Holy Trinity, Ocean Beach

— Denomination: Episcopalian, affiliated with the Anglican Communion Network

Address: 2083 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, Ocean Beach, 619-222-0635

Founded locally: 1921

Senior pastor: Lawrence Bausch

Congregation size: 200

Staff size: 3

Sunday school enrollment: 25

Annual budget: $230,000

Weekly giving: didn't know

Singles program: no

Dress: informal

Diversity: mostly white, a few Hispanics and African-Americans

Sunday worship: 8 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 5:30 p.m. (currently on hiatus)

Length of reviewed service: 1 hour

Website: http://www.holytrinityob.org

The Episcopalian Church, says Reverend Lawrence Bausch, "follows a full liturgical year, which covers all the historically recorded events in the life of Christ, starting with the Advent season before His birth, going all the way up through Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit. According to Luke's gospel and Jewish custom, all Jewish males were circumcised on the eighth day after their birth -- and it was at the circumcision that the boy was given his name." January 1 is the eighth day after Christmas, and the baby Jesus went under the knife just like any other Jewish boy. "At some times in its history, it's been known as the feast of the circumcision of Christ, but the more common contemporary name is the feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ." Reverend Bausch may use the more contemporary name, but just about everything else about Holy Trinity's Mass veers toward the traditional. You can feel it as soon as you enter the church. It's cozy; the plaster walls don't rise much above six feet before they hit the sloping ceiling with its sea-weathered-gray slats and beams. A miniature choir loft holds only organ pipes; the organ -- and space for the actual choir -- are up front in the sanctuary. But, however cozy the space, and however contemporary the stained-glass windows telling the story of God's work in the world, grandeur and tradition hold sway. The reredos rises above the altar in royal red and gold; Christ on the cross wears the robes and crown of Christus Rex. A host of candles burn about the tabernacle and the sacred vessels, which are veiled in weighty cream-and-crimson cloth. The placement of books makes it clear that the priest will be facing the crucifix -- and turning his back to the congregation -- for at least part of the liturgy.

Bausch processed into the church to the sound of "Angels from the Realms of Glory," behind a phalanx of servers and choir members, all robed in black cassocks and white albs. He censed the altar, and when he handed the thurible to the server, she censed him. (Incense was used throughout the liturgy; again and again, a sweet haze formed over the proceedings, then dissipated.)

The liturgy was a complicated affair. Bausch entered in a capelike cope, doffed it for the gospel and homily, then donned a chausible at the offertory -- and that was just the vestments. But however complicated his motions -- the genuflections, the gestures, the transition from speech to chant during the prayers -- Bausch operated with a precision and care that made it all flow. His servers and the congregation followed suit.

During the homily, Bausch's delivery was as smooth as his motion, and tended to academic asides. "Jesus," he said, "is in fact the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. Joshua is a very common name among Jewish boys; it means 'Yaweh saves' or 'Yaweh is salvation'.... Jesus himself becomes the embodiment and the fulfillment of those words.... He is Yaweh, and He is the Jewish people being saved by Yaweh.... In the naming of Jesus, we see God at work in the life and person of Christ.... And what he accomplishes in his own life and in his death and resurrection is given to us who then receive Christ when we are baptized -- we receive the same life of Christ."

Throughout the liturgy, God's mercy was invoked, and lest anyone be confused as to exactly why God's mercy was so important, the intercessory prayers were followed by a general confession, which included the following: "we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us."

But for all this sorrow and seriousness, there was little solemnity. People milled about during the sign of peace; some even chatted. Bausch gave a special blessing to a birthday girl while the congregation offered a rhyming prayer for her wellbeing. Bausch happily admitted that Holy Trinity offers "a formal liturgy and an informal people."

What happens after you die?

"My understanding of the Christian tradition," says Bausch, "is that when we die, we face judgment. Whatever else it may consist of, it consists at least in seeing ourselves accurately -- as God sees us. Whether this happens at the moment of our death or perhaps in some other mysterious circumstance that we can't define, we choose whether we want to surrender ourselves and accept God's judgment, and therefore be allowed entrance into everlasting life. In order for this life to have integrity, the choices of this life have to be taken into account. But I do believe, assuming we have chosen for God, that there's room for some kind of cleansing that will be the necessary preparation to enter into the kingdom. If somebody is 200 feet underwater and decides he'd like to go to the surface, he still has to go through a decompression. Whereas somebody who's been choosing God all his life is nearer the surface, so to speak.

"Or, we can choose to embrace the lie and reject God's view of us. Heaven is reality, and so hell, in this sense, is nothing -- it's illusion. It's the choosing of nothingness."

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