Nearly everything about East Clairemont Southern Baptist's church was unabashedly midcentury Modern, from the rust-orange carpet and pew cushions to the rough-face concrete block to the space-age chandeliers to the quarter-circle shape of the place, the great laminated beams radiating out from the stone baptistery with the backlit cross. The choir, too, hit a midcentury note: alongside the more ancient standards ("I Will Sing the Wondrous Story," "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus"), they performed several hymns ("There's Something About That Name," "He Touched Me," and "Because He Lives") from the husband-wife team of Bill and Gloria Gaither. The trilling piano and the strumming guitar were timeless. Pastor Christopher Clark began by saying that today was "a very special worship service, in that we are focusing on the suffering, the death of our savior, Jesus Christ.... I just want you to picture that setting in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus said, 'Father, isn't there some other way for men to be at peace with You?' And if you can, just picture the Father having to be silent, as if to say, 'No, there is no other way, Son. You are going to have to die.' Thank you, Father, for loving us enough that You were willing to tell your Son, 'No, You must go to the cross.' Thank you, Jesus, for being obedient to Your Father."
When the children came up for story time, Clark pointed to a table covered by a white cloth. "We're going to do the Lord's Supper today.... The Bible says, every time we take the Lord's Supper, we tell about what Jesus did for us. And it says this phrase: 'until He comes.' This is just like a calendar or a clock. You know why? Because Jesus is coming back...and we're telling everybody that He's going to come back."
As he opened his sermon, Clark said, "Every time that we observe the Lord's Supper, we've determined that it's going to be a service that focuses on this very act of worship, the very thing that the Lord Himself committed unto each and every one of us.... As we prepare to take the Lord's Supper, it's time to examine ourselves...examine our priorities." Citing Christ's words to would-be disciples in Luke 9, Clark explained that "following Jesus means at least three things. It means rejection -- Jesus Himself was rejected.... And this rejection also comes in economic terms.... 'The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' It also means rearranging our priorities. 'Let the dead bury their dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.' Do you really believe that Jesus is worth following? If you were to make a commitment today to spend five minutes every day for the next six weeks alone with the Lord, do you think that would make a difference in your life?" Third, "following Jesus means refocusing.... Keep the main thing the main thing.... 'What is God's will and how do I do it?'
"There are only two requirements that Scripture has for people to participate in the Lord's Supper. One, that you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Two, that you are in complete good fellowship with the Lord. That means that you have no unconfessed sin.... If there's something in your life that's not quite right...there is no better time than right now to get those things pardoned. 'Lord, forgive me and cleanse me.'"
The lights dimmed. Two deacons removed the tablecloth covering the silver trays holding the bread and the cups, and together, they folded it. Clark read from the Bible. "Scripture...says 'He took bread and gave thanks.' We give thanks....
"Scripture says that after he took the bread and gave thanks for it, he then broke it...and gave it to his disciples." Slowly and carefully, he handed the four silver trays to the deacons, who distributed the broken matzoh to the congregants, then returned to the table with an almost military precision and order. "Jesus then said, 'This is my body. Take it and eat it, and do it in remembrance of me.'" The ritual was repeated for the cup -- the prayer of thanks, the distribution, and the citing of Scripture: "Jesus took the cup and announced, 'This cup is the new covenant, which is established by my blood. It is shed for you.'"
In closing, Clark said, "We find in Scripture that after the bread and the cup, Jesus sang a hymn with His disciples and went out to the Mount of Olives." From there, it was the garden and, eventually, the cross. "To remember that, let us stand. We're going to sing the chorus to 'Because He Lives,' and because of the solemness of what we have experienced here today, I would ask that we refrain from talking and fellowshipping while we are in this room." After the song, all departed in silence.
What happens when we die?
"We are going to go to one of two places," says Clark. "We're going to be with Jesus in paradise forever if we have put our faith in Him, or we're going to spend eternity forever separated from Him in a place that a lot of people call hell."
4633 Dolivia Drive, San Diego
Denomination: Independent Baptist, in cooperation with the Southern Baptist Conference
Founded locally: around 1960 as a mission church, incorporated 1964
Senior pastor: Christopher Clark
Congregation size: 300 members, 117 weekly attendees on average
Staff: 1 full-time, 3 part-time
Sunday school enrollment: around 200
Annual budget: around $220,000
Weekly giving: around $3300
Singles program: no
Dress: some jackets and ties, plenty of button-down shirts
Diversity: around 75 percent Caucasian, with smatterings of numerous ethnicities
Sunday worship: Morning Worship Service, 10:30 a.m.; Word at Five, 5 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 30 minutes