As I drove onto the parking lot of the Calvary Christian Center at 4902 Powerline Rd. in Olivehurst, I speculated that it’s not only life that’s like a box of chocolates and you don’t know what you’re going to get, but also places of worship can be like that too. I never know what to expect until I step inside.
I’ve been in this actual location many times in the past, to pick up a take-and-bake pizza, get a haircut, or purchase groceries at the Holiday Market. But the market is long gone. You can still get a haircut at a barbershop run by the pastor, but most of the food available nowadays is of a spiritual nature, with the exception of whatever’s selling at the goody wagon that’s sometimes parked there.
Many store-front churches that I’ve visited in the inner-cities of Chicago, New York and St. Louis were once businesses. Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Gospel Christian Center in Linda which used to be a tavern. However this is the first time I have ever been to a church that used to be a whole shopping center.
As I walked toward the main supermarket entrance where I assumed the church service would take place, I was fully expecting to go inside and sit on some metal folding chairs set out on a cement floor to listen to perhaps a band playing and a preacher preaching inside a cavernous, barn-like room; but that was not to be the case. An usher guided me to a small door to the right of the former grocery store. I entered and to my surprise, I was standing inside a beautiful, carpeted sanctuary. Mind you, it wasn’t as lovely as Grace Church in Wheatland with its stained glass, high ceilings and air of deep tradition, but I was impressed.
It wasn’t just the physical appearance of the sanctuary that inspired me, but also the diverse racial and inter-generational make-up of the people. You’d need one of those expensive Whitman Samplers if you wanted a box of chocolates representative of this group, one with plenty of variety including dark, milk, and white chocolate.
Recently I have been amusing myself by reflecting on how people in general are like chocolates: some are a little nutty, some look nice on the outside but might be hollow or not very substantial inside, like a Three Musketeers bar; others are more like a plain piece of chocolate, solid through-and-through and dependable. Some people are like a Heath toffee bar, brittle and hard to deal with, but they’re worth the effort. Others have hearts shriveled up like chocolate-covered raisins that could use some plumping up.
The band started playing and the music was good, although a few times the words on the overhead screen didn’t match what the band was singing. Guests were asked to stand and be recognized, and everyone greeted us warmly and welcomed us to Calvary church.
It was Mother’s Day. A video about the importance of mothers was played and gifts for mothers in the room were given out. One of those gifts fell out of the basket near me and I thought about keeping it, but since I’m not a mother, I picked it up and placed it back in the basket.
Pastor Richard Braxton gave a powerful sermon called Keys to Living in the Kingdom, in which he spoke about the importance of staying out of debt. He quoted from Matthew 6:24-25, where Jesus says that no one can serve two masters, that we shouldn’t be anxious about what we eat or wear and that debt is not our friend. Pastor Braxton continued with a quote from Romans 13:8. “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”
When the pastor asked the congregation to hold up their Bibles, I felt like someone in the 1600s holding up a papyrus roll while everyone else held up a printed book, because while I was holding up a paper Bible nearly everyone else was holding up an iPad, Kindle or similar device. People really like their electronic Bibles for the many helpful features they offer.
One problem with this era of electronic devices, however, is when they become a distraction. I couldn’t help noticing a teenager near me who spent an awful lot of time texting during the service. Although, I shouldn’t judge; perhaps he was chatting with friends and telling them they should be at church. But, from the looks he was getting from his mother, that probably wasn’t the case.
Unfortunately I had to leave early to get the car back home for my wife to use, but something rather significant happened to me as I was leaving.
I once gave a speech titled It’s the little Things, in which I mentioned that it’s often the small things in life that help us know that we’re loved and cared for. As I was heading toward my car a young man ran out after me and asked me if anything was wrong. I told him not a thing was wrong, and that I’d be back, but thanks for asking.
Well I have been back, and I even got a haircut at the barbershop, attended a few marriage classes with my wife and have also gotten to know Pastor Braxton and his lovely wife Kisha a little better.
And it makes me wonder if all churches, in addition to ushers, should also have “rushers”, or people whose ministry is to rush out after anyone who leaves early and find out if something’s wrong.
Service starts at 11: 30 on Sundays. Make sure you go through the small door with the sign which reads “Enter Here”. Oh, and don’t forget your iPad or similar device. But even without one, you can be sure of a warm welcome at Calvary Christian Center.