Well, my first week has come and gone, and I managed to do far more than just 'get my feet wet.' I'm starting to get a feel for what the work week is like here, and it has already been a great pleasure. The people I work with are all very loving and welcoming, so that I've felt right at home on the staff here since day one.
Despite the great sense of getting 'settled in,' however, I've been exposed to a lot of new things even in this first week. One of the greatest pleasures I've had so far is getting involved in the church's Alpha course, which meets every Wednesday night at a local tennis club. I've had the chance to meet a homeless couple who seem to be learning to trust God amid the difficulties and decisions they are facing about the future. Alpha had a special meeting on Saturday at the church building that lasted for about six hours, and was focused on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
This brings me to the main thing that has been new for me this week. As I might have mentioned in a previous post, St. James is a church that has, for some time, been interested in charismatic renewal, meaning that they seek to celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in a special way through the expression of spiritual gifts (especially in worship), such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing. This is an area in which I haven't had the slightest experience until now; it has, to be completely honest, been both eye-opening and a test of my faith and theology (all in a good way). There are many theologians whom I've held in high regard who would say that spiritual gifts (though not necessarily any dramatic outpouring of the Spirit per se) ceased with the end of the apostolic era, and I've always held this in my mind as I've heard others talk about more charismatic and pentecostal forms of Christianity. Yet I'm forced to confess that I've seen things I simply cannot explain - to name one, the healing of a woman who came to Alpha on Saturday with a scratched cornea, who had to hold a hand over one eye because it was so painful to look out of it. She was healed at the meeting and able to see as she had before. People were also speaking in tongues during some of our worship - I would have felt more comfortable about it, I suppose, if there were people also interpreting them for all of us (which was, after all, Paul's desired approach).
In all of this I so desperately want to avoid undue skepticism, especially as I know that most of my apprehensions in the matter are merely the result of a post-Enlightenment, naturalistic account of all phenomena that occur within our world. That view, from a Christian standpoint, is simply unsustainable. But I also know from reading Jonathan Edwards and the like that renewal and revival within the church always contains a strange mixture of both the good and the bad, the divine and the human, the spiritual and the earthly. One of the problems I have with the charismatic movement in general was well-put by Rev. Cathie (who led the Saturday service for Alpha), namely that these kinds of charismatic renewal movements will die in the church, if they remain there. The use of spiritual gifts in the past century in North American churches has failed to fulfill one of its most central roles in the New Testament; that is, to evangelize. The great outpourings of the Holy Spirit seen in the NT primarily serve to bear witness to the mighty power of God for the unbelieving, leading them to the question, 'What should I do about all of this?' to which we respond, "Repent, and be baptized" (Acts 2:38). I admire the way in which baptism in the Holy Spirit and the expression of spiritual gifts was put to use by St. James church as a part of evangelistic outreach (in an Alpha course, which I'm willing to bet is highly unusual).
On Thursday night I had the opportunity to go over to Azusa Pacific University and see an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls (some hitherto unseen fragments from the university's special collection). Along with the fragments (most of them illegible and only readable thanks to infrared technology) there were many other manuscripts, some centuries-old Torah scrolls, a page from the first run of Gutenberg bibles, and various medieval bibles and office books. On Saturday I had the experience of serving as an acolyte at a wedding for the first time (as crucifer), and probably looked quite amusing in my robes, which fit me well enough in every area save for my arms, which were far too long for the sleeves (the sleeves were perhaps a third of the way up my forearm - for a crucifer this is probably the worst problem to have).
Monday was my day off, though that might move to Friday depending on my schedule. I went to the beach for a while, though not as long as I would have gone if it hadn't taken me an hour to find parking! The Pacific Ocean was beautiful, and I lay down on a towel and read for a while, occasionally watching surfers catch the waves and kids chasing seagulls. Yep, it sure is pretty tough having an internship down here...