Published: January 14th 2010December 13th 2009
SUNDAY (MORNING) IN SAN FRANCISCO
With Sunday morning came the occasion to go to church. We chose a congregation to which our hotel contributes, in our neighbourhood, where Union Square meets the Tenderloin District; two blocks over, for a breakfast of fresh fruit, peeled and cut to order; and another block down, United Methodist, 11am service.
Ushers at the entrance, somehow recognised us for what we were, visitors for the day, and, kind hosts that they were, escorted us to prime seats in the orchestra. Looking around, getting a sense of the place, it was clear this church does not suffer from the syndrome of empty pews rampant elsewhere. Every permanent seat was occupied; people were packed in, elbow to rib, just within the limits of social distance; additionally, temporary chairs were in use, extending every row in the hall; all who came had a place. Every demographic, or so it seemed, was present: age, cultural, ethnic, economic, gender, social.
The choir filed in, gaily dressed, yoked in red and blue, robed in blue with gold trim. The singers filled the sanctuary in a three-dimensional, triangular formation and, accompanied by percussion and sweet sounds from a sextet
of musicians, opened the proceedings with a stirring rendition of “What Child” that made it clear we were about to experience a period of upbeat devotions, as the entire assembly got to its feet, joined in song and clapped its way through the offering. From here on in. there was very little sitting during this service.
To be sure, all of the elements of reverent worship were included in the observances of the morning. It was the verve with which they were practised that was inspiring, The energetic participation of the congregation was supported by audio visuals; as is usual, readings were done from the lecterns; but they also appeared in a crawl across a screen behind the alter; so, too, were thoughts from the sermon, which, this morning, took the theme of positive waiting, associated with the advent season; and used it as a backdrop against which to call for an end to social and economic procrastination that does not deliver, even while leaders promise relief to those in want.
Call and response was in full cry between the speakers and those assembled; communal chanting of hymns was to a beat that grooved and had a pulse
that engaged the celebrants; there was no audience being ministered to here; all present, pastors and flock, were having the same risen experience.
In the midst of the celebration, the choir enraptured us with a deeply devotional rendition of “Amen”; and, all but exploded at the very end, with a closing of powerful praise in the “Halleluiah”. Nobody, it seemed for a while, wanted to leave the experience behind.
After a sufficient and silent pause, all filed out to the adjoining hall; there, to fellowship with each other over coffee and tea, pick up literature describing community projects of the ministry, including a shelter and a daily soup kitchen; and to volunteer assistance, as is their wont.
For our part, Penny and I gave our regards to the pastors, arranged to have a video copy of the service sent to us and, our spirits feeling full, departed for our afternoon expedition in the Mission District.
V. Ernest Ainsley
There are more photos below