"I am so excited," said Pastor Jack Forness as he opened the Maundy Thursday service at East Valley Christian Fellowship. "We get to start to minister on this Easter weekend and be excited about what God did for us 2000 years ago." You had to take his word on the "excited" part; Forness's demeanor was as subdued as the lighting in the long, low room. Venetian blinds blocked the evening light from slipping through the four windows. The overheads were dim enough that the candles on the wall, floating in conical holders affixed to a framework of metal sprigs, were the room's strongest light source -- save for the spotlights on the sanctuary's narrow cross and the pulpit in front of it. Forness read John's account of Jesus' washing the feet of His disciples. "It shows how He loved them to the end. He really gives us an example of humbling...even to love people we don't necessarily like, because God told us that we are to love with that agape unconditional love."
Five other pastors joined Forness as he stepped out of the sanctuary and out of his sandals, then slipped off his overshirt. Mild, modern music eased from the speakers. "Here I am to worship.... You're altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me."
Barefoot congregants approached the row of chairs set up at the front of the church and sat before one of the six pastors. The pastor took a foot in his hands and lifted it into a stainless steel tray of warm water. He dipped his hands, then ran them over the top of the foot, so that the water touched every part of it. Then he lifted it from the pan, dried it with a towel, and, unhurried, did the same for the other foot. (Outside, several men maintained a steady cycle: used water dumped into a blue bin, damp towels thrown in a pile, fresh water taken from the warming pots on the big burners and poured into the trays, replenished trays and fresh towels sent back into the church.)
After washing the feet, the pastor prayed with the congregant. If the foot-washing was intimate, the prayer was sometimes more intimate still. Men holding hands. The pastor on his knees, the congregant seated in the chair, the two of them head to head, with arms on each others' shoulders, sometimes so close that the pastor was between a person's knees. "We will be praying for you as the Holy Spirit leads," Forness had said. "Perhaps there's something that you want us to pray for. Perhaps God will give us a word of knowledge for you." A couple leaned forward and embraced the pastor, then turned to each other, smiling, and kissed. An entire family huddled into the pastor, arms entwined over shoulders, a child on his father's lap.
After the foot-washing, Forness led the congregation in Communion. "Tonight, Jews...are celebrating the second night of Passover with what is called the seder meal, and in that seder meal are the elements that Jesus used for Communion. When He says, 'Do this in remembrance of me,' he wants us to remember so many things about Him. But tonight, I think it's really appropriate...for us to remember what we will commemorate tomorrow, which is sacrificial death on the cross, His finishing the world of our redemption." Trays of juice and bread were passed, and all partook together.
"I would ask that we leave quietly to maintain a reflective mood," said Forness. "If you're looking for a celebration, I'm telling you, come back Sunday -- we're going to take the roof off this place. But right now, we really want to reflect on what God has done. From this time forward, Jesus goes into the garden, where He asks the Father to allow this cup to pass from Him. And he says, 'Not my will, but thine be done.' We see in the story where he comes back several times, looking for people to watch one hour with him. If you would really like to add a dimension to your observance, see if you can spend a few minutes before you go to bed tonight. Turn the lights off in your house. Ask yourself what it would be like if Jesus said, 'Would you watch one hour with me?' Be quiet before the Lord this evening."
What happens when we die?
"It depends upon what we believe about Jesus Christ," says Forness. It's not about what we do, what we've done. It's about what we believe about Jesus. We believe that if you have repented of your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your savior, you have been what we call 'saved.' You've been granted not only an abundant life here, but an eternal life with him. If someone has not believed, then we believe that that person is separated from God for all eternity. That puts a burden on our hearts. Jesus said, 'Go and tell everybody,' so we try to equip people to go and tell everybody."
14069 Ridge Hill Road, El Cajon
Founded locally: 2000
Senior pastor: Pastor Jack Forness
Congregation size: 300--400
Staff size: 6
Sunday school enrollment: 100 plus
Annual budget: $500,000
Weekly giving: around $10,000
Singles program: no
Diversity: mostly Caucasian, some African-American
Sunday worship: 9 a.m., 11 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1-1/2 hours