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3159: Immanuel Lutheran, Oceanside, California, USA
Immanuel Lutheran, Oceanside, CA (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: California Dearmer.
The church: Immanuel Lutheran, Oceanside, California, USA.
Denomination: Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
The building: A flat, unassuming, rectangular building with an angled roof; it struck me as looking very much like one-half of a building. The inside only corroborates that notion. There is brown woodwork atop white concrete walls and a gray carpet. The altar is on a platform and was decorated with lilies. I did not notice a paschal candle. The pulpit is to the right and seating for the musicians is to the left. A projection screen is on the wall behind the altar.
The church: They have a faith group and put on a youth night twice each month. They sponsor a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous as well as Primary Purpose, an AA group that works to bring lapsed members back into the AA program. They contribute to the San Diego North County Food Bank. There is one worship service each Sunday, which includes the Lord’s Supper every other Sunday. An adult discipleship class follows the worship service. The building is also used by the Romanian Church of God for an evening service each Sunday.
The neighborhood: They are on South Nevada Street at Kelly Street, a few blocks east of the Pacific Coast Highway. This is South Oceanside, well removed from the honky-tonk military town meets upscale tourist attraction that characterizes downtown Oceanside. Simple working-class houses make up the general area. Down on the Pacific Coast Highway there are some trendy coffee shops and eateries, but otherwise gas stations and used car dealers.
The cast: The Revd Paul Martin was the guest pastor, as their regular pastor was on vacation. Lorelei Jackson was the lay reader and Annie Gill led the music from her digital keyboard. The pastor wore gray slacks and a black clerical shirt with Roman collar, over which he put on a gray pull-over.
The date & time: Sunday, April 23, 2017, 9.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Worship Service.

How full was the building?
I counted room for about 400. There were eventually 58 people present, as they kept coming in right up until sermon time and I had to keep revising my count. It was mostly a young adult with families crowd – some middle aged, some elderly.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As soon as I walked in, a lady said, “Good morning. Welcome. Glad to see you.” Others welcomed me as well, including the guest pastor. Once I sat down, however, others who came in did not pay me any attention.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – padded wooden pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Some quiet visiting but not very much. Some lite Christian country music was playing softly over the PA system; some people were singing along to the tunes. Just before service time, a video was shown with a few announcements and one very bad joke.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Well, good morning. Welcome.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version; Lutheran Worship for the one traditional hymn (“Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love”); an order of service. Words to the other songs, and all prayers and liturgical responses, were projected on screen.

What musical instruments were played?
Digital keyboard, drums. There were two vocalists plus the keyboardist sang. For the last song, “O Happy Day,” children were invited to come forward and pick up musical instruments from the sanctuary steps. These included tambourines, a small drum, and (yes!) musical spoons.

Did anything distract you?
The main distraction was the shape of the building – I couldn’t get over it looking like only half a building.

Immanuel Lutheran, Oceanside, CA (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A fairly loose Lutheran hymn sandwich. For the one traditional hymn, the keyboardist used an organ stop on her digital instrument – it didn’t sound too bad but, of course, lacked the depth pedals would provide. The other songs were of the lite Christian country type, for which she used what sounded like an Unda Maris stop plus strings and guitar sounds. I didn’t notice very many people singing along.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
19 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Pastor Martin spoke from the pulpit and was not miked, but we had no trouble hearing him. As he spoke, an outline of his sermon was projected. His style was casual and held our attention. But they say that every good sermon has at least three exit paths and that the preacher should always take the first. His was no exception.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was John 20:19-31 (the risen Jesus appears to the apostles and then to Thomas). John wrote so that we may believe and have a relationship with Jesus. We have doubts (as did Thomas and even Peter). If left unchecked, doubt can lead to fear, which is the opposite of peace (how many times did Jesus say, “Peace be with you”?). How can we find peace? Forgive, forget, accept what cannot change, involve yourself in the community. Have faith – something to believe in bigger than yourself. Jesus knows we will have doubts now and then – but there can be no doubt that he really did exist and really did undergo all that scripture says he did. Believe in that and we will find (as Paul wrote) “the peace that surpasses all understanding.” [Exit point no. 1] We can’t find peace ourselves – we’re not in control; God is. Jesus died and rose again for all, whether all recognize it or not. [Exit point no. 2] We have hope. Let peace rule our hearts and strengthen our faith. God will find us as he found Thomas. [Exit point no. 3].

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a young couple with their son, who has Down’s syndrome, sitting close together with their heads on each others’ shoulders throughout the sermon. I found that show of love very moving.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Of course I’m going to say the music. It’s no secret by now that California Dearmer is no fan of country-western hoedown as church.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the final blessing, people began to visit. But again, no one took any notice of me. A young gentleman whom I had noticed a few pews away from me made a beeline for his truck, a black pickup. I was hoping to ask him for a lift down to the Pacific Coast Highway, where I could catch a bus, but he drove away before I could approach him. Another one who got away – story of the Dearmer's life!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I believe refreshments were on offer in the parish hall, but no announcement had been made and certainly no invitation had been extended. So I walked down to the Pacific Coast Highway and luckily caught my bus right away.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – They seem like lovely people but I couldn’t take that kind of music on a regular basis.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The young gentleman and his black pickup truck.
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