Sunday’s service at Westminster Presbyterian was shot through with music. The folksy opening songs, full of strumming and tambourines and tentative harmonies, matched the ’60s decor (A-frame outfitted with stained glass at the base): “If you want to be free, he said, follow me/ Open your eyes if you want to see, and you’ll see/ That it takes faith first...” Faith first — the step into the uncertain, dangerous dark — was the theme.
“Before we get started this morning,” began guest minister Deb Mitchell (also the church’s interim office administrator).
“Before we get started this morning,” interrupted congregant JoAnne, “I have a corsage for you.” She turned to the congregation: “We are pleased — thrilled — to announce that our lady here has been accepted as an inquirer into the ministry of the Presbyterian Church.” Hearty cheers and applause followed, and throughout, the people responded with genuine warmth to Mitchell’s stories and jokes: “What do you call it when you talk to God? Prayer. What do you call it when God talks to you? Schizophrenia.”
Back to faith, and the back-and-forth of the Call to Worship: “We come this morning seeking answers, so we bring You our questions.... We come seeking success, so we bring You our fear....”
The choir and congregation boomed out an über-traditional rendition of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” accompanied by bracing organ and bright trumpet. “Our helper He amid the flood/ Of mortal ills prevailing...”
Even the gentle Prayer of Confession touched on faith: “Sometimes fear makes us small...sometimes doubt invades our hopefulness....” Still, said Mitchell, “For those that live in Christ it’s a whole new world. I declare to you, in His name, that we are forgiven.”
Youth director Clark Lampard called three children to the front and told them a story from his Army days. In the story, he fell and hit his head while running through the woods. “I woke up and it was dark and there was no one around.... I was hopelessly lost, and I looked up and thought, ‘I might never get found.’ I remembered something I learned in Sunday school — God said He would never leave me or forsake me. So I prayed, and I waited, and all of a sudden I thought, Go back the way you came. I did, and I found my way back to where I was supposed to be. I had faith that God would help me and guide me. You know what faith is? The apostle Paul says that ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.’ Martin Luther said that faith was ‘living with reckless confidence in God.’ Let’s try that...let’s put our faith in God.”
Mitchell also preached faith, praying, “When we’ve doubted but forged on anyway, You’ve turned our fleshly steps into flight. When we’ve...shed our doubts; You’ve dressed us in the courage of our biblical ancestors.”
Here she referred to the prophetess Deborah from the day’s Scripture reading, who commanded the Hebrew general Barak to take up arms against Jabin, king of Canaan. Barak’s answer: “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” As a child hearing the story, Mitchell had thought Barak “kind of a wuss” for his hesitancy. Now, she had more regard for his less-than-reckless faith. “He wasn’t sure he was hearing God’s voice, so he did what he should have done: he asked for help.... Deborah knew God’s voice.”
Mitchell brought the story to the present: “I am so hopeful and happy now that the elections have passed. We’re finally in a time where we’ve identified what the problems are, and we’re onto ‘What are we going to do about them?’ This is a time to cry out for help and a time for us to listen for the word of God. If we call out to God in a time of desperation, even if we’ve placed ourselves there...
He will come. But how are we going to hear Him?” She advocated increased prayer — increased listening — and quoted Frederick Meyer: “God’s impressions within us and His words without are always corroborated by His providence around.... When it comes time for action, circumstances, like glowworms, will sparkle along your path.... God will be with us as long as faith is our guide.... Will you let God use you for His purposes?”
As if to illustrate, a young girl performed a jazz/hip-hop dance during the Offertory. Said Mitchell, “She’s dancing to a song called, ‘Our God is an Awesome God.’ She’s danced to it in several competitions, and thousands of people have seen her. This is her witness, her way to evangelize. I hope you enjoy it.”
What happens when we die?
“We gather at the river with those who have gone before,” said Mitchell, “and we go to meet the Lord.” — Matthew Lickona
3598 Talbot Street, San Diego
Denomination: Presbyterian Church USA
Founded locally: 1954
Senior pastor: Dr. Tony Wolfe
Congregation size: about 250
Staff size: 6
Sunday school enrollment: 10–15
Annual budget: around $200,000
Weekly giving: around $4500
Singles program: no
Dress: semiformal to formal
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 5 minutes