At Faith Chapel on Sunday, the crisis had passed; the evacuees had returned to their homes. The 150 air mattresses, donated to the church along with blankets and pillows, had been packed away. The 150 congregants who volunteered their time to help out had gone back to their daily lives. Pastor Gary Jones told the congregation that "our Red Cross volunteers left last Wednesday, and I have to say, they left in tears. They didn't want to go -- they had been so blessed by your generosity and blessed by your friendship." Back to normal: back to "Finishing the Task," a multi-pronged effort to improve life for the Maravar people in India. Back to "Operation Turkey," to the upcoming Youth Convention, to welcoming new members. Said Jones, "We appreciate you, and look forward to many, many years together of service, looking for what God is going to do through you and through us as we partner together in reaching this community for Jesus Christ."
Music held something close to pride of place during the service; in light of this, the monster sound system and amphitheater architecture made perfect sense. There were hymns throughout, hymns that took their time to swell and recede, sometimes repeating one stanza ("Our God/ Is an awesome God/ He reigns from heaven above...") again and again while varying the approach: now just the duo of harmonizing ladies, now with just drums and strumming acoustic, now with the full complement of keyboards, male lead, and anthemic electric guitar. Music undergirded the liturgy, working in the background through the last quarter of the sermon, for instance, or wrapping around Communion to the point where the pastor's words became a sort of spoken interlude in the singing.
Sung: "So remember your people/ Remember your children/ Remember your promise, O God."
Spoken: Jones chose a line from Isaiah 52 to introduce Communion, a reference to "the suffering savior": "His appearance was so disfigured, beyond that of any man, and his form marred beyond human likeness."
Sung (during distribution of the elements): "Savior/ He can move the mountains/ My God is mighty to save..."
Spoken (with a guitar strumming underneath the words): "Lord, I thank you that you moved a mountain in my life.... You are mighty to save.... The elements we hold in our hands are more than symbols... there's something wonderful in this moment...something very strengthening, very humbling, very strong.... We hold in our hands elements -- the bread, your broken body; the cup, the blood that was shed for us.... He has saved us. Hallelujah. Thank you for your salvation, O God, Hallelujah!"
Sung: "Jesus, I surrender/ I draw nearer/ I fall down/ Master, be my shelter/ Be my God..."
Student ministries pastor Tony Orlando gave the sermon, part of the "Everyday Jesus" exploration of Mark's Gospel. The disciples had been arguing about who was greatest, and Jesus rebuked them, saying, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all...I tell you the truth: anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward." (He also referenced Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet, then drying them with a towel.)
Orlando, who made several references to sports, allowed as to how this notion of putting oneself last is "kind of contrary to everything in life. No one wakes up in the morning and goes, 'I'm going to be last today.'" Because of that, the service that Christ demands "is sacrificial.... I think about the movie Toy Story and the little green squeeze toys." He mimicked their voices, to the audience's delight. "'The claw... I've been chosen.' Somebody has to be chosen. Somebody has to sacrifice." Sacrifice, he noted, also entailed surrender -- "giving something up, not knowing the outcome" -- and had Jesus as an exemplar.
He pointed to the crystal goblet of water at his side and at the 720 folded white towels on the Sanctuary stairs. "The ministry of the cup and the towel...has to be at the forefront of who we are as a church.... I've seen it in action.... A few weeks ago, a cup of water meant something to a firefighter." He thanked God for "this great opportunity for this community to humble ourselves and get on our knees before those who don't know Jesus and say, 'I'm willing to humble myself and wash your feet -- in Jesus' name.'"
What happens when we die?
"Our church believes that everyone is going to be judged for whether they accepted Christ and for their works," said Orlando. "We believe in the Rapture, so when the Lord comes back for His church, we will be caught up with Him, and then there's the whole process...of the separation of the sheep and the goats. He says, 'I knew you; well done,' or 'Please depart from me; I didn't know you at all.'"
9400 Campo Road, Spring Valley
Denomination: Assembly of God
Founded locally: 1965
Senior pastor: Gary Jones
Congregation size: about 1000
Staff size: less than 50
Sunday school enrollment: n/a
Annual budget: in the hundreds of thousands
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Diversity: majority Caucasian
Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 30 minutes