Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Antioch Ranch - Post #2

Mendocino Presbyterian Church – October 2011

When we arrived at Antioch Ranch, one of the things we asked Jerry and Pat about is, where can we attend church while we’re here? They made a few suggestions, there being several small churches in the area, and we decided to attend the church they attend, Mendocino Presbyterian Church.

Located on Main Street in Mendocino village, the church is a beautiful, old building that sits facing Mendocino Bay.  One of the oldest buildings in town, it is one of the oldest continuously meeting Protestant churches in all California.  Built in the late 1860’s, it has housed an active church congregation ever since.

Upon arriving at church, Alene and I, along with everyone else entering the doors, were greeted by the “International Greeting Committee”, which consisted of two nice ladies who greeted everyone as they came in.  Clearly, the church gets visitors from all over. 

We stepped inside and found a lovely old fashioned, high ceilinged church with beautiful stained glass facing the bay. 

As we found some seats in a pew, I was impressed by how friendly everyone was.  Most of the parishioners were older folks, probably 6o and over, but there were a few younger scattered about.  Alene and I were greeted by several who quickly noticed we were visitors.  Our hosts, Jerry and Pat, both made a point to come over and greet us, happy that we’d made it to church. Jerry made a comment that he suspected he might actually like Alene and I.  

As the service began, I’m not sure how to explain it, but I began to feel the Holy Spirit move in my heart.  We sang a few traditional hymns, accompanied by an organ and pianist and a small choir in the tiny choir loft garbed in traditional maroon colored satin choir robes.  There was a reading of scripture, and a sharing of a missionary moment (a rather moving tale of working in Japan to help rebuild homes after the tsunami earlier this year), and then a time of prayer. 

This is where the Holy Spirit began to move in my heart is a stirring way.  As the preacher prayed the Morning Prayer, there came a point where he asked if anyone in the congregation had specific people on their hearts to pray for, to lift that person up by name.  Throughout the sanctuary I could hear the whispered names of loved ones being prayed for.

Mary.  Jim.  Betty.  Paul.  Susan.  Ralph.  Frank.  Bill.  John.

Dozens of names were quietly lifted up to the Lord, names with real people attached to them, and real needs and concerns being voiced.  Real people. Real love.

After this the pastor, a kind, dignified looking white-haired orator named Don McCullough, preached a simple but passionate sermon.  He recounted a trip he and his wife had just returned from.  They had been on vacation, and traveled to Glacier National Park, where he was intent to photographing wild mountain goats. As he spoke, telling both a delightful tale of their vacation, he also weaved in a tale of God’s love for us. 

During his attempts at photographing goats, Don and his wife came across a grizzly bear on a trail.  The bear was pretty far away and posed no direct threat, but being in the presence of the bear, actually seeing it and knowing it saw them, and having nothing between themselves and the bear, made Don realize just how powerful that bear was, and how truly wild it was. It had the capability to tear them apart, literally, with just its claws. It was a powerful creature, and just being in its presence was both invigorating and frightening, and they realized they were not really in a ‘safe’ place.  There was innate danger just being near this grizzly bear. There was a new respect for the power and majesty of the bear that Don had never experienced through videos or photographs.

After making his point about the wilderness and wild creatures and just how majestic it all is and how it all reveals God’s power and amazing character, he recounted a short passage in C.S. Lewis’s  “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. 

After being told by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about the great lion Aslan, ruler of Narnia, Lucy asks Mr. Beaver, “Is Aslan safe?” to which Mr. Beaver replied, somewhat incredulously, “Is Aslan safe? Of course he’s not safe! But he is good!”

I was reminded then and there just how mighty, how awesome, how amazing, how everything God is.  Then the pastor reminded us, God is wild. He is untamed and untamable. He is uncontainable and uncontrollable.   God is able to do anything at any time that he pleases.  But even considering the power of God, and as much reverence and fear and trembling I should have before Him, the ultimate image of God is found in Jesus, who calls us to us.  The untamed, untamable, unstoppable God calls to us to come to Him, and find safety, security, and peace in His arms.

God is wild, untamable, uncontainable, and uncontrollable, but he is also uniquely and wholly good!   

This sermon moved me to the core, and I found myself quietly weeping tears of joy and determination to hold onto that view of God, to let it motivate me.

After, we took Communion with the congregation, as they observe the sacrament each first Sunday of the month.  This consisted of each person walking forward and tearing a small piece of bread from the communion loaf, and dipping it in a small chalice of wine and sharing this breaking of bread and the wine together.  It was a moving, different experience from what I’m accustomed to.

I have to admit; I wept through most of the service, moved by the Holy Spirit, and in awe of the closeness, the community that seemed to exist in this church.  Afterwards we were invited to a soup lunch served in their little fellowship hall, where, again, we were made to feel so welcomed and a part of the Body of Christ.  I got to see and experience how the Body of Christ, of which all Christians are a part, is a real and vibrant and dynamic thing, and is alive all over the world. 

Tuesday morning, Alene and I decided to step a little deeper into this coastal community, and attended the Presbyterian Church’s Tuesday morning breakfast bible study.  We met with about 7 others, who welcomed us gladly.  We drank coffee, ate a wonderful apple cake/strudel dish, and read Romans 5 and 6, and then discussed it as a round table.

It’s here that God would arrange a chance meeting with a new friend, Lance.  Lance is my age, and usually attends the breakfast bible study, then stays for the homeless outreach the church does each Tuesday morning.  As it turns out, Lance and his wife Susan stay in the “Victorian” house at – you guessed it – Antioch Ranch, where Alene and I are staying.  Lance and Susan have been living full time at the ranch. Longtime friends of Jerry and Pat, they came earlier this year to help Jerry and Pat keep up with chores and such around the ranch.  Their house is about 40 yards from where Alene and I are staying. 

What a “God thing”, huh?

Anyway, Lance and I hit it off pretty well.  Turns out he and his wife are from Sacramento, and we got to talking about home and his experiences.  He’s an on-fire Christian of the likes I’ve rarely met.  I felt an instant ease while talking to him, listening to his experiences with the church in Mendocino and back home in Sacramento.

Today, Wednesday, I asked Lance if there was anything I could help him with while he’s working, and he thought for moment, saying “You sure? Be careful what you ask for.” I wound up helping him replace a log used as a parking barrier in front of one of the houses, after which we talked about 30 minutes about our lives and our walk with Christ.


Tomorrow, Alene and I will host Lance and his wife at ‘our place’ for some dinner and fellowship.

I could not have expected to go on vacation and wind up fellowshipping with new friends and believers as we have on this trip.  Alene and I both are just amazed at how God works in our lives and the lives of others we’ve met.  The fellowship and community that we have experienced in the life of this little tiny Presbyterian Church has been eye-opening to me. 
Alene and I have had some long conversations this week, in the short time we’ve been here, about where God is leading us, and what He wants us to do for Him.  We still have a few days left here, where I am looking forward to seeing more of God’s work on the Mendocino Coast. 

I also look forward to returning home, recharged and looking forward to what God has in store at home!  

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