Subject: San Francisco CofC: my impressions From: email@example.com (Bryan Erik Slatner) Date: 1996/09/18 Message-Id: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Newsgroups: alt.religion.christian.boston-church [More Headers]
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I attended a special "Restoration" service of the San Francisco Church of CHrist this past Sunday. I went with Jason Place and Catherine Hampton. I guess, now, that I can honestly tell Roger that I "checked it out" and "saw for myself."
Here are my impressions:
The singing was fun and spirited, as it usually is at an ICC service. I had a lot of fun. It was good to participate in that again. I miss it a lot (I was bummed, though, that neither "I Hear God Singing to Me" nor "Men Who Dream" where sung at the service, but I can't have everything, can I? <g>).
Catherine Hampton pointed out to me that the only time the auditorium was *quiet* during the whole service was for the few minutes we spent taking Communion. The traditional Communion meditation was set aside in favor of a couple of young people sharing about how nasty and vile their lives became after they left the ICC, and how wonderful their lives were *now*, seeing as how they'd been restored to the ICC and all.
The theme of this service was, as I said, "Restoration." Near the beginning of the service, when this theme was announced, the speaker said "This service is about being restored to God" and then, quickly, he added, "not the church." I was encouraged to hear this announced, and was wondering if this "be restored to God, not the church" theme would remain throughout. Alas, this was not to be.
After Communion, we sang one more song, and then Russ Ewell stepped up to preach. He gave a fairly long sermon, but at least he kept things interesting (he's a very good speaker, and very funny). I was saddened, though, in that the basic theme of the message was, more or less, "quit your whining and come back to the church, you wimps." Hardly any mention of God or Christ at all during the whole sermon: no mention of grace, almost no mention of God's undying love, no mention of the joy of salvation, no mention of the blessed freedom that we have in our Lord. Instead, the message seemed to be "just quit your whining."
Russ talked, at length, about some of his experiences back in the early days in Boston: his struggles, his hardships, his problems, his sins. He talked about wrestling with the decision to stay in the church or to leave it and, ultimately, deciding to follow God and stay in the ICC. I guess he was trying to say "look at how much I've suffered, yet I'm still here." Perhaps Russ has more "spiritual stamina" than a lot of us.
I'd really like to get a tape of this service and transcribe it for the newsgroup. It's a really very eye-opening glimpse at just what exactly ICC people mean when they say "follow God." Throughout the whole service, not just Russ's message, everything that was said assumed the fundamental belief that in order to follow God, one must be a member of the ICC. Full stop. No exceptions.
I must admit that the temptation to get into mischief while I was at the service was, at times, almost overwhelming :) For instance, I pictured myself standing up in the middle of the sermon, turning to Jason, and yelling "WHAT IS THIS, SOME KIND OF CULT?!?!? WHY DID YOU INVITE ME TO THIS?!?!?". I did, however, restrain myself :)
One thing I noticed was that *no one* except Jason and Catherine spoke to me during the service. I was a little puzzled, since if I'd been an unfamiliar face at the Colorado Springs Christian Church, tons of people would have come up to speak to me. But at this service, no one did. Catherine opined that I was walking around with a "I am not buying *any* of this" look on my face and that people might have decided to leave me alone because of it :) I also discovered, that morning, a few gunpowder burns on my white knit shirt (mental note: never again wear an expensive knit shirt to the target range <g>), so maybe someone noticed and encouraged people to stay away from the clean-cut looking psycho in the back row :P
One thing that disturbed me *greatly* happened when we were walking out of the auditorium. There was this young woman, about my age (23), standing outside the doors. She was surrounded by three other women, who were putting pressure on her to keep coming back to services and/or to attend the up-and-coming woman's day the SFCC is sponsoring (Elena McKean is the guest of honor, apparently). This poor woman looked like she would rather be *anywhere* than where she was at that moment. She was standing, looking down at her shoes, and she looked like she was *very* ashamed of herself, all the while the women around her are hammering her with "Wasn't than an *awesome* service?" "Are you coming to the woman's day? Oh, you really should, it's going to be so awesome!" "Elena McKean is so spiritual, you really should come see her..." and on and on and on. I really felt bad for this poor woman--I've been under guns like that before, myself.
So, Roger, I came, I saw, and I was, all in all, unimpressed. I found the "worship" service to be largely superficial and found it to be as far removed from actual *worship* as a high school pep rally. I found the sermon (which I'm not totally down on, BTW--Russ did raise some good points) to be, on the whole, uninspiring; if its purpose was to "fire people up for God" and to convince people to come back to the ICC then it failed...in my case, at least: I still choose to be free of the shackles of legalism, narrowmindedness, and numerical performance measurement that come with being a "member in good standing" of the International Churches of Christ.
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