"Rock Harbor," as the damn liberal media always mistakenly calls it) is all grown up. The Costa Mesa church that was the hippest among Orange County church hoppers when it exploded on the scene in 1997 has settled into a comfy-cozy multi-generational ministry that serves up standard evangelical fare.
White people? Check. Mood lighting? Check. Coffee bar? Check. Massive new digs? Check. Worship set followed by sermon, followed by worship set? Check-check-check.
The OCeeker took in a Saturday night service to see if Jesus had, as He did to the church at Ephesus, removed their lamspstand. That's a Biblical phrase for Jesus calling shenanigans on a church and knocking their lights out.
The church meets in a warehouse. For a Saturday night, the place was nearly packed. These clearly are the more dedicated disciples at ROCKHARBOR. That, or there were a lot of folks on a first date through Christianmingle.com. Church veterans get there early for the best parking spots, but first-time visitors have their own parking lot close to the building. The OCeeker noticed this after parking somewhere in Arizona and getting plumb tuckered out from the walk.
Once inside, the OCeeker enjoyed a relaxing time of praise and worship in a warm and inviting sanctuary designed in a rustic-contemporary style. The soft glow of orange-ish lights welcomed him into a spacious room accented by wood and wrought iron decor. Five wooden crosses bedecked the sanctuary walls, and upon the stage there stood a larger cross made of what appeared to be railroad ties. A deacon must work for BNSF Railway.
Two large screens flanked the stage, each showing lyrics to the songs, and photographs from a recent baptism. Hundreds of worshippers stood in praise during the entirety of several songs that surprisingly steered clear of the Jesus-as-boyfriend lyrics that mark so many modern-day praise ditties.
No entreating Him to touch us, no asking to be wrapped in His embrace. Instead, the crowd sang some basic confessional stuff and acknowledged God's presence, as a five-piece band, led by Lead Pastor Todd Proctor and his Ben Folds stylings on keyboard, cranked up the modern praise. Old-school worshippers were treated to a snappy rendition of Paul Baloche's"Open the Eyes of My Heart".
The congregation swayed more than it bounced, and some raised their hands in praise. A young man next to the OCeeker did this hand thing that looked like what Eminem does when he spits lyrics in the cypher. Jesus be sick wit' it, yo.
I Don't Always Go to Church, But When I Do, I Go to Rock Harbor
It was during the time of praise that the OCeeker noticed three distinct people in the crowd.
The first was a young white man who took advantage of the dim lighting to rub-a-dub
his wife on the arm and back. This reminded the OCeeker of his theory that the best sex in the United States takes place between God-fearing Christians on Sunday afternoon. Scripture speaks of the flesh and the spirit. Preachers talk often about starving the flesh and its desires, and feeding the spirit. Well, if one starves the flesh all morning long, eventually it's gonna get a hankerin' for the horizontal hustle.
The second man was white, with long, blond dreadlocks falling from underneath an orange and black trucker cap. He grooved to the music, while standing in front of man who can only be described as a clean-shaven version of the Most Interesting Man in the World.
The likeness was so startling, the OCeeker could only imagine what was said of the man (cue Dos Equis commercial music): "God tithes to him. He doesn't walk on water. He moonwalks on it. Judas thought better of betraying him. He rose from the dead on the first day. He is...the Most Interesting Man at ROCKHARBOR."
Speaking of people-watching, all the babes seemed to taken. But there were plenty of handsome young zealots for those lonely Delilahs in the crowd.
Proctor closed out the worship set, during the middle of which an offering was taken (ass, grass or cash, no one rides for free), and the band left the stage, which was backed by a dark curtain and several shelves that were tall, but not very wide, and held books and white cylinders that appeared to either be ancient scrolls or rolls of Bounty paper towels--the quicker picker upper.
He then welcomed the congregation and asked how many had started attending Rock Harbor in the past year. About 20 raised their hands. Proctor talked about "Welcome Week"--an effort during the previous days to get members to know each other better. Because of a scheduling snafu, Proctor had to spend most of Welcome Week in Portland.
Proctor then introduced Darin McWatters, the church's teaching and next generation pastor.
McWatters continued a series called The Story of God--an overview of the Bible with an emphasis on God's plan to reconcile men to himself through Jesus Christ. On this night, McWatters took a wide-angle look at the Book of Malachi. Malachi was a prophet, and the author of the last book in the Old Testament canon. He wrote 400 years before John the Baptist became the hype man for Jesus. Through the prophet, God called the Israelites to repent of their religous hypcocrisy and spiritual complacency.
One other thing about Malachi--he had the same name as the creepy ginger from the movie Children of the Corn.
Bumper Sticker on a Ford Truck: "One Nation Under God"
McWatters sported spectacles; he was balding, but bearded. He wore a T-shirt under a long-sleeved shirt that he left unbuttoned. His jeans were cuffed, and he wore casual shoes.
As he walked the congregation through the Scriptures, McWatters demonstrated a keen teaching gift that pulled street-level wisdom from one of the Bible's lesser-read texts.
His tone was pleasant, his pace nearly perfect. McWatters never got bogged down on a particular verse, nor did he seem to ride any particular hobby horse. With an affable demeanor, all his jokes hit well, and they typically set up a convicting insight into the Christian life.
Here's a drink of McWatters after he read Malachi 2:16, where God says he hates divorce:
"It's about adultery when it comes to your relationship with God. You see, even though you may be married tonight, I would ask the question: are you cheating on God? What are the relationships that you have where you're absolutely the adulter, the adulteress in the love relationship between you and your Father?"
Indeed, the verse comes on the heels of the Lord rebuking Judah for spirtually joining herself to the daughter of a foreign god.
And that brings the OCeeker to one of his favorite TV shows ever: Cheaters.
Damn, the OCeeker loves him some Cheaters. And he hopes McWatters will forgive him, but the OCeeker couldn't help but picture the Lord looking to host Joey Greco for help:
The Lord: Well, Joey, it's just that my church's love has turned cold.
Greco: Lord, our investigators have followed your church for the last few days, and they've recorded some incidents that you may find upsetting. Are you ready to look at the tape?
The Lord: Yep. (Cups hand around mouth, watches footage on camcorder.) Oh My God.
Greco: Now Lord, our investigators have followed your church to Morongo Casino, where she is hooking with up with Mammon. Would you like to confront your church?
The Lord: Hell yeah.
(The Lord joins Greco in a white van, and they drive the 10 Freeway east to the casino. The Lord confronts his church at a slot machine. A crowd gathers, some yell, 'It's Cheaters! Whutup Joey!')
The Lord: Ah, hell nah! Yo holy ass ain't up in hurr wit' this trash!
The Church: It's nothing Lord! We're just friends!
The Lord: You a lie! (Mayhem ensues, blah blah blah; The Lord pulls off the church's weave.)
The OCeeker gave the sermon a B. McWatters' heartfelt life applications more than made up for a dearth of brainy theology.
The Most Interesting Man at Rock Harbor may have disagreed. He repeatedly dozed off, with his wife's leg draped across his thigh. She wore black wedges. At one point, the Most Interesting Man at Rock Harbor woke up and put his hand on her shin. Awwww!
As the lights were turned low to set the mood, McWatters urged the congregation to quietly reflect on the message. He then joined Proctor at the side of the stage, and it appeared as though they were discussing the next play, a la Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning. Sure enough, Proctor said he and McWatters had been talking about what the Lord was doing in the church that night, and he said the congregation should examine the areas of their lives where their faith was under attack, and surrender it to God.
The church then celebrated communion, and Proctor again led a set of worship.
In a congregation of hundreds, just one person introduced herself to the OCeeker. She looked to be in her 50s, and told the OCseeker there was free coffee. Thanks!
As the OCeeker drove away, listening to some Drive-by Truckers, he spotted two men in the parking lot lighting cigarettes. Holy smokes!
Rock Harbor meets every Saturday at 6 p.m., and every Sunday at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at 345 Fischer Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 384-0914; www.rockharbor.org