Church of the Good Shepherd, Bonita

"As we gaze at your kingly brightness/ So our faces display your likeness/ Ever changing from glory to glory/ Mirrored here, may our lives tell your story. Shine, Jesus, shine..." Those lines from the opening hymn (one of many) caught something of the spirit pervading the Contemporary Communion Service at Good Shepherd. They touched on a profound and deeply traditional theological notion: that in beholding God, we are made like Him, and further, our own lives are a kind of participation in His divine life ("Mirrored here..."). But they were sung by a folk choir over a miked and twangy acoustic guitar, bongos, tambourines, handclaps, and a synthesizer.

The church itself shared in the feeling: a traditional (if cozy) inverted-ark, but entirely paneled with dark wood planks, giving the place a rustic feel. The Good Shepherd appeared in stained glass above the entrance, but all other windows were floor-to-ceiling '50s-style clear panes, looking out at the serene landscaping.

The congregation joined hands across the aisles for the "Our Father" -- a classically progressive practice. Reverend Calvert took pains to point out after the service that his was a "biblically orthodox congregation." Once again, tradition in modern garb, with frequent echoes of the old ways: the ornate gold cover on the Scriptures, a woman's half-genuflection before entering a pew, the prolonged elevation of the Eucharist.

The form and language of the liturgy, however, was pure tradition. From the collect: "Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity." This was Trinity Sunday, "one of the great holy days of the Church year," in Calvert's words.

The readings dwelt on the glory of God enthroned in heaven -- first Isaiah's vision of the Lord surrounded by Seraphim, and then John's vision of the Lord surrounded by the four creatures traditionally associated with the gospels: an eagle, a lion, an ox, and a man. In both cases, the Lord was receiving worship and glory from His attendant host. The Gospel was a much quieter affair, but it commanded all of Calvert's attention in the message: Christ telling his disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth."

"For the past 200 years, since the Enlightenment, we've been told that all we need is reason to put together the puzzles of life," proclaimed Calvert. "But life is too mysterious, too complex, to be figured out by reason alone. Our reason is limited and disordered.... Both Nazism and Communism claimed reason as their guide. Evil can seem so reasonable at times."

It wasn't that Calvert was down on reason: "Reason is good. I believe in reason. It's just that it's not enough." The Holy Spirit is also needed. "That's what Jesus was talking about in the Gospel.... Jesus wants to teach us further...the proper lesson at the proper time in our life. It's both reason and the revelation of the Holy Spirit that will guide us through life," by guiding us "into all the truth." "When God the Holy Spirit comes in and pours into us the truth of God, how could that be anything less than the truth? It must be real; it must be objective...the truth that's absolutely true for the particular time in which God has given it to you." He gave examples of the Spirit's teaching in his own life, ranging from the profound (pastoral counsel) to the simply interesting (being guided to particular passages while preparing sermons).

Calvert described the Trinity using the words of the Swiss theologian Hans Kung: "'God the Father is God above us, God the Son is God alongside of us, and God the Holy Spirit is God inside of us.' The truth and the life of the Father and the Son flow into us through the Holy Spirit."

Before leading the recitation of the creed, Calvert exhorted the congregation: "The Nicene Creed is a Trinitarian Creed; it is full of the life of the Trinity -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let us say it and look for the Trinity." And there He was: "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty.... We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.... We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.... With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified."

At the close of the service, Calvert gave the blessing: The Lord God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the holy and undivided Trinity, guard you, save you, and bring you to that heavenly city, where He lives and reigns forever and ever."

What happens when we die?

"If we believe in Jesus," said Calvert, "we go to heaven."

Church of the Good Shepherd

3990 Bonita Road, Bonita

Denomination: Episcopal Church

Founded locally: 1953

Senior pastor: George M. Calvert

Congregation size: 150

Staff size: 5

Sunday school enrollment: 10

Annual budget: $200,000

Weekly giving: $3850

Singles program: no

Dress: wide-ranging, but more formal than not

Sunday worship: traditional service, 8:30 a.m.; contemporary service, 11 a.m.

Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 30 minutes


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