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Every square inch of our less-than-two-acre campus will be covered with kids this week. The local office stores must rejoice at all the hot glue, blue tape, bright colored paper, and Styrofoam sold to make all the decor needed for an average church Vacation Bible School (VBS) week.

When all the kids come, they displace our regular guests. AA and ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), Toastmasters Club #111, a few small groups from some local church plants, and our own Bible study groups all make way for VBS. It takes the better part of a day for our secretary to contact everyone impacted by their inability to meet during these summer weeks.

The South Bay was once host to famous Bible teacher, Hal Lindsey. Lindsey pastored a congregation in Torrance and wrote an influential book called The Late Great Planet Earth. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for 20 weeks in 1970. Central to that book and his books that followed was the understanding of the secret return of Jesus Christ and the rapture of the true church into the heavens. He suggested that the apocalypse would probably happen in the 1980s. You may remember bumper stickers around that time: “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” As a high school student, I met Lindsey when he came to Seattle on a book tour. I was given the task to get his coffee order. “Pastor Lindsey, what kind of coffee would you like?” He responded, “A quadruple espresso.” Strong, straight, and fully awake! Just like his end-times teaching.

There are a few different historical ways to interpret the Bible’s teaching on the end-times. They are probably all represented among the churches in San Pedro. For what it’s worth, I agree with Lindsey on espresso, but we part ways on how the church is called to be involved in the world. He is waiting for rapture. I am waiting for renewal. Lindsey’s focus on the church leaving Earth probably finds strong agreement with the church’s strongest critics. There isn’t much difference between, “Can’t wait to leave” and “I wish they would just leave.” But what if the church did up and leave or was raptured away?

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During Lent, I gave up mainstream news consumption – happiest Lent in recent memory. I did sneak a peek at the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) since my oldest son has been living near Edmonton. In May, they reported the expected closure of 9,000 Canadian churches and religious spaces over the next ten years. There was mixed reaction. Some called it a crisis. Others saw it as evidence of growing secularism in modern society. I believe our culture is growing more religious, not more secular, but that is a subject for another article.

Those who are concerned about the church’s absence note that churches and religious spaces are places for the community to gather, like Weight Watchers at Temple Beth El or Toastmasters at Trinity. They are staging places for outreach like Meals on Wheels from First Presbyterian or feeding the homeless at Mary Star or First Baptist, or food delivery from Calvary Chapel. These are just some of the gathering places of worship on 7th and 8th Streets in San Pedro, and they are only partial lists of the groups they host and the ways they serve.

Many would miss those buildings if they were no longer religious gathering spaces, with all the attending benefits they provide San Pedro. They are places where, like medical buildings and gyms, bodies are fed and strengthened. But the uniqueness of their charters involves a commitment to the soul. Do we need communities that are committed to the soul? Does the soul matter? Every year at VBS time, we witness what we sing about at Christmas in “O’ Holy Night”: “The soul felt its worth.”

It is glorious to behold when a kid knows they are precious in His sight. Souls matter. spt

photo of san pedro today author Pastor Nathan Hoff

Pastor Nathan Hoff

Nathan Hoff is the Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in San Pedro. Follow his blog at trinitypastor.blogspot.com.

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