October 28 marked Citywalk Church's entrance into the practice of weekly Sunday worship. Prior to that, communal worship events had been monthly; the weekly gatherings were smaller and held in people's homes downtown. Church member Jorge shared his story with me before the service. "I was a Catholic. I was really involved. I went to Catholic school, and I was an altar boy. But I lost interest. You went to church on Sunday, you left, you came back the next Sunday. Nobody really talked to each other." When he attended UCSD, he was attracted to the home-church-style gatherings in dorm rooms. "Instead of one person teaching everyone, we taught each other -- singing, praying, interpreting the Bible, just talking about our lives. There was this dynamic." For Jorge, church became a community. The service was held in the auditorium of Washington Elementary School -- the church's display screen obscuring kiddie Halloween decorations around the stage. On the screen: "The worship event is a multisensory participatory experience for us to connect with God together. Music, art, words, and more all play a role in the mysterious transaction that happens between us and God when we worship. Through music, we visualize and vocalize things that are hard to express in word or action. Communion is a holy moment where, by sharing the symbols of bread and wine together, we remember who Jesus is, what His mission is, and how we are part of that hope."
The music matched the general feel of the service -- low-key, emotive but not rousing; guitar, piano, bongo, and two-part harmony. "When I climb down the mountain/ And get back to my life/ I won't settle for ordinary things..."
That lyric expressed one of the five values emphasized by Citywalk: everyday sacredness -- "Every day can be really consumed with following God," explained senior pastor Steve Denney. The others: pursuit of truth while at the same time accepting mystery; generosity in everything; traveling together on "this journey of following Jesus"; and valuing interruptions, looking "for blessing in the midst of them."
The weekly worship service, meanwhile, was a third component of "what Citywalk does to come together that we can call 'church.'" Personal transformation would be facilitated by the home church meetings; influence would come through interaction with the larger community; but the worship service would aid in establishing "a meaningful connection with God."
Denney showed a short film that opened with a man dialing phone directory services, trying without success to find a listing for God. Cut to a man conducting street interviews, asking people how they connect to God. Answers ranged from "I don't want to talk about it," to "I don't believe in God," to "In my heart and in my soul," to "Go to church," to "Practice yoga," to simply, "I don't." "If we're not connected to God," asked Denney, "what are we doing? This idea of reconnecting to God is probably our greatest need.... I think the story of the Bible, from the very beginning, can be told, in a way, as humanity losing its connection to God.... I think at one point in time, God said, 'I can't take [this]; I'm going to go to them.'" The world resisted, to the point of crucifying Christ, but the resultant church took up the movement. "I believe the role of the church is positioned perfectly to fulfill this longing that everybody has -- to reconnect with and stay connected to God."
So what to do? Denney didn't have a formula but suggested being honest and making yourself vulnerable, confessing your dependence on the divine. "James says, 'Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.' Maybe the next move is ours.... I want us to try to connect with God this morning.... Let's come into this moment expecting that connecting with God can actually happen, that it's a real thing."
There followed a solid 20 minutes of gentle singing, of spoken prayer, and of reading: "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God..." People prayed or drifted back to the Communion table or sang quietly along. "Come and make my heart your home/ Come and be everything I am and all I know..."
What happens when we die?
"I believe in a heaven and a hell," said Denney. "Heaven is the ultimate connection to God, and hell is the ultimate exclusion. I believe that our acceptance of Christ or our rejection of Christ plays into the determination of that -- though I'm not convinced that it's just a 'mind-belief statement.' But there certainly is this: 'Do I accept Christ, follow Him, trust Him, try to live with those things in mind?' I'm very much a 'Kingdom of God' person -- eternal life doesn't start when we die; it's a different expression of it."
1789 State Street, Little Italy
Denomination: affiliated with Stadia
Founded locally: March 2007
Senior pastor: Steve Denney
Congregation size: 50
Staff size: 1
Sunday school enrollment: 5
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 10 minutes