San Diego Denomination: Baptist (General Conference)
Address: 4747 College Avenue, College Area, 619-582-7222
Founded locally: 1891
Senior pastor: Carlton Harris
Congregation size: 1300--1500
Staff: 45 full-time and 30--35 part time
Sunday school enrollment: 300
Annual budget: not given
Weekly giving: not given
Singles program: college and beyond-college programs, though not specifically geared toward singles
Dress: semiformal (at Cornerstone service)
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Sunday worship: Celebration service, 9 a.m., 10:15 a.m.; Cornerstone service, 10:30 a.m., La Promesa Ministerio Hispano, 10 a.m.; call for times on Vietnamese and Japanese services.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour 30 minutes
"We bring the great king our worship this morning," said Pastor Rob Gowing from the lectern, "and we must remember this day that it's because of the cross that He is our king.... He conquered death, conquered sin for us.... We gather around this table to remember Him, to remember what He has done for us." "The table" stood below the stage, covered in a white lace tablecloth that depicted the Last Supper and bearing an engraved silver plate and chalice. The stage, meanwhile, was reserved for preaching and music-making. A grand piano held the center behind the lectern, surrounded by seats for a full orchestra, as well as the organ, its pipes both lining the back wall and jutting from it in a sweeping metal fin. Behind the orchestra were row upon row of seats for the choir.
Pastor Gowing made remembrance and the preparation of hearts his themes during the opening of the Cornerstone service. To aid in remembrance, everyone read from Isaiah: "He was wounded for our transgressions...and by His stripes we are healed." And from Revelations: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive...glory and blessing." To prepare hearts, he prayed that people would praise God "from hearts that have been washed pure and white and clean by the blood of Your Son."
The choir backed him up, first reminding us that "the love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell/it goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell," and then pleading, "If I should ever doubt your love, my only prayer would be/That you would keep the rugged cross etched upon my memory." The organ, orchestra, choir, and congregation combined to drench the great space with booming swells of sound.
Darrel Johnson took up the themes in the Communion Meditation; he stood at the Communion table and asked people to examine themselves. "If repentance is needed, repent; if correction is needed, ask Him." Then he read from Paul where Christ at the Last Supper said, "Do this in remembrance of me." "In other words, remember back to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, what He's done for us.... Communion reminds us of the basics." Ushers came forward and passed silver trays carrying pieces of dry bread, similar to oyster crackers; after the bread was distributed, all partook in unison.
Johnson took the cup as ushers passed deep silver trays filled with tiny plastic cups of grape juice. "Jesus did say, 'Whenever you drink this in remembrance of me, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.' We're saying to the world, 'I'm one of His.' Lord, we thank you for your shed blood.... We remember and proclaim." Again, all partook in unison.
Sunday was Pastor Carlton Harris's first as senior pastor at College Avenue Baptist, and a woman called him up to the stage and presented him with a gift basket "full of all kinds of our favorite San Diego places." She spoke of the Board of Ministries' "great anticipation of partnership in ministry with you." Then Harris -- youngish and professional in his dark pinstripe suit and swirling red tie -- launched the first of a seven-part series on Christ's words in Revelations to the seven churches of Asia Minor, starting with the Church at Ephesus:
"I know your deeds, your hard work, and your perseverance...that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and have found them to be false.... Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen, repent and do the things you did at first."
After giving his reason for the series ("I want to see a revival here"), Harris placed the church in historical context and then moved on to its relation to Jesus. "The church is composed of people who are under Jesus' authority. Will we submit to His authority? Will we submit to God-ordained human authority, or rebel against it?"
Harris took the issue to those present. "What happens to all of us over time? Our hearts freeze over.... Christ would say to Ephesus, and He might say to us, 'You can smell heresy a mile away, but there's a coldness to you...a lack of love for Christ and for other people.' Our hallmark as a church should be that we are loving people."
What happens when we die?
"It depends on your relationship to Jesus Christ," says Harris. "If you believe that Christ gave His life to pay the price -- to pay your debt for your sin -- then you go to heaven. If you don't, you go to hell. I understand the Bible to say it clearly."