Wednesday, May 23, 2012

(:)(:)(:)(:)(:) for The Rock in San Diego

5 snouts up for The Rock, a mega church in San Diego, CA.
Now I hesitate to do this.  What does it say about me that my first post in months (on my birthday, no less) is to rave about a gigantic Christian church?  Well you can draw your own conclusions.

As a requirement for ministerial school, I have to visit 10 churches that are different from mine and report out.*  When I am travelling to other cities on a Sunday, I usually try to take the opportunity to visit a church or two.  While in San Diego to support our daughter in the San Diego Crew Classic, I decided to visit my first Christian megachurch--The Rock.

To my immense surprise, I loved it.  I really really really did not expect to.  To call this place a "mega-church" is almost an understatement by the way.  To get there, I drove pretty far out on Pt. Loma--a trip down memory lane because it's where I went to high school over 30 years ago.  Up the street from where I was almost fired at the Loma Theater for telling customers the true mark-up for popcorn ("Is tax included?"  "Yes sir," says the smart alec college kid.  "Tax, and a 250% profit margin has been added to the price of each and every item."), a former navy base has been converted to peace time use--Trader Joe's and a mall of popular chain stores, give forth to the Rock's gigantic campus--huge church next to 3 separate buildings and attendant play yards, an elementary school, a middle school and a highschool all owned and operated by The Rock.

Driving past thousands of men, women and children streaming in for the 10am Sunday service, I park blocks away, grateful for my sprained ankle and "knee caddy" so that I scoot rather than walk up to the massive structure that is the sanctuary.

I notice the crowd contains many young families and is very diverse.  My "disabled" status earns me a special seat much closer than I could have reasonably expected entering the service after it is in full swing.

And swing it does--on the stage, a young, attractive, African American man in jeans warms up the crowd with jokes backed up by a rockin' band and gospel choir.  Nary a cross is in sight.  The stage could be the Grammies Award ceremony easily, instead of a church.  I settle in and wait for the real minister to appear.

Minutes later, putting together the words and images on brochures in a darkened auditorium, I learn that this man, Miles McPherson, a former NFL football player, is the real, main pastor.  He is so warm, so likeable, so accessible.  And he has barely referenced Jesus, God or the Bible.   How can this be?  Instead, he's talking about their mission.  And this is what blew me away.

Their mission, as they express it, is not to save souls, or bring people to Christ Jesus.  Their mission is to transform the City of San Diego--to feed every single hungry person, to give a home to every single homeless person, to provide rehab to every single drug addicted person and to offer a new life to every single prostitute.  They play clips with person after person telling how The Rock came into their neighborhood and changed their life.  I didn't hear them talk about Jesus.  I heard them talk about the same things we talk about my church, changing their lives, the ability to transform, to change to be new.
They showed vids of 100s of people going out into neighborhoods, clearing garbage, painting buildings, creating parks, playing fields.

In other words, what I rely on government to do, they are doing.  They are enrolling people by the thousands in this vision, in this mission, investing in people's lives.  This minister is very convincing that that's where the money goes.  That they are changing lives, and changing San Diego.

Now, as I scour their website today, I of course find numerous references to Christ and numerous references to saving souls, so that is definitely what they are up to.  But I didn't hear any of that in what they talked about.  I heard amazing music, inspiration, humor and mostly love.  I tell you I was ready to give away practically everything I owned to this church.  And this was a "first fruits" service too, one of two a year (they say) where they focus on fundraising.  It was about how you give your first, not your last, dollar to your Source.  To what feeds and sustains you.  They were explicitly raising millions, and explicitly admitting that some huge amount of it would go to retire the debt they incurred (millions) building their amazing physical plant) but they were focussed on the ministry in San Diego and their vision.  As I heard it, I really wanted my church to have a vision that big and that well articulated.  I wanted to be part of something that was systematically making a difference in the material conditions of people's lives.

There is a church called The Rock in Elk Grove that I hope to check out, but I don't know if they are affiliated.

*Most of you know that I am studying to be a minister through the Holmes Institute of Consciousness Studies at the Centers for Spiritual Living.   CSL is a fast-growing "new thought" church that fairly recently changed its name from Church of Religious Science.  There are now around 1000 such churches mostly in the United States but some scattered around the globe.  The mission statement of the Center for Spiritual Awareness in West Sacramento, which I attend, is "The Center for Spiritual Awareness is a diverse and caring community in which we share spiritual nourishment and celebrate all paths to God through the principles of science of mind."

To become a minister, I have to take 3 years worth of academic religious instruction and practical church administration classes, plus complete a number of other requirements such as demonstrating competency through several internships.  One of those internships is to visit and report on 10 churches that are very different from mine.

1 comment:

Sara S. Nichols said...

I'll comment on my own blog. I got some emails about this--as expected, people who knew more about the seamy underbelly of The Rock and were disappointed that I was so enamored. Let me, like Dick Nixon, say this about that, I did NOT give my life savings to that church. Nor am I going to. But I FEEL like giving it and I'm interested in that. No, it is not surprising that a mega church is able to reel people in, even (ahem) enlightened people, such as me. That's how they become mega churches. But I think it behooves us rather than villifying them or marginalizing them or ignoring them to infiltrate and to see what we can learn. So it is in that spirit...