On June 21, the first day of summer, San Diego First Assembly Women's Ministries held their first meeting of Hot Summer Nights ("Fun in the Son"). The walls in the spacious meeting room were tan, but the low lights and salmon-colored carpet gave the space a pinkish hue. The Beach Boys' "California Girls" played over the sound system. Chartreuse, fuchsia, and gold tablecloths made bright circles. Cardboard flowers and flip-flops adorned the walls. Many women wore plastic leis.
After the opening limbo session, Pastor Edie Chapman told the women about the prayer journals they had been given. "We are expecting God to do amazing things in our hearts and lives this summer, and we want you to have a place where you can record how God is going to touch your life." She invited them to submit cards stating prayer needs, which would be picked up by another attendee so that the two could pray together. Chapman cautioned against letting the details of such needs become "sanctified gossip."
Then they sang: "Every breath that I take/ Every moment I'm awake/ Lord, have your way in me/ Lord I give you my heart." The singer urged the women to trust God and give Him "that situation that's just gnawing at us, that's just holding us back.... We ask for freedom in our hearts tonight."
Meanwhile, Pastor Mark Allen preached to the youth in the Student Center, a clublike space with black-and-red walls, dark-gray carpeting, and bright fluorescent lights over the stage. "Where we're going to camp out tonight is this: God is love, and His will is always best.... Our prayer simply needs to be this: 'Father, don't ever allow me to look at circumstances and question Your love for me because Your love was already settled on the cross.'"
On a landing outside a classroom, Missionettes received instruction. One girl turned to another -- "Transcendent," she said, fingers to temples, concentrating on the word. Inside, Royal Rangers worked on a bead project beneath posters stating the Ranger Code, its Pledge, and the Golden Rule.
In the main worship space, about 30 people had gathered for the Heritage Service -- more traditional, aimed at an older crowd. Pastor David Houghton stood at the foot of the stage, talking about God and time. "Time does not have the same meaning to God as it does to you and me. God is omniscient.... That God is an eternal God...is confounding to me. But it also edifies me to think that God is eternal, that there's nothing that can escape him. He is able to do what I cannot, if I trust him."
Houghton cited a fellow who didn't think we should get caught up in the suspense of movies "because it's all on film; it's all predetermined.... When we put our trust in God, we do not have to be fearful because He knows how it's going to come out. I can live with the full assurance that God is going to make it come out okay eternally because he's an eternal God."
Back at Hot Summer Nights, children's pastor Wendy Griffith sounded a similar note as she discussed God's sight vs. human sight. (In the prayer journal, divine sight was linked to sunglasses. Another week, God's protection was linked to sunscreen.) "I can see today, but God sees your tomorrows," said Griffith. She cited Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren but conceived John the Baptist in her old age: "She spent her whole lifetime preparing to be John's mother. All of her life, God prepared her." She quoted Jeremiah: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.'"
What happens when we die?
"You get one life," says Pastor Ed Chapman, who served as my guide. "When you die, you basically stand before God and you pretty much answer to him with your life. God is all-knowing, all-loving, and perfectly just. Because of that, He's not going to make any mistakes, but He will hold people accountable for what they did and for what information they had available about Jesus Christ. If they had no information, He will exercise his loving, all-knowing, perfectly just nature in that instance. If someone has been given the opportunity to accept eternal life and doesn't accept it, He'll take that into account. We can't really know from this end" what the decision will be in such cases. "But we can be certain within our own hearts what will happen when we die." The "avenue of certainty" is: "you confess Jesus Christ as Lord, confess your sins, and accept Him as Savior. That's a condensed version of what the Bible teaches."
8404 Phyllis Place, San Diego
Denomination: Assembly of God
Founded locally: 1923
Senior Pastor: in transition
Congregation size: 1100
Staff size: 8 pastors
Sunday school enrollment: 200
Annual budget: $1.8 million
Weekly giving: $33,000
Singles program: yes
Diversity: 60% Caucasian, 15% Latino, 5% African-American, 20% other
Sunday worship: 9:00 a.m., Classic service; 10:45 a.m., Contemporary service and Kids Alive worship; 6:00 p.m., Celebration service
(1st Sundays only)
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 15 minutes