Christ Church Lutheran, San Francisco, California, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ Church Lutheran, San Francisco
Location: California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 May 2024, 10:00am

The building

The present church was built in 1965. Adjacent to the church is a courtyard and a parish hall with a kitchen. According to the website, the building includes offices, a meeting room, three classrooms or workspaces, and a meditation garden.

The church

The congregation has existed since 1912. The church advertises that it shares its space with neighbors, community groups, AA, dance groups, music lessons and groups for rehearsals and recitals, not-profits and government groups.

The neighborhood

The church is located in the Sunset District of San Francisco. Despite frequent fog, which often hides the sunset, it is a popular residential area with lively commercial sections, all of which was built on top of sand dunes. This western section of San Francisco slopes downward toward the west, offering views of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The cast

The senior pastor presided and preached.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?

About 25 people in attendance, leaving a lot of empty space.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The pastor and two parishioners greeted us cordially, introducing themselves and asking where we came from. The custom of handshaking has not reasserted itself after the pandemic.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

As we entered, the choir was practising. Afterwards there was complete silence, undisturbed by conversation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Today, I am wearing a new microphone. I hope it is working well. On this first Sunday of May we are celebrating the 6th Sunday of Easter. The weather is cool, but we have bright sunshine today.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Evangelical Lutheran Worship. The printed service program contained the complete liturgy with musical notes.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and grand piano.

Did anything distract you?

The prayer requests section on the back of the bulletin contained 20 names of people suffering bereavement, and 46 asking for health and healing. I tried to visualize how such a small congregation could have such a large prayer list. The stained glass windows also distracted my attention, because of the unusual richness and depth of the colors, especially the blues.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The style was formal Lutheran liturgical worship, but spiced with contemporary texts and a Taizé song. We sang three traditional Easter hymns and one modern eucharist song. One person accompanied the Easter hymns with a small bell, which was presumably an individual, spontaneous idea. A choir of seven sang a psalm and an anthem in unison. The organist/pianist, who is also a retired pastor, was magnificent; his accompaniments of the hymns on the organ were lively and festive. The eucharist was offered in two forms: either with individually wrapped hosts and small shot glass portions of wine or grape juice; or real bread pieces (which tasted like ginger bread) which were to be dipped into a chalice of wine. The pastor wore a black cassock and white stole in the first part of the service, then added a white Easter chasuble at the start of the eucharist liturgy.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 — The preacher had a conversational tone, as though she were talking to a small group at a table. The sermon had structure, and rambling was avoided. The message was biblically oriented, with references to current events.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Jesus said: ‘Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ Love is not abstract or merely contemplative, but characterized by activity. It is not about intangible feelings for certain people at certain times, but consists of physical actions. It is an act of resistance to power structures, such as the Roman Empire or modern equivalents. The kingdom of God is defined by love. Love is comprehensive: it addresses people on both sides of a conflict, such as Palestinians and Jews. It is the only way forward.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

This well-organized service was planned with care and thoughtfulness, which was reflected in the colourful, all-encompassing service program. I appreciated the faithfulness to tradition and the high quality of the organ accompaniment of the hymns.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Certain words, when spoken in a service, immediately invoke images of ‘the other place’, such as Ukraine, Putin and Gaza.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

There was no time to stand around appearing lost. We were immediately engaged in an in-depth conversation and invited to the coffee fellowship, where we also became involved in enjoyable conversations.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The coffee, served in paper cups, tasted exactly the way church coffee traditionally tastes. There was a small buffet of snacks. The congregation settled down for extended conversations at tables.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 — This congregation has friendly people. I admire their commitment to sustaining a style of worship which emphasizes liturgical tradition, supported by organ and choir music, but also incorporating creative language.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, indeed.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The pun at the start of the sermon. The pastor informed us that May 4 (the previous day) was Star Trek Day, because it conveys the message, ‘May the fourth be with you.’

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