Church Shopping Adventures, Part IV?

Jamba Juice, Pacific Marina Center, Long Beach. 1:17pm rulersDoes size really matter? Two weeks ago I cringed at how tiny the Calvary Chapel near Belmont Shore was. Admittedly I had missed most of the worship music so I really wasn't sure that I could make much of an assessment of the place (ignoring the discomfort of making any assessment in the first place).

So last night I went back on the Internet to figure out where I would go this morning. After searching for a bit I wrote the following email to my lover (who goes to the "big" Vineyard church in Anaheim... often referred to as "Mecca"):

"Well, I went on the vineyard website and the long beach (lakewood) website gave me the following message:

"'This is the default page for an iPowerWeb hosting server.

To visit our main page click here. For technical support, please click here or send an email to'. "

"So.... gotta wonder what's happening with these folks. Never got a response to my email request for service times. The main vineyard site listed the churches in my area based on distance from Long Beach and one of the next closest vineyards was the South Bay Vineyard (7 miles) which meets at 4pm (hmmm), and the one after that was called "Vineyard Xtreme" (also in Torrance, 8 miles), their website was so extreme that it timed out (e.g., either server down or no info). Ugh. Then, the next closest vineyard was the one of my favorites that met at Goldenwest College, with the Fuller-trained female pastor that was about as small as the Calvary that I went to two weeks ago (living room/small home-fellowship sized). Well, their website was still up and running but posted the following message:

'Main Worship Service:

'BIG CHANGE! WE'VE PUSHED BACK our start time to 10:30 on SUNDAY MORNINGS ... AND ... we've gone from meeting in the college TO MEETING IN ROTATING HOST HOMES EACH SUNDAY OF THE MONTH.


'It is like the early New Testament Church ... meeting together by going from house to house...and we're loving it! (Casual, modest clothes are fine.)

'For September, barring unforseen changes, our Sunday morning worship places (for 10:30 A.M.) are:

'09-04-05: At Reno's home XXX-XXX-XXXX 09-11-05: At Reno's home XXX-XXX-XXXX 09-18-05: At Secor's home XXX-XXX-XXXX 09-25-05: At Secor's home XXX-XXX-XXXX

'Maps & directions to our host homes are given individually when you call, so as to keep them off the web. We value our volunteers.' [Note: they were concerned enough to not publish addresses but had everyone's phone number posted pretty clearly]

"Okay, I was somewhat joking about them being home fellowship sized, but apparently they've decided that this is the way to go. In that the first bible-studies that I went to way back when were home fellowships, there's something nostalgic about this, but... I'm not so sure that's the way I want to go. By the way, that church is 11 miles away. I also see from the list that there were 14 other vineyard churches closer to me than the newport church (18 miles). And the Anaheim vineyard is 21st on the list at 23 miles away. In that Long Beach is a pretty big city I'm kind of curious as to where they begin measuring the distance. It also kind of sucks that Anaheim has three churches, while Downey, Huntington Beach, and Torrance have two churches, and Long Beach barely has one. Ugh. This is frustrating..."

So this morning I got up and had no idea what time the Long Beach church met or even whether they were still meeting or not. But I was determined to get off my ass and not blow off this Sunday morning. When I got to the Long Beach/Lakewood meeting place (a YMCA building) at first it looked like no one was there, then I noticed a few cars. Ugh. Going inside I saw a kid running around (looked like he was there for YMCA activities) and asked if they had already begun or even finished, but the kid didn't know. Going into the small meeting room I saw the chairs stacked and the worship guitarists were flipping through their notebooks with their guitars still in their opened cases. I wasn't sure if I was too early or too late (I got there at 9:36). Fortunately I was too early (they meet at 10:00). So I went back into the foyer and decided to pull out my laptop because it seemed like I had a while to wait. But, it really wasn't that much time, so I flipped through some Pepperdine paperwork and almost immediately was recognized with one of my former computer lab students named India. Then the "greeter" lady showed up and was all apologetic and embarrassed that she wasn't in the front when I first showed up. There was also a bit of a commotion this morning because the pastor's daughter was having her baby just about when service would be starting.

Anyway, the room and group were just as small as the Belmont Shore group (which was way smaller than the Presbyterian Church I'd visited at the beginning of this adventure). There was the same two-sections of three rows of seats and I choose to sit in the middle of one of the second rows (almost no one sat in the front row). The church seemed be mostly made up of ladies past retirement age and the next largest group were forty-something guys. They were a very friendly group and the service actually seemed to take advantage of the group's small size by having us move our chairs into several small circles for prayer after a bit of worship. And even though the two guitarists leading worship were not exactly recording-artist quality I have to say that I felt very comfortable adding my harmonies to the songs sung to the point that I really care that there were probably not even twenty of us in the room.

swinggirlActually I felt pretty comfortable when I first arrived and I saw a bunch of kids run over to an outdoor playground because the sense of "ownership" I saw in these kids made the place seem more meaningful than some random meeting place. I also told the greeter lady, Linda, before the service, that I'd come to their church two-years ago but that at the time I really needed my anonymity so I ended up at the Newport Vineyard for two years. But now I felt that I needed to be closer to home.

Okay, so the music worked (and I contemplated whether I could find a place to participate more...), next question was whether I'd feel comfortable with the pastor and his "style." It was communion Sunday and they had a table set up in the front with a serving tray holding pita bread, a few baskets and a few small serving pitchers filled with grape juice, all of these elements were covered by a white cloth. After the guitarists had played three songs one of the elders came to the front and read from the book of Psalms, then he shared the announcements and then we sang "happy birthday" to the one September birthday person present (there was another person whose birthday was today but he skipped out and they all said that they'd make him pay later for his cowardice... ). Then we had some more music, then the small circle time of prayer, then the message and lastly the communion service. That's what was different about this gathering, they recognized their smallness and were very comfortable with it and at the same time, especially regarding the practice of taking communion, the pastor was very "liturgical" in his approach. He seemed to recognize the importance of forms without giving them a meaning all by themselves. There was a "new" level here. He mentioned working on his doctorate and sharing from his writings... Here was someone who had studied what these things meant... I found it very interesting.

boynbushAt the end of the service, the greeter lady invited me to hang around and perhaps find someone to go to lunch with, etc. I smiled at her and said thank you and that I wanted to take this one step at a time. So we'll see. Does size really matter? My Seattle friend and her new fiance had encouraged me to look into a church's singles group when looking for a church. i doubt this church has a singles group (or a high school group, or a college age group, or a left-handed norwegian mountain-climbers group). Next step is to see whether I can "hang" with this home fellowship-sized church's home fellowship. JBB

music: CFH213-20050701 - Leo Leport - Call for Help