“We don’t preach a particular culture,” said Paul Chacon, explaining Mission San Diego Church of Christ’s diversity — of race, of age, even of dress. “It’s not a culture of the American flag — Jesus wasn’t American. It’s not all about the black experience — Jesus wasn’t black. Robert Carillo, our lead evangelist, grew up in the Chicano experience, but this isn’t a Latino church. It’s all about the culture of Jesus. Heaven is the house of God’s family, from every walk of life, so shouldn’t church be a reflection of heaven?”
“Our basic teaching is, ‘Love everybody,’” added Carillo. “Don’t focus on any one group. Reach out to everybody. That’s the test of our love. Don’t just reach out to the people who look and sound like us.”
It sounds like basic Christian PR, but from the second you stepped into the constantly murmuring auditorium at Lewis Middle School on Sunday morning, you could tell that the diversity was real. “We’re about a third Hispanic, a third white, a sixth black, and a sixth Asian and Pacific Islander,” continued Chacon. “It’s a true cross-section. I just wish we had more older, mature Christians.”
The music — seven or eight voices working a cappella except for the occasional jingling tambourine, and led now by a black, now by a white, now by a Hispanic — reflected that cross-section. Christian contemporary (“Come, Now Is the Time to Worship”), old-time Protestant Revival (“To Canaan’s Land I’m on My Way”), Gospel-style praise (“His Love Endures Forever”), Psalm 100 sung in Spanish and recalling ’50s sock-hop, and a four-part rendition of “Mary’s Magnificat” that could hold up against any high protestant choir — and that wasn’t even the whole of it. Applause barked off the walls following many of the songs, drowning out the hum of the huge electric fans down front.
The service also boasted a similarly broad array of preachers. “We are going to have a great service,” began one. “You know why? Because we are going to worship our Lord and our God! Thank You for this incredible hot day, Lord! It’s so awesome to be able to just sweat, to feel warm, to be close to the brothers and sisters.” (There were more brothers and sisters than usual to feel close to; a sister church had just entered into Mission San Diego’s fold.) “We feel like we are dreaming because You have blessed us with such incredible marriages with such incredible children.... We can’t wait to see all the incredible things You are going to do! We’re going to touch the hearts of many men and women in this city!”
Every part of the proceedings received a similar mini-sermon — the collection, the announcements, and especially communion. “When you read the history of the church...a lot of the first disciples were slaves,” explained Mark Wilkinson. “These crazy disciples met at five in the morning before they went to work in the fields...and they practiced some sort of cannibalistic ritual where they ate the body and drank the blood of Jesus. They gathered together to take communion because it meant something to them. The central focus of coming together wasn’t the sermon; it was the supper. It needs to mean something to us. It binds us together; it’s why we’re here.”
Carillo gave the sermon proper, beginning with Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one.” “God pulls us all together to form the church. What binds us together? Jesus. We are one with Him, and He binds us with one another” — with love. He read from Paul’s famous ode to love in 1 Corinthians 13, then commented, “These are the vows you took when you got baptized. If you have not love, you’ve got nothing. What is going to show the world God? It’s not your bank account; it’s your love. And when somebody hurts you, that’s the real test. It’s how you handle the difficult person in the fellowship. You know who it is — go ahead and look at him. No, just kidding!” The crowd guffawed.
Chacon took the microphone to ask for help in building out the church’s recently leased Mission Center and to send folks to the church’s monthly Love Feast. “We’re going to let our honored guests from the West go first,” he began, welcoming members of the sister church. “Then the women and children next. And, brothers, we’re going to ask that the men go last.” After the final prayer, the crowd poured out the side entrance, across the school’s courtyard, and into the cafeteria, where they descended upon tables lined with fried chicken, ham, ribs, carne asada, burgers, lasagna, potato salad, beans, rice, chili, and scads of brownies.
What happens when we die?
“We face God,” said Carillo.
Denomination: Church of Christ
Founded locally: 1971
Senior pastor: Robert Carillo
Congregation size: 600–650
Staff size: 5
Sunday school enrollment: 200
Annual budget: $624,000
Weekly giving: $12,000
Singles program: yes
Dress: casual to formal
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 20 minutes