A splatter of yellow vomit, left over from Saturday night’s Gaslamp revelry, baked in the Sunday-morning sun. Around it, glossy promo cards featured pictures of lightly dressed young women, advertising the weekend’s festivities.
Down the street, two youngish guys stood in front of the Keating (“San Diego’s newest and most luxurious boutique hotel”), passing out glossy cards advertising a different sort of gathering. “Jesus liked to party too!” assured the card before launching into a contemporary translation from Matthew: “Are you tired and worn out? Burned out on religion? Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.... Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you....”
One of those guys was Vince Larson, looking every inch the hipster: skinny black tie hanging loosely over a rumpled white shirt tucked into low jeans adorned with a silver-buckled belt. I paused at the entrance to Minus 1, the Keating’s basement-level club, and on two Sundays a month, the home of Anchor Gaslamp Church.
Instead of projection screens, Anchor employed the club’s plasma TVs for its lyric displays and bullet points. Instead of pews, red chairs and black couches blocked out a semicircle around the single microphone. No stage, but plenty of dramatic lighting — red neon glowing off the metal ceiling and pillars, themselves a modern contrast to the exposed rock and brick of the basement walls.
“God, we’re so thankful for this time to come together,” prayed Larson at the outset. “To be in a sacred place with You...as we learn to worship God and live our lives with the people around us....”
Tony and his acoustic guitar took over the mic, and he performed a couple of hymns, including “Amazing Grace.” “I always sang it very slow and methodical, like we did in the old church. But it just occurred to me that it’s a song of celebration...how amazing is the grace....”
Larson brought a bag of empty plastic bottles up front. “You can’t save the entire world, but you can save one small spot at a time. There’s an orphanage in Myanmar that we and one other church are the sole supporters of. Our recycling becomes their food — a bag this size is equal to about the same size bag full of groceries.” Congregants were encouraged to trade in their recycling and donate or bring their recyclables to church. “You can throw it in the back of my truck,” said Larson.
Tisha, who grew up in the same church as Larson and is now “a signed, recording country-western singer,” came forward to sing Steve Richardson’s “Daystar.” “Lily of the Valley, let your sweet aroma fill my life.... Daystar shine down on me,” she crooned. But just after she sang about seeing “a world that is dying, wounded by the master of deceit,” her voice began to fail her. The congregation took up the song and covered for her. “That’s good — yes, help me sing!” she said. Larson stepped up beside her, and helped her bring it home. The moment was genuine and sweet.
Then Larson introduced co-pastor Karlton Edison — “the man, the myth, the legend, attending Bethel Theological Seminary, and a chaplain-in-training with the U.S. Air Force.... Just give him a warm round of applause.”
Edison preached from Matthew chapter 14 — the part where Jesus walked on the water. He stressed the application of various elements in the story to our own lives. Jesus went off to pray alone. “We need to find time alone.... Prayer is that time when God becomes personal to us.” Jesus came to the disciples during the fourth hour of the night, “the darkest hour, just before dawn.... If you are going through a storm in your life...Jesus is on His way.” Peter walked to Jesus on the water, but when he saw the winds, he began to sink and cried, “Lord save me.” “He took his eyes off Jesus.... If you’ve taken your eyes off Jesus, cry out to Him. Jesus will save you out of your situation, and He’ll take you through your situation.... If you have a need, bring it to Jesus, and he’ll supply them according to His will.”
What happens when we die?
“We believe in a literal heaven and hell,” said Larson, “but that’s not something we emphasize a lot in our teaching because, number one, you don’t see Jesus or the disciples emphasizing that a lot in their teaching. It’s just kind of an aftereffect of what this life is. We don’t want to sell people afterlife insurance; we just want to get people to love God. At that point, all that stuff is just going to take care of itself.”
Address: various, but Sunday services are held at the Keating Hotel’s Minus 1 Lounge, 432 F Street, Gaslamp
Founded locally: First Bible study one year ago, first Sunday service Easter 2008
Senior pastors: Vince Larson and Karlton Edison
Congregation size: about 35
Staff size: 2
Sunday school enrollment: about 5
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: fluctuates
Singles program: no
Diversity: mostly a mix of Caucasian and African American
Sunday worship: 11 a.m., first and third Sundays of the month
Length of reviewed service: 55 minutes