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“Welcome home!” read the handpainted banner in the vestibule of the half-saucer church. Inside, homemade signs rose up on coat-hanger posts from the pews: “Where we love is home.” “Home is not a place, it is people.” An announcer let us know that “the entire service was conceived by, designed by, and implemented by the youth of this church, under the leadership of the whole youth ministry team. So in the spirit of youthful worship, we’ll get this going with a fun little tune called ‘Big House.’” The kids had spoken, and the words of the day were house and home.

The band — grownups except for the bass — broke into a kind of Playhouse Disney/Spin Doctors groove, and the tweens up front started singing: “It’s a big, big house, with lots and lots of room/ A big, big table, with lots and lots of food/ A big, big yard, where we can play football/ A big, big house, it’s my Father’s house.” On the other side of the stage, the well-dressed teenage contingent clapped in time, and most of them managed to sing along.

The teens did the actual running of the service — everything except the prayers before Communion. During the Invitation, they preached to their juniors — the children on their way to Sunday School: “Today we’re going to talk about family,” began one. “No two families are the same. All families are different. And what family is really about is love.”

“It doesn’t matter if your family is your brothers and sisters,” continued another. “It’s the people that love you and that you care about. The youth from this church are a family.”

“Family is defined by who loves you and who you love back,” concluded a third, “not who your brothers and sisters and your parents are. Join with me as we pray: Dear God, thank You for loving us and giving us family. Please help us to show Your love to the rest of the world.”

The little ones left, and we heard three mini-sermons, the first one based on Isaiah 2:2: “Now it will come about that...the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains...and many people will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.’” Amanda Grimm recalled a backpacking trip in the Sierras, one that left her free from technological and social distractions. “It was just me and nature and the people around me. It made me realize what is truly important in life.... It made God and everything else that is important so clear.... You need to find the mountains in your own life. You need to make time for yourself and walk in the way God would want.”

Investigation followed, and the congregation prayed: “Dear God, although our family may fall apart sometimes, be the bond that draws us back home. Hold us together in troubled times, and forgive us when our emotions take over. Help us open up to the ones we love.... God, we want to be compassionate toward others’ viewpoints. We pray for those who are searching for meaning and purpose, for those who live in discomfort or pain. We pray that everyone finds a home such as this one.”

“Unless the Lord builds a house, they labor in vain who build it,” read the second Scripture, and Emily Bendall recalled a homebuilding trip to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. “We went to New Orleans to rebuild a house, but rebuilding the house was only the task, not the mission. The task may change...but the mission stays the same: to build heaven on earth. When that has been achieved, we will finally be living in the home of God.”

Next came Inspiration: Communion and Christ’s admonishment that “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden...” Elise Erb compared Foothills to that city and then shifted the analogy to a home. “This is a house of God, where we celebrate and mourn all under the same roof.... When we’re baptized, we’re welcomed into a family of brothers and sisters in Christ, and I don’t know if I ever thought about how important and real that family is until I started preparing to go away to school in the fall. William Wordsworth once called heaven and home kindred points, and I would have to agree.”

Tweens and teens gathered together on the brown brick stairs of the stage for the Song of Sending: “Over the mountains and the sea/ Your river runs with love for me...”

What happens when we die?

“You get the heaven that you want,” said Erb. “You make your own heaven. This is home,” she continued, indicating the church. “Maybe it gets translated up.”

Foothills United Methodist Church

4031 Avocado Boulevard, La Mesa

Denomination: United Methodist
Founded locally: 1958
Senior pastor: John Farley
Congregation size: 1300
Staff size: 10
Sunday school enrollment: 100
Weekly giving: n/a
Annual budget: $1 million
Singles program: no
Dress: semiformal to formal
Diversity: majority Caucasian, but mixed
Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m. (traditional), 10:30 a.m. (contemporary)
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour
Website: foothillsumc.org

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