Small signs lined the driveway leading up the drive to the first gathering of Vision: A Center for Spiritual Living. "Love," "Grow," "Prosper," "Embrace," "Live," "Share." Green and gold balloons bearing the Vision logo ringed the church, rising from the backs of chairs. There was much happy chatter over the tinkling piano and several hugs were exchanged. The piano shifted to an Elton John vibe for the call to worship, and a soprano sax licked at the edges of the swaying melody of the lyrics: "Love can move the world/ As the moon in the sky moves the sea/ Love can cause the wars to cease/ Love can move this world to peace/ It's a time that begins with you and me."
After Reverend Patti Paris extended her welcome to the congregation, they turned and welcomed each other, singing "There is only one of us/ In your eyes it's me I see..." They recited the day's affirmations: "This beautiful day awakens my senses. Love has brought us to this place. We see with the eyes of loving spirit."
The bell tolled, the lights dimmed, and Joe Pirrello read two quotations as we prepared for silent meditation: "Love is a freeing power, not a holding power." "Love is an essence, an atmosphere that defies analysis, as does life itself." (The latter was taken from Ernest Holmes's The Science of Mind , an oft-cited text.) After the silence, Pirrello said, "I know and accept that love is an energy behind the creation of this new church," and he invited congregants to share their own truths and realizations -- "whatever feels right."
"I envision Vision as a loving, growing, prosperous church."
"We are an enlightened, enthusiastic, connected community, connected by love always."
"Vision is a vessel for the expansion of God, the expansion of good, and just absolute joy."
Pirrello released a prayer of thanks "into the creative medium...knowing and accepting that in just doing so, the spirit takes control and it is done. So let it be, and so it is."
"And so it is," responded the congregation.
The lights came up for chanting and tithing, both of which involved songs emphasizing the cyclical -- sending forth and receiving in kind. Then Andy Anderson took the stage for a cover of Five For Fighting's "World": "What kind of world do you want?/ Think anything/ Let's start at the start/ Build a masterpiece/ Be careful what you wish for/ History starts now." Applause followed, and Reverend Paris began her talk, a meditation on the power of love built around the saying, "Whoever you are and wherever you've been, you are welcome here -- you are safe, and you are loved."
The power of love, she said, is "active... It's about finding the love in self and in others. It's about the world at large. The Buddha said, 'Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, cultivate a boundless heart toward all beings.' And it is easier to love people half a world away.... You know that one person who just sets your teeth on edge? That's your spiritual practice. Whenever you think of that person this week, say, 'I bless' -- and use their name -- 'and I accept' -- and use their name. Say it three times. The next time you see them, you're going to see them through the eyes of love; you're going to see them as God sees them.... Allow that power of love to flow through you.... Nothing can stand before the power and presence of love." She read from two Gospels in which Jesus spoke of faith having the power to move mountains.
Paris warned against separating the inner work of prayer from the outer results. "We know there aren't two things. There's only one -- there's only spirit." She assured the congregation that "our dreams...are honored here," and encouraged them to "relax into the powerful presence of the spirit right here. What is it that the spirit wants to do through you? What false belief must you let go of to realize your calling? We have allowed the power of love to flow through us and create this new community. Embrace that greater vision of yourself."
The congregation stood to applaud, and Anderson and the band broke into a cover of Huey Lewis's "The Power of Love": "It don't take money/ Don't take fame/ Don't need no credit card to ride this train/ It's strong and it's sudden/ It can be cruel sometimes/ But it might just save your life/ That's the power of love."
What happens when we die?
"I believe that life is immortal and ongoing," said Paris. "And I think our individual consciousness is the same. I think the more important question is, 'How shall we live?' We're here to transform lives. It's about being here now."
Denomination: affiliated with Unity Church for Southern California
Address: services held at Seventh Day Adventist Church, 11260 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Tierrasanta, 619-303-6609
Founded locally: February 2007
Senior pastor: Patti Paris
Congregation size: around 70
Staff size: 6
Sunday school enrollment: around 5
Annual budget: still figuring
Weekly giving: still figuring
Singles program: yes
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 20 minutes