When Pastor Terry Miller arrived at Ocean Beach First Baptist two and a half years ago, he had a desire to "open the doors, warm up the service, and lift up praise." He wanted a stronger sense of welcome, a greater spirit of joy. Part of that effort at renewal involved a major updating of the sanctuary. Gone now are the red walls, the blue baptistery, the rugged cross set against a paneled wall at the front of the church. Now, the walls are buttery, the baptistery is decorated with a riverbank scene, the carpet is a mossy green, and the cross, set against a blue sky streaked with clouds, is projected onto the wall. The hymns and songs -- some rootsy, some folksy, some bordering on pop-country -- pour out of a new sound system. Only the stained-glass windows, their white panes streaked with gold, remain unchanged. A dedication service was planned for the afternoon, "as a way to reach out to the community, as a way of saying, 'we're really wanting to partner with you guys...in trying to make Ocean Beach a better place."
Miller saw the new church as "an oasis." The traveler in the desert finds at the oasis water, shade, nourishment, camaraderie, encouragement. Similarly, "our little church" provided "a place where people from this part of San Diego can come and find shelter and nourishment and refreshment and friendship.... Since we finished the project, I sneak down here several times a week. Every time I walk through the doors, I feel refreshed."
So, asked Miller, "what now?" He offered three goals for the renewed church.
One: "The uplifting worship of God. God is actively seeking men and women in this generation who not only love Him and are committed to Him but are actively involved in worshipping God." The Old Testament's David "was a man's man; he was a warrior; he was a fighter. But he was a lover of God, and he loved to worship God. Because of that, God said, 'David is a man after my own heart.' In spite of David's faults, and he had them, and in spite of David's sins, and they were many, God blessed him, because David had a heart for worshipping God."
Two: "Ministry opportunities in the life of the church." Miller cited Paul's account of the one body having many members. "So it is with Christ. There's something for every one of us in the body of Christ to be doing." He mentioned the greeters, the children's ministry, adult education, the worship ministry, the prayer ministry, the women's ministry, the men's fellowship (as yet unfounded), and volunteers at the Discovery Center, a nearby community center sponsored by the church.
Three: Evangelism. The service was "only half full. It's better than it used to be, but we need to fill this place up. There are people in this community...that need to be in this oasis. That happens when we invite someone to something that's going on...and in the process give God the opportunity to do His work in their heart and life. A few weeks ago, Diane invited Jason." Jason came back a few weeks later, "and I had a chance to pray with him. I think we're talking maybe about a baptism next Sunday. Jason told me, 'I'm going to invite a bunch of people to my baptism, because I want people to know what God is doing in my life.'"
On those solo visits to the sanctuary, Miller began paying attention to the painting of a sailboat in the left front alcove. "It tells us a few things about what God would like to do here among us." First, "if there's no wind in the sails, there's no movement. The wind is the power of the Holy Spirit. Wise is the church that knows how to discover where God is leading and...raise the sails and turn them the right way. The sails represent the various ministries in the church." Second, "the wheel is usually turned by the guy in charge. Whose boat is it? The Lord Jesus Christ's. We had better be listening to that voice, hearing His commands." Third, "everybody on board has a job."
"That's the vision for our little church: it's God giving us power, it's Jesus giving us direction, and it's every one of us finding our place to do our part. Do you want to be part of something like that, or shall we just play church? Let's be that. Ocean Beach needs a church like that. San Diego needs a church like that."
What happens when we die?
"If we put our faith in Christ," says Miller, "we go to heaven. If we don't, there's judgment waiting. What does that look like? My answer changes day by day. I believe in hell, but I don't like it."
4790 Santa Monica Avenue, Ocean Beach
Denomination: American Baptist Churches
Founded locally: 1913
Senior pastor: Pastor Chris Turner
Congregation size: about 140, not counting Brazilian congregation that gathers Sunday nights for service in Portuguese
Sunday school enrollment: 25
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: semicasual, plenty of button down shirts, no ties, some skirts and dresses.
Diversity: mostly Caucasian, a few Hispanics and African-Americans
Sunday worship: Warm Traditional, 9 a.m.; Cool Contemporary, 10:30 a.m. (in Fellowship Hall at 1969 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard)
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 10 minutes