4761 Cass Street, Pacific Beach
Founded locally: 1946
Pastor: Interim senior pastor Paul Thomton
Congregation size: 750 members
Staff size: 5 full-time, 3 part-time
Sunday school enrollment: 15
Annual budget: $700,000
Weekly giving: $13,500
Singles program: third Sunday of the month
Dress: business-casual to dressy
Sunday worship: 9 a.m., 11 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour
"Pacific Beach is a mission field. It is a difficult place to do ministry. The majority of people here are college-aged or post-college. Many are in rebellion against parents, government, and church. Their interests are surfing and partying; they don't have time for church," Pastor Paul Thomton told me.
I asked Pastor Thomton how his church reached out to PB. "We are building a community center for seniors," Thomton replied. "We have an event five to six times a year called 'Music Mosaics.' These are concerts with high-class music, such as a choir and organist. We have also talked about having an open gym." Thomton said the church had attracted some of the younger crowd. "The previous pastor was 30 years old; he surfed and brought in a younger crowd," said Thomton. That pastor left in early 2004, when he moved to Bend, Oregon, to pastor a church.
Outside, a white banner hangs on the white stucco walls of Christ Lutheran Church. The banner welcomes "Saints, Sinners, and Surfers." "Lutheran's basic focus is on salvation by grace through faith. We teach a lot on God's unconditional love," remarked Thomton. "In contrast to this, Catholics believe that you participate in your salvation by your activities."
Inside the church building, white walls rise up to the arched ceiling. Five stained-glass windows, two-feet-by-six-feet tall, illustrate events in Jesus' ministry. Events include Jesus being baptized, teaching, and His gathering children to Him. Below the arches, on either side, brick walls with stained-glass windows depict moments in church history. The images include that of Luther in 1517 posting his 95 Theses on the church doors in Wittenberg. On each arch, one-foot candles in glass sconces line the walls.
At the 9 a.m. service, 100 people sat on the cushioned wood pews. A few families attended. Two-thirds of the congregation was elderly.
The organist played Bach's "Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major" as the prelude to service. After a welcome, responsive reading, and time of confession, the congregation sang "We Come to You for Healing, Lord" in preparation for the sermon.
Pastor Thomton's 15-minute sermon, "Healings, Cures, and Remedies," spoke about God's desire to heal people. "Jesus preached about how much God loved [humanity]. Jesus healed, cast out demons, and raised people from the dead. Jesus wants all of us to be healed," said Thomton. The sermon discussed physical, emotional, and spiritual sickness. "God has given enough people in this church the gift of healing. How much suffering has gone on that we could have healed if we had used these gifts?" Thomton concluded by inviting people to come forward to receive healing oil during communion, "You may not be physically healed, but ultimately we have the cure of Jesus forgiving our sins. We will live healthy lives forever. Isn't that a miracle?"
After the sermon, the offering was collected while the congregation sang "Healer of Our Every Ill." The Apostle's Creed was recited. Next, the lights were dimmed for communion. Two lines formed for people to partake of communion. A man, mumbling to himself, entered the building. This man appeared homeless. The man got in line for communion after two people encouraged him to participate.
After service, people gathered around a fountain on a palm-tree-lined patio. Congregants socialized as they drank coffee and juice. A table held a sign-up sheet for an interfaith shelter the church participates in. I spoke to a woman named Jennifer, who served as part of the church council. Jennifer told me the church council consisted of 12 members representing every age group. Jennifer spoke about her involvement in providing a weekly liturgy booklet for service. "We wanted to make the service more accessible. A lot of people don't know the reasons why we have the liturgy we do. This booklet explains each step of our service."
Pastor Paul Thomton serves as the interim pastor. I asked what his congregation would look for in a pastor. "Someone with 4 years of college, 4 years of seminary, and 15 years' experience in other churches," said Thomton. Thomton told me the process of finding and naming a new pastor takes about one year.
I ended my conversation with Pastor Thomton by asking, "What happens after a person dies?" "[The Lutheran denomination] believes that all believers in Jesus Christ that are baptized will go to heaven. Those who do not want to be with God will not be in heaven," explained Thomton. "As for my beliefs, I believe God loves us all and only those who choose not to be with Him or Her will not be in heaven. I know I am going to heaven through Jesus, but I'm not going to say that a Buddhist or Muslim won't be there either. I believe God is a loving god."