As I suited up on this overcast June, Sunday morning, I mentally shuffled the long, diversely rich list of faith community offerings in Santa Monica; we are a such lucky city. I was looking for a church that fostered and promoted acceptance and fellowship. Santa Monica Pentecost Church spoke to me this morning in special way, perhaps because today happened to be Pentecost Sunday.
The little I’ve managed to retain about the Pentecost Church is embarrassing to even mention, e.g. Sarah Palin once attended Pentecostal services, and, this branch of Christianity is the one most heavily linked with speaking in tongues or Glossolalia. With that negligible knowledge, I programmed my GPS to lead me to 836 Cedar Street AKA Santa Monica Pentecost Church.
Cedar Street is but a 5-minute drive from my north Santa Monica abode, which gave me plenty of time to talk myself out of this whole church search idea of mine. I figured a Pentecost church would be too overbearingly conservative to welcome a heathen like me who couldn’t even name the Gospels at gunpoint. Or, if they did welcome me, my ineptness at speaking in tongues would blow my cover.
Before I could reroute my GPS to Urth Caffe, I spot the white stucco church rising on a hill, in the heart of the Sunset Park neighborhood, a block off of Lincoln Blvd. The front doors are open.
Wrestling with my cold feet, I enter. A youngish man is plunking an ascending chord progression on a mahogany baby grand. The church is almost completely empty, save 4 people in a building that holds 250.
What I really wanted to do was make a break for it, bolt for the door, book it down to Urth, and nurse a green tea latte, but a friendly face blocked my escape route. This is the face of their pastor, whose name is Robin.
Pastor Robin encouraged me to stay, and explained UCLA’s graduation is today, which is why so many congregants are absent.
Considering making an about-face wasn’t my best option at the time (not to mention utterly classless and disrespectful), I sashayed down the aisle to the incognito/don’t-want-to-be-noticed side of the church, and sat my wishy-washy butt down.
At a few minutes past 11, the church was now 20 people strong. Pastor Robin assumed his place at the pulpit, and began the service with a scripture reading from Psalms. The Pastor’s wife, Marlene, handed me a Bible, and smiled (I would have preferred it if she’d opened the Bible to Psalms, because I couldn’t find it for the life of me.).
Then, with his eyes closed, Pastor Robin prayed aloud for the Holy Spirit to “control the service this morning”. He made this plea over and over again. Each time he cried out, he progressively spoke faster and more emphatic, his voice building to a higher pitch, with a soupçon of despair, until he fell silent. Things were getting very interesting.
Marlene stood and approached the pulpit, and invited us to sing hymns. The congregation sang along, and clapped, under Marlene’s direction. Some shook their tambourines; some raised their hands; some kept reverently to themselves. It took a while for me to warm up, but by the 3rd song, I was clapping, shaking a tambourine, and singing my heart out. Seriously, I couldn’t believe myself!
By song’s end, I was fully engrossed and consumed in this service, just in time to peruse Pastor Robin’s sermon. This is the gist of what he was saying: While God will always be there for us, there are times we will not receive what we are asking for, yet God will bless us in a different way.
As Pastor Robin brought his sermon to dénouement, he invited anyone who needed special healing to stand in front of the congregation. One man, and his friend, made that brave walk to the front and center. Together, we prayed for the man who had the courage to stand before us this morning, for God to touch him, and to provide him healing for whatever his intentions are. Witnessing all this really moved me.
I wanted to find the grace and the inspiration in me to stand before the church, next to this man ahead of me. But, today would not be that day. I prayed for this man, and I also prayed for myself. Because, in a way, this man represented me, and my desire to one day align my actions with my beliefs. And, I prayed that God see that desire in me, just as he sees it in this man in front of me.
Robin and Marlene were kind enough to spend some time with me after the service. We sat inside the now quiet church, sans ascending baseline accompaniment and tambourines. There was unequivocally no pressure on me to return, and absolutely no performance of Glossolalia’s greatest hits, only a mutual sharing and understanding where each other stood in his or her spiritual journey.
While religion may not remain on everyone’s life path, can we at least be cognizant of the indefatigable fruit from belonging to a value-filled, supportive community, faith-based or not? We would be remiss if we didn’t. This experience for me, today, is something, I believe, will shape my view on how I see religions about which I share little to nothing.
We exchanged farewells, and Robin said to me, “Blessings to you”. With that, I walked down Cedar Hill knowing I’d be welcomed back with the same warmth, respect, and appreciation for my visit. And, that is certainly worth a 5 minute drive.