Friends Christian Fellowship meets in a Santee office park suite artfully converted into a cozy chapel. Several times a year, they set up outreaches across the 67 at Shadow Hills Park. “One time,” said Pastor Dennis Martins, “we did church over there. The week before, we’ll pass out door hangers. We’re trying to establish a relationship with people. Another focus is the Navy housing at Eucalyptus Ridge.”
A military outreach might seem odd, given the Friends’ famously pacifist heritage. “In our Faith and Practice,” said Martins, “it does talk about the traditional, time-tested pacifism thing. But it also says that each person needs to follow their conscience before God. I have a church in a military town. Any church that I know of — nobody’s pro-war. Some people would say it’s a necessary evil. Ultimately, the individual is the one who is accountable before God.”
Spiritual combat, of course, is another sort of warfare, one the fellowship happily champions. The second song (out of six) at the service’s outset was easily the most militaristic I have ever heard sung by two men weaving tight vocal harmonies over acoustic guitars. “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the trumpet call obey/ Forth to the mighty conflict in this His glorious day/ Ye that are men, now serve Him against unnumbered foes/ Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.”
Other songs proved more typically folksy, descending into a meditative lilt that at times sounded almost like a mantra: “Holy is the Lord God Almighty, the earth is filled with His glory.” Something you could sway to.
The congregation was friendly and chatty — at the welcome, a gentleman approached and said, “I already shook your hand, but let’s do one of these,” before embracing me. Martins reminded the men “that we have a workday next Saturday. We’re going to be going over to Hazel’s house to do some painting. She’s looking forward to that with great anticipation.”
But if there was more murmuring than you sometimes hear in church, there was also a good stretch of silence during the congregational praise and prayer. “Maybe you need to pour out your heart and tell God that you love Him,” advised Martins. “Maybe you need to pour out your heart and tell God that you need Him. I’ll give you a few minutes to do that.” And he did.
Eventually, the silence was broken by a voice from the back: “Dear Father, we thank You for loving us.... You give us the ability to love You. Thank You that You are the strong, mighty God who loves us so much that You would do this for us.” The prayer placed the notion of utter dependence on an Almighty Other in bright relief.
That kind of surrender to God’s power and providence came through in the sermon as well. Preached by an elder from the congregation, it was actually written by someone else. “I found something while doing my research that was definitely where I was going,” he explained, “so why reinvent the wheel?” It told (in first-person fashion) the story of Joseph — born to privilege, sold into slavery, prospering as a slave, thrown into prison, and ultimately rescued from the depths and brought to glory as Pharaoh’s Number Two. “I want to tell you that the most significant outcome of my story is not the power and the applauding crowds, but what God did in my soul. I have witnessed the unmistakable and unshakable faithfulness of God.... I was a good man. I expected God to take care of me. But instead, I was sentenced to die. I became intensely angry — did God even know or care that I existed?” Here, the preachers slipped out of Joseph’s voice and into his own: “This is why Joseph is one of my heroes. His story encapsulates who we really are.”
Ultimately, Joseph realized that “God was with me even in that prison, in my darkest moments. I was not forgotten. God was in it.” The preacher realized it, too, and quoted Job’s cry of divine abandon: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”
What happens when we die?
“If we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ,” said Martins, “then when we die, our body is laid to rest or burned up into ashes, and our soul goes to be with God. Upon Jesus’ return, our soul is reunited with our body — how God does that is up to God. If we don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, our soul goes into a kind of Hades, which is sort of a holding chamber, until Jesus’ return — until the final battle of good over evil, Jesus over Satan. At which time, we are sent to hell with Satan.”
Address: 10925 Hartley Road, Suite K, Santee, 619-448-5950
Founded locally: 1981
Senior pastor: Dennis Martins
Congregation size: 55
Staff size: 1
Sunday school enrollment: 8-12
Annual budge: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: casual to semiformal
Diversity: mostly but not entirely Caucasian
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour