Visiting churches: California and Arizona
For the first fortnight of February, I visited my friend Dann Dempsey in the great City of Monrovia, California; and the following places of worship:
- First Congregational Church, Long Beach
- Saint Basil’s Catholic Church, Los Angeles
- Central Christian Church of the East Valley
- Historic First Presbyterian Church of Phoenix
- the chapel at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport
- La Placita Church at the Mission of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels
- Pasadena Presbyterian Church
- the chapel at London Heathrow airport
I took Communion and participated in the imposition of ashes at First Congregational; Communion and witnessed a baptism at CCCEV; participated in an elder/deacon ordination at Historic First; caught the last of the Mass at La Placita.
First Congregational is a self-described liberal church. Seldom have I visited a church which is more liberal than I. Here, people do not say “Lord” except when singing in Latin; there has been some trouble decades ago about the divinity of Jesus not preached from the pulpit. “Blessed be”, an imperative without a noun, seemed to be enough for this congregation. There was a banner in the front of the sanctuary with a quote by Martin Luther King Junior: “The principal objective of all nations must be the total abolition of war.” I was generally pleased, but I did wonder what they have to say ultimately, when all has been stripped away like this?
On the other end of the “spectrum” is CCCEV. It felt like a theatre with no natural light, but dry-ice smoke-throwers and air-conditioning. The sermon – or shall I call it the one-man theatrical monologue? – delivered from a swivel-chair, was full of popular-culture references (even a sitcom clip on the projection screen!), complete with fill-in-the-blank sermon sheets. The preacher dissed Kanye West, ignoring that he is one of the most influential Christian artist these days, who is biasedly-committed to the Poor, and can get his Jesus Walks played on the radio. Who are you to diss Kanye, man? The whole thing fit snugly in a critical analysis of the Spectacle in the Situationist school. The bookstore had about a hundred copies of the Bible, but only in three versions: dominantly NIV, NLT, and The Message. Suitably, we went to Wal-Mart later that evening.
I note curiously that neither of these two churches actually let the Holy Communion work itself out well enough, sad to say.
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