A loaf of bread and a pitcher (presumably of wine) flanked the oversized open Bible on the long stone altar at Northminster Presbyterian on Sunday, but there was no communion service. There wasn’t much liturgy at all beyond the worship leaders’ prayer of absolution: “We know...no matter what we have done, You will forgive us. You will take our sins and cast them away...and for that, we thank You, Lord.” Rather, the emphasis was on activity outside the high, curving walls of the oval church building.
After an announcement touting the virtues of the upcoming Mother’s Day luncheon — “Where can you go and get a deal like that, a whole meal, dessert and beverage and everything, for seven dollars?” — Pastor Markus Watson pitched an upcoming homebuilding mission to Mexico. “We’re not just giving them a house, we’re giving them hope. It’s $400 to go, but we’ll share the cost as a congregation. Even if you can’t go, you can be a part of what God is doing by sharing with those who can go.” (He showed a video from a previous visit; of note was a young girl applying a second coat of stucco to the newly built home and saying, in unforced tones, that her job was fun.) “Just two and a half days,” he concluded, “and lives were changed because of it.”
The announcement fit with the sermon: Fully Engaged in the Community (the conclusion to a series that covered engagement with faith, with relationships, and with church). “We want to be fully engaged in our community because God is fully engaged in our community.... Jesus was fully engaged in His community” of Jerusalem — He wept at the sight of it. “Do we weep, the way Jesus wept, for the people in our community who are disconnected from God?”
Occasional moments of self-deprecating lightness did not blunt the message. An older woman came forward and talked about her work volunteering for Community Christian Service Agency. “I used to be able to put in a whole week’s worth of client information in three hours, but these days, the need is so great that sometimes I type for four hours without stopping and I’ve done only two days’ input.”
“How has it affected your relationship with God?” asked Watson.
“I think it makes you see the needs of those around you. We live in our own little houses, in our own little lives. So many people struggle. You see these people come in, and they’re not deadbeats, they’re good people. I see what people need, and I can’t help but want to help. I will type until I can type no more.”
“We need to see our community as people, with real histories, real pain, real joy,” continued Watson. “We need to see God-given opportunities and act.” He called another congregant forward who reported, “If you look at the alleyway behind the church, it’s got a lot of overgrown vegetation, it’s got a lot of graffiti, and it’s got a broken fence. I said, ‘Well, why don’t we beautify the alleyway?’” He had developed a plan that called for 70 volunteers to work in a dozen different capacities. “There’s a job for everyone. We’re working on getting donations for the materials.”
Already, the work had provided the opportunity for outreach. “We have to get the owners’ permission to paint the fences, and we have 12 of the 17 so far. One was a little hostile — we might go back and approach her in a different way. One said, ‘This is an answer to my prayers.’” Another, who had been a congregant at Northminster, said, “I might come back, now that I see the new things you’re doing.”
Watson concluded, “Some of you are thinking, ‘Wait a minute — we’re doing this on Sunday morning? What about church?’ That’s going to be church on Sunday. That’s going to be our worship service. We are here to serve.... It’s more than just cleaning up — we are connecting with real people in our neighborhood. Some of them will ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ The answer is, ‘Because God loves Clairemont...and because we are followers of Jesus, we love this community too.’ We want to be able to share the wonderful grace of God.”
“Greater things have yet to come, and greater things are still to be done in this city,” sang the band at service’s end.
What happens when we die?
“We either continue to live in God’s presence or not in God’s presence,” said Watson. “Sin cuts us off from God, but Jesus paid the penalty we earned from sin. It’s following Jesus that connects a person to God — not just intellectual belief, but action. It’s through faith — faith is following Jesus. And sometimes, people don’t even realize it’s Jesus they’re following.”
4324 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, San Diego
Denomination: Presbyterian Church USA
Founded locally: 1954
Senior pastor: Markus Watson
Congregation size: 180
Staff size: 8
Sunday school enrollment: 15
Weekly giving: variable
Annual budget: $300,000
Singles program: no
Dress: semiformal to formal
Diversity: mostly but not entirely Caucasian
Sunday worship: 9:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 15 minutes