Mill Valley is at the southern end of Marin, which is one of the counties in the San Francisco Bay area. On Easter Sunday somewhat less than 3% of the population there turns out for a church service. As far as I know there is not a Reformed congregation in Marin, apart from Miller Avenue Baptist Church, Mill Valley, of which I am the pastor.
During the 1970s I served as founding and senior pastor of an independent church in central Marin. This was at the height of the ‘Jesus People’ movement. We grew so large so quickly that we were forced to begin five churches all at once. However, less than a month from that development, our numbers were back up to where they had been. As a pastor, it was all I could do to keep track of the people coming into the church.
In Mill Valley (said to be the New Age capital of the world) we get quite excited if we grow by one or two a year in the church. Here is the story of two people, one of whom was the only new convert in 1998.
Gino attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for over a decade in the building owned by Miller Avenue Baptist Church. For many years he hoped to improve his ‘conscious contact’ with God, and one Sunday in June of 1998 he showed up for a Sunday morning worship service.
Subsequently he quietly sat through many sermons and began asking questions of some of the members after the service was over. I did not speak to him, except for the casual greetings, for several months. In November he called me for an appointment. He related that he had come to Jesus and now wanted to start attending a Bible study. He wanted to learn how to pray, and expressed interest in joining cell-to-cell witnessing ministry at San Quentin. Gino, as far as I can see, has experienced a genuine conversion. His was the only one in 1998.
Ted (not his real name) has been a part of the church for at least ten years. He had been a Jehovah’s Witness before, but for some reason was put out of fellowship. A big strong man, good at fixing things up, he has helped out on dozens of work projects at our church building and parsonage.
However, he never came to a prayer meeting or Bible study. I had always assumed he was a believer but had never asked him for his testimony. For several years now his attendance had been irregular. Eighteen months ago he called me from jail — he had been arrested on a drug charge.
In fact, Ted had been living a secret life. After his expulsion from the Watchtower Society he had started using drugs and frequenting a gay bar. Though he had been married, he became a transvestite. Three years ago he had quit the homosexuality but continued using drugs, mainly powdered cocaine. Then came the arrest. It took him well over a year to come to the place where he would confide in me. The real reason for his doing so was that he had discovered that he had never really been converted.
The irregularity in his church attendance began when I started preaching strongly for genuine conversion. Ted said he could not stand listening to those sermons. He had, however, dropped in at the church building from time to time to secure a sermon tape or two. It was listening to those tapes that brought him to see his unconverted state.
Ted is still unconverted, but at least now he knows that is the case. As pastor I can now pray that God’s Holy Spirit would reveal Jesus to him, that he might know the fulness of his grace.
Perhaps many will be converted in 1999, maybe there will be but a few, or perhaps there will be none at all. Meanwhile, for my part, I will preach and pray, and wait and long for God to move.