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2946: Christ for All Nations, San Francisco, California, USA
Christ for All Nations, San Francisco (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Portola.
The church: Christ for All Nations, San Francisco, California, USA.
Denomination: Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.
The building: A grey concrete A-frame church dedicated in 1961. The sanctuary, built in the shape of an inverted V, has a welcoming atmosphere, because it consists mostly of warm colored wood and stone. The only thing that bothered me was the video screen to the left of the pulpit, which does not fit in to the contours of the sanctuary. The church is part of a large building that offers loads of space for groups, assemblies and offices.
The church: This congregation was established in 1908 as Grace English Evangelical Lutheran Church. It started out as a small group who met in a vacant saloon on a nearby avenue. The congregation grew and built a church in 1912. In 1953 a Christian day school was added. Grace Lutheran Church moved to the present location in 1961, but gave up the school. The name was changed to Christ for All Nations several years ago when Grace Lutheran combined with a neighboring Lutheran church. This church offers Bible studies and services in Cantonese. It sponsors a food pantry that serves over 500 families. There is outreach to children and youth, including an after school program and a summer day camp.
The neighborhood: The Portola district (named after the Spanish explorer who is credited with discovering San Francisco Bay, not after this Mystery Worshipper) is a neighborhood in the southeastern part of San Francisco, in which I lived from childhood to adulthood. This area was settled after the 1906 earthquake by Italian and Jewish immigrants. The Asian population is steadily increasing. It once featured a large number of glass-house nurseries. It is bordered to the west by McLaren Park, which has an abundance of forest and spectacular views of the city and East Bay.
The cast: Officiant and celebrant was the Revd Terrence Chan. The preacher was Rufus Davis. The young adult worship band consisted of Elizabeth Chan, Otis Byrd III, Kevin Kim and Toni Ramos. The lectors were Gerstine Ramos and Jess Toni Ramos.
The date & time: All Saints Day, November 1, 2015, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Divine Worship – a Celebration of Faith.

How full was the building?
About one-fifth full – 35 to 40 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There were several personal welcomes, with people coming up to us and offering information about the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, especially since my father had sponsored one of the pews when the church was built.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Noisy. The band practiced their songs.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Welcome to Christ for All Nations Lutheran Church.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. The bulletin contained all of the spoken liturgical words. The song texts were displayed on a screen, but without the melody notes.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, two guitars, drums, bongos.

Did anything distract you?
My memories. When this church opened in 1961, it became the center of my spiritual and social life. My family was in church every Sunday. This is where I received the foundations for my faith. I experienced church life in all of its aspects: as acolyte, as Sunday school participant and teacher, as usher, as choir singer, as part of the youth group, as participant in Christmas pageants, as regular organist and one-time preacher. I have many precious memories of the people and events that I experienced in this congregation. Everywhere I looked, I saw memories. But there has been a complete turnover of people and I know no one there now.

Christ for All Nations, San Francisco (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was an informal liturgical service. The pastor wore a suit, although the acolytes and a communion assistant wore white robes. The liturgy was spoken and was a very abbreviated version of the Lutheran order of service. The confession of faith consisted of the second article of the Apostle’s Creed followed by Luther’s explanation. There were no traditional hymns. The praise songs were sung standing, but with Lutheran sobriety – no clapping or arm-raising. The sharing of the peace involved everybody greeting everybody, which made me aware of the diversity of this congregation. During the communion liturgy, the pastor faced the altar from beginning to end, even when he spoke the words of institution.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The preacher was a lay person. He had a pleasant and fluid way of speaking. He presented aspects of faith in a thoughtful way.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The murder of Abel prefigured the murder of Christ on the cross. The blood of Abel, crying out from the earth, proclaimed to Cain: “You are guilty.” Christ’s blood, crying out from the earth, proclaimed to humanity: “You are not guilty!” This grace reveals God’s stance toward us, which can also be our stance, as revealed in St Stephen, whose martyred blood proclaimed: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Through baptism we put on Christ’s righteousness, which makes us saints.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Three things: First: When I entered the sanctuary I was delighted to see that it looked just as fresh and polished as it did 55 years ago when it was dedicated. Second: I was worried that I might encounter a dying congregation, but the congregation seemed to be a vibrant fellowship, encompassing a diversity of ethnic backgrounds and of generations. Third: During the service I relived many moments that I had experienced in this church, especially the painful, awkward and embarrassing moments that teenagers go through. All of these are precious to me because– by the grace of God – they are a big part of the identity that I will take with me into eternal glory.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was supposed to be a DVD-video presentation in the middle of the service, but because of a technical problem, it took several minutes to get the video started (which felt much longer). Then after about a minute, the video stopped and could not be restarted. The flow and the atmosphere of worship were completely disrupted. There is a German slogan appropriate to this type of situation: “The devil dwells in details.”

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had no chance to look lost, because I was immediately engaged in conversation and given a tour of the church building.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was pre-service and after-service coffee, seemingly in several different locations. I was offered something to drink, but I never quite tracked down the coffee – also because I got too involved in talking to people. The cookies were apparently home-made.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – On the one hand, the church is attractive and the people are appealing. It would undoubtedly be enjoyable and rewarding to be a part of this fellowship. But I could never feel at home in a congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod because of the doctrinal system of this denomination, with which I cannot identify. Also, I cannot feel at home in services that feature so-called praise songs, which seem to lack tangible melodies and depth of expression. I need traditional hymns, which – as I was told – are seldom sung in this church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, because it demonstrated that a congregation who has existed for over a hundred years has adjusted to a changing neighborhood and to contemporary needs. Lutherans in this part of San Francisco no longer have European, but also Asian, Spanish and Afro-American backgrounds. I missed the Lutheran chorales, but I see the point of offering songs with more contemporary appeal.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The genuine friendliness of the people I encountered on this Sunday.
 
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