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United Methodist, San Diego, California, USA
United Methodist, San Diego, California, USA.
A church with a very striking appearance – Iíve not been
able to find out exactly when it was built, but I would imagine
the 1960s or 1970s. It forms part of a complex of buildings:
offices, meeting rooms, and a nursery school, amongst other
things. It is built on a hillside, so one enters at ground level
from the patio and then goes up sweeping stairs (or a lift)
to the sanctuary. The sanctuary itself is very beautiful and
features a high curved roof. Inside, everything is mostly white
or cream, which gives a very tranquil feel to the building.
The sides have small stained glass windows running the length
of the sanctuary, and the window behind the altar (and it was
an altar, fully dressed as such) is floor to ceiling clear glass.
This was a master stroke, as it affords a wonderful view of
the hillside behind the church, with trees and grasses and bushes
and some wildflowers all swaying in the breeze.
They seem very active in all manner of community events. These
include All Godís Children, a group for the parents, friends
and family of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender persons;
the New Life Counseling Center, offering healing, reconciliation
and hope during times of personal and family crisis; and a homebound
ministry for those unable to attend church. And we were intrigued
by the prayer quilt ministry, where people make requests for
prayer and members of the congregation put a stitch in the quilt
as they say a prayer for the person. The newsletter listed nine
different upcoming events, including Bible study groups and
marriage preparation classes. This seems to be a church that
just doesnít exist for Sundays.
San Diego, the eighth largest city in the USA and the second
largest in California, is situated on the Pacific coast at the
southernmost tip of California, a few miles from the Mexican
border. It is a well-to-do city with a working port. The United
States Navy maintains a large base there. The church sits within
the Mission Valley district, an area of offices, car dealerships,
hotels and shopping malls. There appeared to be very few houses
near the church or in the area, although we realized later that
the hills behind the church are home to a large residential
The Revd Elbert Kim, minister of education, led the worship
and gave the children's address. The Revd Jim Standiford, senior
pastor, preached. An unnamed liturgist read the Bible passages.
And then there was Miss Becky (see below).
The date & time:
July 25, 2010, 9.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
We estimated that the church could seat around 600 and it must
have been 90 per cent full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
On the patio at the front of the church was a table with name
badges. We were about to sidestep this and go into the church
when a lady wearing a rather strange wig (and she wasn't alone
– read on!) pounced on us and asked if we were regulars
or visitors. When we confessed to being visitors, she gave us
blue badges and told us to write our names on them. (Regulars
had red badges.) On entering the church, we were greeted by
John and Sally Berry, who chatted with us and pointed the way
to the sanctuary. Once in the church, we were wished good morning
by a gentleman who gave us a copy of the order of service.
Was your pew comfortable?
Very. These were pews covered in cream leatherette and well padded.
How would you describe the pre-service
The atmosphere was fairly reverential. The organ was being played
beautifully and there was some chatter, but this wasn't obtrusive.
We felt we had time to prepare for worship, pray, and take in
the view from the window at the front, as well as to read the
many leaflets in the book holder in front of us.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning and welcome to First Church." This by
Pastor Kim, who went on to make some announcements before explaining
the format of the service. He told us (very helpfully, we thought)
that the call to worship was as if God were calling to each
one of us.
What books did the congregation use during the
We used the United Methodist Hymnal. There were also
copies of The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version
available, and we were encouraged to follow the Bible reading
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. I don't know much about pipe organs, but this one sounded
good and was well played. It is an opus of L.W. Blackington
& Associates of El Cajon, California.
Did anything distract you?
Several things. First, the view from the window at the front
of the church. Second, the preponderance of wigs. As well as
the badge lady, I spotted several others, including a truly
shocking syrup and figs (Cockney rhyming slang, for those unfamiliar
with the expression) being worn by one of the male stewards
who took up the offertory. It looked like a cat sleeping on
top of his head. Had someone set out a saucer of cream, I half
expected the "cat" to jump down and lap it up!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
After Pastor Kim's explanation of the call to worship, an all-male
choir intoned the call from the gallery and then processed into
the sanctuary, led by a crucifer. The hymns were traditional,
and the psalm was recited antiphonally. I'm not accustomed to
high Methodist, but I soon got used to it and put aside my prejudices.
At least the ministers and choir weren't robed – quite the
contrary: all participants were dressed in chinos and white
shirts, which looked smart yet informal and friendly.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes – or so I estimate, as I was so wrapped up in it
that I forgot to time it!
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 In some senses the senior pastor wasn't a great orator.
But he had a very engaging delivery and a very warm voice, and
he had us hooked from the start. He included a very moving personal
anecdote about how he had assumed the pastoral mantle of a minister
who had died.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The pastor's text was 2 Kings 2:13-18 (Elisha uses Elijah's
cloak to part the Jordan River, to the amazement of those in
company with him). The pastor used the metaphor of passing on
command of a ship (San Diego is a Navy town, remember) to talk
about changes in church leadership. This is an important part
of how the church moves on, and all of us have a role to play.
It is important for the congregation to witness the transition.
Christ and the Holy Spirit will guide the congregation.
Which part of the service was like being in
This has to be the men's choir, who sang beautifully. Though
a close second was the way the senior pastor prayed for a family
who were moving from San Diego to Wisconsin due to a job relocation.
A very moving prayer.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Pastor Kim gathered the few children there (this was school
holidays so many were obviously away) for a talk that neatly
tied in with the theme. This was fine. But then he asked one
of the Sunday school teachers, a young lady called Miss Becky,
to come out and lead the children's song. It was the well known
round "Seek ye first the kingdom of God." Miss Becky had decided
that there were actions to accompany the song's theme as each
voice entered the round. But although she explained the actions
and demonstrated them, she didn't have a microphone and no one
understood what was going on. Plus there weren't very many children
there to start the round off. I felt embarrassed; goodness knows
how the children felt.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Given the blue badges we were wearing setting us out as visitors,
we expected to be pounced on and directed to coffee. But nothing
happened. So we thought maybe coffee was on the patio. Nope.
We walked over to the prayer quilt table and asked what it was
about. We were told, but still no one seemed to notice that
we were visitors. Eventually, after we were spotted taking photos,
a lady who had been sitting in our pew came over to us and chatted
for a while. She was very friendly, but even she didn't mention
coffee. So much for the blue badges – perhaps most of
the congregation are color blind. Or maybe their wigs had fallen
down over their eyes.
How would you describe the after-service
We never did find any coffee.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 If we were new to San Diego, we'd certainly consider
it. Although worship might be a little high, the activities
and opportunities for Bible study and fellowship would be an
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes it did. The worship was powerful and the pastor's message
could have been addressed to me personally. It was both challenging
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
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