Having grown up at one of the largest evangelical churches in Orange County, The First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton (aka EV Free), I have acquired a sour taste for church. I associate it with gaudy buildings, high-production presentations, cultural and social insulation, and disturbingly conservative political and social values.
So I was pleasantly surprised when my parents invited me to the Easter service, not at EV Free, but at my aunt Mary's church in Culver City. Mary goes to a small foursquare church called "Living Branch." It has a lot of black people and Latinos which, for an Orange County kid like myself, is a new thing to behold.
The vibe at Mary's church is way more alive than what I am used to at EV Free. Even though the music is led by only a woman with a microphone and a lone black man playing a Casio keyboard, the people in the congregation get REALLY into it, clapping hands, singing full volume, sometimes picking up tambourines. You get the sense that these people are singing, not because they are supposed to, but because the hopeful music actually means something to their lives.
After the music, the pastor got up and prayed for those in the congregation who are struggling with financial hardship. "Living Branch" is not in an affluent community, unlike lots of OC churches.
After the music and prayer came the main event of the day, the Easter Play. It was a pretty simple production, dramatizing the events in the New Testament leading up to Christ's resurrection. I appreciated a number of things about the play. I liked that Jesus was not played by a white guy, which is historically accurate. I liked that the pastor cast himself as Pontius Pilate, as if to say, I am not a perfect man.
I liked my aunt Mary's part in the play, as an interpretive ribbon dancer. I liked that one of the Roman guards was played by a black guy who kept making subtle comparisons between himself and a modern police officer.
Overall, I like how the play, and the church in general, had meaning for its community. It wasn't just a nice production. Its message of hope seemed to resonate in a real way with the real lives of the cast and the congregation. I think Orange County churches, and particularly "mega-churches" could learn a thing or two from little churches like "Living Branch" foursquare church in Culver City.
Me and the historically accurate Jesus.
Me and Pontius Pilate (aka Pastor Fred Barber)