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Reverend Charles "Chuck" Fuld told me he felt leery to speak with me. "Everyone is trying to point their finger at the Catholic Church," Fuld remarked. I reassured Reverend Fuld that my intentions were not to discuss the troubles of the Catholic Church. With that, our conversation continued. I asked Reverend Fuld what distinguished Ascension Church from other churches. He answered, "One of the first things people seem to notice is the church building."

This became clear earlier, as I drove into the parking lot to attend service. I exited my car but had a difficult time identifying the church. No building resembled what I thought of as a Catholic church. I asked two elderly people where the church building was. They told me to follow them. The front building, which I had assumed was an office, turned out to be the church. The brown brick, wood-paneled structure bore no mark identifying it as a church.

Inside, the church resembled a conference room. Acoustic tiles and fluorescent lights covered the low ceilings. Sliding partitions that formed walls added to the sense of utility. Rows of interlocked steel-frame chairs filled the room.

I spoke to Reverend Fuld about the facility. Fuld confessed, "The structure is like a multipurpose room instead of a church. I'm trying to soften that." Fuld told me that the Navy just approved 1000 housing units within walking distance of the church. If enough families join, they could start construction on a new church.

There were a few features that serve as a reminder that this is a church. Stained-glass windows line two walls. The stained-glass windows display scenes from the Lord's Supper and Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection. The expressionistic style removed all traces of the human visage from the images. In scenes I examined, several pieces of glass represented Jesus Christ's face, but left Jesus himself void of facial features or expression. In the front of the sanctuary two candles flickered on either side of a wooden communion table. A white banner, embellished with a picture of a lamb, hung from the ceiling.

Prior to service beginning, Reverend Fuld walked around the room shaking hands and hugging people. People responded kindly. The congregation numbered over 100 and included all age groups. The majority of the congregants were over 40. In the back, families with babies peered through the window of a crying room.

Service began as a young girl walked forward to greet the congregants. She welcomed us, saying Jesus represented the light of the world. In preparation for the Mass, she exhorted, "we should cast off our dark deeds."

The opening hymn, "Christ, Be Our Light," continued the theme of light. A band of two singers, a guitar, and a piano led the congregation. Throughout the evening various men and women stood up to pray and to read for the Mass. The liturgy was listed in a booklet that allowed those of us who are unfamiliar with the order of service to participate. The order of service included the entrance song, followed by the greeting, penitential rite, opening prayer, first reading, responsorial psalm, second reading, gospel reading, homily, serving of the Eucharist, communion song, prayers, and a closing blessing. Celebrant Father Lloyd Bourgeois presided over the Mass.

Deacon Jim Scull presented the homily. Scull continued the service's theme of light. He equated the Christmas lights people string up to the hope, joy, and goodness people want in Christmas. Scull asked, "What is the hope of Christmas? It is the hope of the magic of Santa as a child, a hope before a divorce, a hope that the pressures of the daily life could be erased." He closed by telling the congregation that "the hope in Christmas cannot change anything. Only the hope in Jesus Christ who dealt with sin, died, and was raised from the dead will change our lives and make them worth living. All our Christmas lights should be a reminder of the future return of Christ."

After Mass, Father Bourgeois told me that he drives 35 miles to serve at Ascension. "I could serve somewhere closer to home, but I love this community of faith. Ascension is a cross section of different people and nationalities that get along really well. In the last few years, three different pastors have led the congregation. The congregation really needs stability right now." Bourgeois believes part of the stability will come from Reverend Fuld, who became the pastor this year.

I concluded my interviews at Ascension by asking Reverend Fuld: "What happens after a person dies?"

Reverend Fuld answered, "I choose to accept the story of the prodigal son. I choose to accept that after death our Father grabs us in his loving arms and we probably sit down and cry together. Yes, we believe in life after death; we believe the resurrection and all that good stuff. Death is something that we celebrate. We celebrate the life of a person rather than their dying and going to a bottomless pit or something like that. As for final judgment and all that kind of good stuff, I'll leave that in the Lord's hands. I think a Father who loves his child will be kindly to him."

Ascension Catholic Church

11292 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Tierrasanta

Denomination: Roman Catholic

Founded locally: 1980

Senior pastor: Reverend Charles Fuld

Congregation size: 1200

Staff size: 5

Sunday school enrollment: 200

Annual budget: rather not comment

Weekly giving: rather not comment

Singles program: no

Dress: casual to business casual

Diversity: white

Times of worship: Saturday, 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, 8, 9:30, 11 a.m.

Length of reviewed service: 1 hour

Website: ascension-sd.org

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