When Elesha and I returned to Southern California in 2003, we were ready for something new. We had just gone through a quarter-century stretch in the American Southwest, Southeast, and Midwest, while I practiced my craft as a theologian in centers of power of the Church of the Nazarene. We landed in Azusa, both of us working at APU, with a low pain threshold for a certain kind of evangelical church culture. We were not looking to cut off our ties to the Church of the Nazarene, but we did have trouble walking into a local Nazarene church without feeling an immediate urge to leave. We drove to San Diego about once a month, where we attended The Church of the Nazarene in Mid-City, a struggling urban body made up of various congregations that worshiped with care and without pretension in several different languages. Other weeks we visited congregations closer to our house, frequently attending All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, but also various United Methodist and Nazarene churches.
After a couple of years I met Josh Smith, who was in charge at APU of a monthly evening chapel service focused on the Eucharist. We talked about the importance of that sacrament on a couple of occasions, I began attending that chapel service, and I learned that Josh and a small group of others with a history in the Church of the Nazarene had started a little church in Monrovia, one that was deliberately eucharistic and overtly socially embodied and engaged. I visited and the following week Elesha joined me there, on the church’s first anniversary. We were simply delighted at what we found: this little church meeting in a strange facility, a kind of shrine to the dreams of a late 1950’s adolescent, that included a beautifully restored ’57 Chevy, antique gas pump, framed signed photographs of pop stars, like Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, and a couple of neon beer signs. We sat in folding chairs, sang of God to God, thought carefully together of what the gospel grants to and demands of us, and then gathered together all our weekly work and offered it to God in Eucharistic thanksgiving.
What Elesha and I have found here is a remarkable body of people who are serious about living a holy life, but also about living honestly and humanely, working not to fall prey to the allure of the vision of right wing, left wing, or centrist America. Of course, we are still tempted to attach ourselves to some old or new program. We still muck about, bumble along, experimenting, sometimes failing, expending energy making course corrections, but this is a good place to work and hope. I am glad providence has drawn our path together with yours.