11501 Rancho Bernardo Road, Rancho Bernardo
The wall of windows looking into Green Valley’s vestibule was frosted around the transparent words: “Believe, Belong, Become...self-control, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, patience, peace, love.”
Inside the vestibule stood a painting of what looked like a dryad, standing in a wasteland. The artist’s statement named her as the bride of Isaiah 61, in which the Lord declares a year of favor, when He will give “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning.” “Her lover has not taken her out of the damage, but has made her beautiful in the midst of it.... New growth can’t help but spring up around her.” (“As the earth bringeth forth her bud...so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth....”)
Inside the sanctuary, the stage decor was tastefully hip. Tasteful: birch branches, purpled and leafless, reaching up from angular planters and bearing a scattering of bold white blooms. Hip: an old-time upright piano and bench, painted the brightest of applegreens.
“Our worship here is light and casual,” said the woman behind me, “and the music is wonderful. David is great; we never know what he’s going to do — every Sunday is different.” Indeed. When David Toney and the band struck up “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” the folksy sincerity of the old chestnut came through as if it had just been discovered — “Hey, look at this neat song I found in the attic.” “Silent Night” featured a soloist on vocals and five women singing the song in hushed unison. And syncopated drum fills, speedy bass lines, and jangling guitars were mingled and tweaked to provide rock backings for traditional carols.
“Sometimes it’s hard for me to actually worship God when singing Christmas songs,” said Toney from the stage. “I’ve sung them so many times, and we sing them every year, and it just seems like a cool song that we can sing together. That’s okay — we need that. But this morning, this Christmas season, I just really want to encourage us as a community to worship as we’re singing.”
“Most of the people in the church are active in the church,” said a man who approached me after the service. “Not 24/7, but definitely more than once a week.” The announcements mentioned the upcoming “Men’s Breakfast.” “We’ve got a Navy SEAL who is going to be speaking. He came to know the Lord when he went into the Navy, and he’s had five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s got some great stories, and he’s going to relate them to his relationship with the Lord. This is a great opportunity for you to bring other men to the breakfast...maybe it’s a stepping-stone for them to come to know the Lord. Doors open at 6:30.”
The sermon concerned the final entry in the church’s series, “Whatever you need...God is.” This week: “God is love.” “Jesus said we would be known for our love,” said Pastor Doug Kyle. “Ironically, it is at this time of year that we are prone to forget that. It’s ironic that we can be celebrating the birth of love itself while fuming at our in-laws.”
He read from John’s first letter, pausing to note that John, now known as “the apostle of love,” was nicknamed “son of thunder” by Jesus, “because he was so fiery. But a lifetime of following Jesus...had slowly molded John into a man of love.” He recited a legend about John’s death — pressed for a final teaching, the apostle replied, “‘Love one another.’ They asked, ‘Is there more?’ And he said, ‘That is enough.’”
“Dear friends, let us love one another. For love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.” Kyle offered three “takeaways.” First, “Love like you’re related to God.... If you’re a follower of Christ and you’re still struggling to love, perhaps you’ve forgotten where your source of love is.” Second, “Love like God loved you”; that is, initiating love unconditionally, without expectation or desire. Third, “Love like God is loving people through you. If we are to experience God,” he said, “it will be experienced in very practical ways: the way we love other people.”
Though the service was light on liturgy, there was still some sense of the time. “This year, it feels like we’re tiptoeing into Christmas,” said Kyle, “kind of going into it with trepidation.... I’m much closer to Christmas, just because we’ve worshipped today, this first Sunday of December.”
“God’s best to you from Green Valley,” he said by way of benediction. Outside, his wife served hot apple pie chai tea to the milling congregation.
What happens when we die?
“Well,” said Kyle, “we go to be with God forever or we’re separated from Him.”
Denomination: Evangelical Free Church
Address: 11501 Rancho Bernardo Road, Rancho Bernardo, 858-487-0100
Founded locally: 1984
Senior pastor: Doug Kyle
Congregation size: 500
Staff size: 10
Sunday school enrollment: 100
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: casual to semiformal
Diversity: mostly Caucasian, some Hispanic and Pacific Islander
Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m., 10:15 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 10 minutes