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2680: Oceanside United Reformed, Carlsbad, California, USA
Oceanside United Reformed, Carlsbad, CA (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: California Dearmer.
The church: Oceanside United Reformed, Carlsbad, California, USA.
Denomination: United Reformed Churches in North America.
The building: They meet in the chapel of the Army and Navy Academy, a private boys’ boarding school where they (quoting from their website) "help our Cadets prepare to be the leaders of tomorrow through lessons of history and examples of courage." The chapel sits on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and is a plain, military-looking A-frame structure. Inside, banners of the various graduating classes of the Academy hang from the ceiling. Small round stained glass windows depict various biblical scenes. A beautiful organ case graces the east wall, in front of which are choir stalls (unused at this service) and a communion table. There were no flowers or any other decorative touches save for a red altar frontal bearing the words "Food indeed, drink indeed."
The church: They sponsor small groups that meet Wednesday evenings at various locations for potluck, discussion and prayer, as well as a men’s theological discussion group and a women’s fellowship. There is morning and evening worship each Sunday plus adult Sunday school.
The neighborhood: Carlsbad is an affluent resort city on the Pacific coast north of San Diego. In 1880, a well that had been dug at a railroad whistle-stop called Frazier’s Station to provide water for locomotives was found to have mineral content similar to the waters of the world-renowned spa at Karlsbad, Bohemia. More wells were dug, the town changed its name, and several hotels and spas were opened. Today, affluent visitors to Carlsbad may take the waters at about a half dozen luxury spas, while the less well off may enjoy attractions such as Legoland (the first Legoland amusement park to open outside of Europe) or the city’s fabulous ocean beaches. Carlsbad is world headquarters of several corporations, including the Jenny Craig weight management organization and No Fear casual apparel.
The cast: The Revd Danny Hyde, pastor. He wore a gray Geneva gown with black preaching scarf – odd colors for Easter Sunday, I thought. The pianist was Julie Gilliam.
The date & time: Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014, 10.15am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship.

How full was the building?
I counted room for about 400, but the back half of the pews was roped off, as I was soon to learn (see below). I counted about 75 people altogether – mostly young families with lots of children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
After I was seated, a gentleman asked me if I would mind moving up closer, as they liked to rope off the back rows. The pastor came up to my pew, shook my hand, and said, "Good morning. How are you?"

Was your pew comfortable?
Plain wooden pew, well worn. I wouldn’t exactly call it comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People greeted each other rather noisily. A gentleman prepared the communion table, filling some wee cuppies with wine and others with grape juice, and filling two plates with croutons. A lady distributed hymnals and Bibles in the pews that were lacking them. The pianist played a medley of hymns.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning (mumble mumble mumble)" – sorry, I couldn’t make out what the pastor was saying.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Psalter Hymnal; The Holy Bible, English Standard Version; a service leaflet; and two hymn sheets, only one of which was used. The Book of Worship for United States Forces was also in the pews but was not used.

What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, nicely played and in perfect tune. Alas, the beautiful organ (a Schlicker, rebuilt by Galanti Classic Organs) remained silent.

Did anything distract you?
There were lots of small children who made lots of noise throughout the service. Unfortunately most of them sat near me, and I found it very difficult to concentrate on the service.

Oceanside United Reformed, Carlsbad, CA (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A stiff-upper-lip liturgical service, with opening acclamations, collect, decalogue, confession and declaration of forgiveness, Apostles Creed, intercessions, epistle, gospel, Lord’s Supper, blessing and dismissal. The above were interspersed with traditional hymns and psalms. At communion time the pastor read a eucharistic prayer of sorts and pronounced the words of institution. We went forward to help ourselves to a crouton and a wee cuppie of wine or grape juice, as we preferred, and then took them back to our seats to consume them on cue from the pastor.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – Pastor Danny had a way of overstressing the accented syllables of words and mumbling the rest. He also had a habit of rephrasing everything he said about 20 different ways.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His sermon was entitled "What if Jesus didn’t rise?" People all over the world celebrate Christ’s resurrection today – not with Easter eggs and bunnies and candy, but with sermon and song. But what if Jesus didn’t rise? If he weren’t the Messiah? Preaching would be meaningless; worship foolish, a waste of time. God would be nothing more than a liar! We would still be subject to sin, in bondage to Satan. But in fact Jesus did rise, as the prophets foretold and as witnesses attested. Thus our faith is not in vain. We have been freed from sin. Everything Jesus said about himself is true. He demonstrated himself to be Lord of the universe. He alone is the Good News.

Oceanside United Reformed, Carlsbad, CA (Window)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The acclamations, collects and prayers of the liturgy were beautiful and inspiring. And I loved the stained glass – very well done.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But oh, that Pastor Danny and his mannerisms of speech. He should take a retreat at the Readers Digest to learn how to condense his thoughts so that he doesn’t repeat himself so much. And oh, those disruptive children!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The woman sitting in front of me said she hoped her children hadn’t been too much of a bother. I told her I had experienced worse. Pastor Danny again shook my hand. But most everyone else paid me no attention. I sipped my coffee and ate a pastry while gazing out at the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

Oceanside United Reformed, Carlsbad, CA (Ocean)

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Hot, strong coffee – just the way I like it – served in styrofoam cups. Apple juice was also available, as was an assortment of pastries and Easter candies (despite what the pastor had said in his sermon).

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I liked the liturgy and music, but I’d hope for a more condensed service. Also, I would be sure not to sit in the children’s section next time!

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The beautiful organ that went unplayed.
 
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