the sanctuary is octagonal in shape with a stage at one end and pews curved to face the stage. A choir loft was cut into the wall immediately to the left of the stage, but it was unoccupied. A communion table had been set up in front of the stage. The stained glass is rather interesting, depicting scenes from the life of Christ.
The congregation was formed on this date (November 9) in 1875 and was the first Disciples of Christ congregation in southern California. They operate a clothing room for the needy and serve a free breakfast for all on the last Sunday of each month. They also run a coffee house and sponsor occasional jazz concerts.
The church is located on a residential street just one block off Coast Highway, the main drag through Oceanside. It seems a world apart from the tourist attractions and honky-tonk atmosphere of this military town, home to the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base.
The Revd Rich Jones, pastor; Jim Underwood and John Mullins, musicians. Phil Woelfel read the passages from scripture. The church elders assisted at the Lords table.
What was the name of the service?"Adult Worship" was the name given to it in the handout, although a banner outside proclaimed the 10.30 service to be "Bluegrass Church."
How full was the building?
I counted room for about 200 and there were about 30 present - mainly an elderly crowd, although there were some young families with children. I got the impression that most of the parishioners were long-standing members.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not at first. I entered to find the musicians practicing and conversing with another gentleman, but they paid me no attention. When the pastor came in, he introduced himself to me and bade me welcome.
Was your pew comfortable?
A little severe.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I was the only one there for the longest time, and the pastor explained that "Everybody comes late." Eventually people began to wander in and visit among themselves, but paid me no notice.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Chalice Hymnal and The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, were in the pews but were not used. There was a handout sheet with all the prayers, readings and words to the songs, and the words were projected as well.
What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano (only for communion), acoustic guitar, bass guitar, harmonica. The musicians also sang.
Did anything distract you?
I hate it when people come in late and keep making me revise the count of how many were present! One of the singers appeared to be channeling Johnny Cash, as he sang with a deep bass voice and a distinct Southern twang to his accent.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
An upbeat hymn sandwich. The music was indeed bluegrass, but without the fiddle playing and nasal intonation that sometimes characterizes the style. I found the music interesting, and some of the songs were rather nice. One of them was the old spiritual "Down By the Riverside." Among the prayers was the Lord's Prayer (recited) and the Gloria Patri and doxology (sung). All songs were applauded. The words of institution were spoken at communion time, and we received tiny square wafers of bread and wee cuppies of grape juice with the words "His precious body" and "His precious blood" pronounced. No mere memorial here!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The pastor spoke without notes in a very smooth-flowing and easy-to-understand manner, but he seemed to be staring out into space (as people do when they are trying to recall something they've memorized) rather than making eye contact with the congregation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Matthew 25:1-13 (the parable of the bridegroom and the wise and foolish virgins - here translated "girls"). There are so many different perspectives on religion what is true? Foolish and wise often look alike - only time will reveal the difference. Will we be ready when Christ comes again? We can get ready now by submitting to the lordship of Christ. But its easy to be spiritually lazy - we must live out our commitment to Christ every day. It's easy to play church, but we must live church!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The pastor spoke briefly to the children before sending them off to Sunday school. He said that the two candles on the communion table represent Christ, the light of the world, and ourselves, who must let our light shine. That the two candles are placed close to each other means that Christ is always close to us. I had never heard the use of candles in church explained that way before, and I thought that it was indeed heavenly.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The meet and greet was billed as passing the peace, but it lasted all of ten minutes and consisted of everything but peace! "Did you get my message?" I heard one gentleman ask another, and the two went on to discuss moving a piano. One lady spoke with another about some items she had for sale. "You've probably heard enough of this," one person said to me. Indeed I had, and then some!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Cake and refreshments in the parish hall were announced, but the service had gone on for almost two hours and I had elsewhere to be, so I left. "Glad you came," the pastor said to me as I went out.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – The music was interesting, and I appreciated the dignity with which communion was celebrated. It's not every day you come across a Protestant church that believes that the elements are Christ's body and blood. The people seemed friendly, at least among themselves, and very much devoted to their church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
It's easy to play church, but we must live church!