Ello me lads! ChurchMouse here, contending once again for the glorious Advent Message in the benighted lowlands of Northern California. It appears, from my recent visit to the fertile Napa Valley, that there is much work to be done in the settlement of Saint Helena and Deer Park. There is also some work to be done on the sidewalk, as I tripped and fell in front of Cindy’s Backstreet (or Backside) Kitchen, but at least I didn’t embarrass myself.
The St. Helena home of Ellen White sits virtually under the shadow of the Elmshaven church, separated by a mere 1600 feet in distance and 300 feet in elevation.
I am told that the pastor up there voluntarily resigned effective yesterday (August 31). Matthew Gamble became the pastor at Elmshaven SDA in July, 2012, and he was indeed a bit of a gamble.
One of the first things Gamble did at Elmshaven was change the name to The Haven (without much input from the congregation, I am told). The second thing was to make the Haven into a coolocracy in which the church was run by hipster star-bellied sneetches who tell you what is cool and what isn’t.
It was now cool to refer to God as “Homey, Homeboy”, or “Dude” on a regular basis. It was cool to scoff at the Investigative Judgment as a bygone relic of Museum Adventism. It was cool to import emergent church ideas and advertise for the One Project (where he was a speaker), and cool to turn the rock band loose on the church platform.
But the result wasn’t cool, as a significant portion of the congregation drifted away to other churches. Apparently these faithful members stubbornly believe that the Advent Message, and it’s associated warning to the world is still relevant. When Gamble came to Elmshaven, there were about 75 people attending church there. Within a year, the congregation had grown to 300. Success, right? Not so fast, friend. Within another year, 90% of the original 75 people had left, and these were tithe-paying pillars in the church, replaced by a mixed multitude of coolerati.
But the pinnacle of coolness, indeed an imposing tower of hipness, was the pulpit swap with a St. Helena Episcopalian Priest in 2014. Here is what happened, just prior to Gamble’s four-month drug rehab in Arizona for medical marijuana use (according to multiple sources including a pastor).
In 2014, without informing the Conference, Gamble opened the Elmshaven church pulpit to William “Father Mac” McIlmoyl, rector of the St. Helena Grace Episcopal Church. Father Mac was introduced to the Adventist congregation at Elmshaven by Gamble as “A mentor and someone I really admire.” The pulpit was now his.
“I’m going to preach on prayer. Since we are all aspiring mystics, I'm going to lead you in a spiritual exercise. Here’s how you get close to God. We’re going to do an exercise for 20-minutes."
“First, free your mind. Get rid of your thoughts. Close your eyes. Breathe in slowly, breathe out slowly. Pick one word. Keep repeating the word. In the monastery retreats I go to, we do this for hours—but now, we’ll do it for only twenty minutes. When your mind has purged all thought, that’s when God speaks. Keep repeating the word.”
The people in the Church were sitting there as if they were hypnotized, some of them beginning to lean over to one side. There’s a reason for that—they were being hypnotized.
After 20-minutes, Father Mac brought them out of this thoughtless state. People began to open their eyes. Still very much in control of the congregation, he spoke. “I admire you people for the way that you keep the Sabbath. It doesn’t matter which day you keep, though.”
Then the Mac blew the whistle on Gamble. “Before I came here, Matt told me not to mention contemplative prayer or spiritual formation, as I conduct this prayer exercise” he told the congregation. He laughed “So I won’t. What we just did was Centering prayer.” With that, the church séance (I mean service) was over. Not cool.
Some people who participated in this “centering” prayer were asked, “What was it like when you joined in this uhh…exercise? They replied “What exercise?” They had little to no memory of what they had just participated in. Chills. Warning bells.
One our illustrious staff members at Fulcrum7 spoke with Episcopalian Bishop Eric Menees, and related this story to him. His advice for Adventists? “This centering prayer is a distortion that leads people into finding the god within instead of simply coming before the throne of the real God. The Emerging Church Movement is on the slippery slope, and I advise your people to give it a wide berth!” It is strange credulity, when an Episcopalian Bishop gives a warning that the local leaders won’t give.
So what happened to the great multitude of 300 members? Today, the congregation has dwindled back down to 75-80 (almost full-circle). The rest left in search of more cool. And that’s not cool. Automatically dismissing biblical tradition and latching onto whatever is new isn’t cool at all. It’s political correctness and, like cool, it exists separate from the notions of good and evil.
This leaves the Northern California Conference leadership with an unprecedented opportunity. They can seek a replacement pastor who believes in the Adventist Message. They can honor this historic Adventist church community by upholding the distinctions of God between good and evil. Or they can toss another five years in the pop-liberal dustbin in a desperate search for ‘relevance.’
If you care about the future of this iconic church in the Napa Valley, you can do two things:
- Pray for revival and reformation in your own heart and in your community
- Encourage your NCC leaders to make a wholesome choice in the next pastor of Elmshaven Church. Should you desire to encourage the NCC leaders, their contact information is:
- Jim Pedersen, President
- Ed Fargusson, Assistant to president
- Jim Lorenz, Ministerial Director
Encourage them, voice your concerns, let them know you are praying for them, and hold them accountable to the Word of God. And always speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
I shall now head back to (much cooler) southern England and get away from all these grapes.