Last week I visited Gethsemane Lutheran Church in the wake of the Evangelical Lutheran Conference of America’s decision to allow partnered homosexuals to serve as clergy (in certain circumstances). This week, I crossed the parking lot and headed next door to Mission Village Christian Fellowship, a former United Church of Christ Church that voted (unanimously) to break away from the UCC in 1994, when that denomination took one step too far into the realm of what one congregant called “progressive doctrine.”
“Obviously, we’re very different congregations,” he continued. “But, we actually have what I view as a really good working relationship with them. We do a lot of things together.”
Sunday’s service — held under a high, sloping roof and cooled by both the whirring fans overhead and the blue light filtered through the rear window — was full of prayer. (That sounds like it might go without saying, but it doesn’t.) It began with the invitation from Pastor Baker. “Father...this is not really Your temple. This is just a place where we gather — Your temple is within us. But we want You to manifest Yourself in this place where we gather corporately, so that we can see Your glory.”
It continued with a declarative from the swaying, stocky bass player in between songs: “Lord, You said You’d be there; that You’d never forsake us. And Your promise is true. Thank You, Lord.”
And it endured in the prayers of petition, presided over by a bear of a man who closed his eyes and murmured, “Lord, open our minds, clear our thoughts, open our hearts...”
One by one, the intentions came from the congregation. For healings. For successful surgeries. For a woman in an abusive marriage. For family members threatened by Hurricane Jimena. The presider paused to write each one down and prayed, “Father, come and fill this place with Your healing.... Let it be strong; let it be complete. We also pray for delight in the knowledge of Your thoughts, that You would just reveal what’s going on...” Then he went down the list, offering prayers for each intention in turn.
Pastor Baker took the lectern, told a couple of jokes, and then offered this comment: “I became aware of something as we were praying today. I want to say this as gently as I can. It’s very appropriate for us to pray for one another in the fellowship, to pray for healing. But I noticed that we didn’t pray for anyone outside of the kingdom — anyone in need of salvation. I remember an old saying: ‘When we begin to pray for people who are going to hell as much as we do for people who are going to the hospital, we will have revival.’ I just hope we’ll remember that.”
Because, of course, even miraculous physical healing is only a temporary thing. “These old bodies aren’t going to last forever. We will get old and die,” but the saved will “live forever in a better place, with a new body. The aches and pains and problems of life — Paul says, ‘Pray without ceasing,’ and I think that’s part of the prayers. But in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus focused on the kingdom: He said, ‘Your kingdom come.’ That’s a prayer that Christ will be able to find His way into relation with the people of this world. Because ultimately, that’s all that really matters.”
The sermon concerned putting on the armor of God, as laid out in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. But by the end, even that circled back to prayer. “Prayer is rearmament,” concluded Baker. “Soldiers train even when there is no war. This week, we’re resuming our nights of corporate prayer on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. Christopher leads us in two choruses, and then we go right into prayer. We open it up for people to pray out loud, as long as you want to. We can use prayer as a way to reach out beyond the walls of the church, to call people to the kingdom of God.”
At the end of the service, Baker encouraged the congregation: “If you need a few moments to do business with God, I want you to do that. Pray, and right where you’re at in your journey in life, say, ‘This is where I’m at, Lord.’ Be honest with Him — He can take it. Even if you have to say, ‘Lord, I’m not even sure I believe all this stuff.’ All right, tell Him that. ‘But I want to know You, if all this is real.’ He loves prayers like that; I’m convinced of it.”
The piano rang back into life, and the people sang: “I have decided/ to follow Jesus.... No turning back/ no turning back.”
What happens when we die?
“Judgment,” said Baker.
2650 Melbourne Street, Serra Mesa
Founded locally: 1994
Senior pastor: Carl Baker
Congregation size: 150
Staff size: 2
Sunday school enrollment: 15
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: mostly semiformal
Diversity: majority Caucasian
Sunday worship: 9:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 10 minutes