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2744: Grace Chapel of the Coast, Oceanside, California, USA
Grace Chapel of the Coast, Oceanside, CA (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: California Dearmer.
The church: Grace Chapel of the Coast, Oceanside, California, USA.
Denomination: Independent.
The building: They meet in the former Crest Theater, built in 1950 and in operation as a Spanish language cinema until the mid 1990s. The original marquee lettering that spelled CREST has been replaced with GRACE, and the old ticket booth is now a stone pillar and planter; otherwise, the faÁade looks much as it always did: 1950s kitsch. The inside also looks much like it did in the Crest Theater days, except that about half the seats have been removed to form a platform where persons with disabilities can sit. The walls are lined with a rather mawkish looking bas-relief intended, I think, to represent ocean waves. The original stage and proscenium are intact, with two large wooden crosses added to either side of the stage.
The church: They sponsor a number of ministries all described on their website. Special mention goes to the military outreach, which holds services once each month at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, and the Oceanside Surf Fellowship, which meets Monday evenings on the Oceanside Pier to minister to the "surfer bum" crowd that the beaches of Oceanside seem to attract. Their regular Sunday morning service is at 9.30, with an evening service on the second and third Sunday of each month plus occasional weekday services.
The neighborhood: This is downtown Oceanside, home of Camp Pendleton, where Marine Corps honky-tonk meets upscale tourist meets California beach bum Ė an interesting atmosphere by any measure.
The cast: No names were given, but Iím pretty sure the preacher was Ron Ohst, senior pastor, judging from his photo on their website.
The date & time: Sunday, August 24, 2014, 9.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Morning Service.

How full was the building?
The old theater held about 1000 seats. Fewer than half of them remain, as mentioned above. Iíd say there were about 125 people present, pretty well spread out. Itís hard to judge, as people kept wandering in as late as 35 or 40 minutes into the worship music.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A young girl at the door said hello as she handed me an announcement bulletin. One or two people shook my hand as I was sitting in the lobby before the service began.

Was your pew comfortable?
Old style (pre stadium seating days) theater seats Ė adequate but not plush.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People milled about the lobby Ė lots of children hopping and skipping about, playing with balloons, etc. I always bring ear plugs to rock-concert-as-church services, and I put them in before entering the auditorium. An elderly gent mistook them for hearing aids, and asked me if I needed aids in one ear or both. I replied both, and he said, "Me too."

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Hey, Church!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, two electric guitars, bass guitar, drums. There was also a female vocalist.

Did anything distract you?
One of the guitarists looked like the late great Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead band. The rather fey bas-relief wall decorations were also a distraction.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely happy clappy: lots of raised arms, swaying to and fro, dancing in the aisles, etc. One young lady stood in the back dancing and waving two large colored flags as if she were signaling the start of the Daytona 500. The format followed the standard rock-concert-as-church order: 50 minutes of "worship", a short video about persecuted Christians in Yemen, announcements, "stand and say hello to someone", sermon, altar call, concluding "worship."

Grace Chapel of the Coast, Oceanside, CA (Flags)

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There were actually two sermons: one 10 minutes and the other 35 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – I really liked the senior pastorís style. He had notes in front of him but barely glanced at them from time to time. He spoke naturally, animatedly, yet made himself clearly understood.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He began the first sermon by asking if we were familiar with the practice of turning in our 3D glasses after watching a 3D movie. Wouldnít it be great if we turned in our glasses to God in return for new glasses with which to see Godís vision? No matter how much we experience God, there is always more. The question is: do we want more? Without Jesus there is no life. Jesus is eternal life. The more we seek, the more we see. Godís glory radiates through us. The second sermon was a brief summary of the Bible in 35 minutes. The Bible is the story of Godís search for us. God is before and above all, the cause and goal of all. There is meaning and purpose for us only in our relationship with God. The fall of Adam and Eve represents a choice of independence from God Ė a choice of creation rather than the Creator. God put in place a plan to restore our relationship with him. But we resist. Finally, God spared nothing to bring us back to him, including the suffering and death of his only Son to atone for our sins once and for all. And when we choose to reunite ourselves to God, we have the Holy Spirit as our constant companion. In the end, God will restore creation to a new state and we will (as all good stories go) "live happily ever after."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I thought the sermon, especially the senior pastorís concise yet accurate summary of the Bible, was heavenly.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It is often said that God has a sense of humor. Iím sure God was shaking his head in exasperation over his children thinking that the wailing, whining, moaning sounds coming out of the female vocalistís mouth, with absolutely no sense of pitch, tone or breathing, could actually pass for music in the minds of everyone who was dancing and swaying to same.

Grace Chapel of the Coast, Oceanside, CA (Band)

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
"Stand up if youíre feeling the Holy Spirit," the preacher said at the altar call. Only about a dozen or so stood. "The rest of you need to invite Jesus in," he went on. The musicians were starting up their wailing, whining and moaning again, so I slipped out the back, as did some others.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was offered for sale, along with barbequed hamburgers and hot dogs to benefit the youth group, but I didnít partake.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – I liked the preaching, but I couldnít take even an occasional nibble, let alone a steady diet, of the "worship."

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. In fact, it hardened my heart. Iím sure it would sink to the bottom if placed in water.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Having my ear plugs mistaken for hearing aids.
 
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