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The sun sets on Pixar Pier at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim.
Insight
Photo by Erik Tryggestad

A real thrill ride: Visiting a church on vacation

California congregation is a "city on a hill" — and just a short walk from Disneyland.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Walking up to the Ball Road Church of Christ was nearly as nerve-wracking as waiting in line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

But I had conquered my fear of the train-themed roller coaster — and even enjoyed it; we did it three times — so maybe this experience would be a good one, too.

English- and Spanish-speaking congregations meet on Ball Road in Anaheim.

English- and Spanish-speaking congregations meet on Ball Road in Anaheim.

The small congregation was only a short walk from our hotel. It took us half as long to reach the church building as it took us to walk to Disneyland and California Adventure, where we’d spent the past four days.

Still, I had considered just playing it safe and watching our home congregation’s Sunday service online in our hotel room. I mean, what would Bible class be like here? Would there even be a place for my girls?

My parents were big believers in attending every Sunday, even while on vacation, so I guess my upbringing won out. I wasn’t even sure what time church started, so I got up early to scout out the location. One of the members, Al Wiles, was unlocking the gate. He said we’d be more than welcome.

Church members gather in the foyer of the Ball Road Church of Christ.

Church members gather in the foyer of the Ball Road Church of Christ.

He wasn’t kidding. As soon as we stepped inside church members greeted us warmly and showed our daughters to their classes. They led me and my wife to a coffee pot and doughnuts. There were back issues of The Christian Chronicle on a table in the foyer. Yeah, I was home.

Richard Shields taught the adult Bible class, and I can honestly say it was one of the best Bible classes I’ve attended. “The Beginning and the End: God’s Eternal Purpose for Creation” was the not-at-all-ambitious title of the series, and the lesson focused on the way Jesus fulfilled the covenants of the Old Testament.

Richard Shields teaches Sunday morning Bible class.

Richard Shields teaches Sunday morning Bible class.

Brother Shields showed how Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1 and 2 relates to two such covenants. In Mary’s song from Luke 1, “the coming of Jesus is immediately connected to the promise made to Abraham,” Shields said.

He was extremely well prepared. I took furious notes.

John Couch piles props onto his podium to demonstrate advances in technology (all of the equipment now fits on a cell phone) as he begins his Sunday sermon.

John Couch piles props onto his podium to demonstrate advances in technology (all of the equipment now fits on a cell phone) as he begins his Sunday sermon.

During worship, minister John Couch preached on John the Baptist and brought up some points I never had considered. He compared John’s work, including the baptisms he performed, to surfing. You have to start paddling before the big wave arrives.

As John the Baptist said in Luke 3, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I … will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

The big wave is coming, so start paddling! I can’t think of a more California way to put it.

Churches often hesitate to discuss the political issues of the day, including the Supreme Court’s recent overturn of Roe v. Wade. In September brother Couch is launching a monthly series titled “You’re Not Supposed to Talk About That.” Subjects include premarital sex, abortion, homosexuality and transgender issues.

During our visit, I learned that this is a combined congregation. Most of the folks we met are members of the Newland Street Church of Christ, which sold its facility a couple of years ago and began worshiping with the smaller Ball Road congregation as the Newland members looked for a new meeting place.

Al Wiles and Dale Moreland welcome visitors to the Ball Road church.

Al Wiles and Dale Moreland welcome visitors to the Ball Road church.

Then the pandemic hit and everything was put on hold. So, they’re still at Ball Road, sharing the facility with a Spanish-speaking Iglesia de Cristo. On Sunday night the church planned to gather with their Hispanic brethren for a cookout.

One longtime Newland member told me that there are five Churches of Christ in northern Orange County with combined assets of $25 million. That’s more than enough to build a “city on a hill” for all of Anaheim to see, he said, but building consensus can be tougher than building a meeting place.

1590 W Ball Rd, Anaheim, CA 92802, USA

Selfishly, I hope they stay on Ball Road. For us, they were the Disneyland Church of Christ — a warm and welcoming home away from home. They provided us with a spiritual thrill far beyond anything we experienced while sailing with the Pirates of the Caribbean, racing in Radiator Springs, slinging webs with Spider-Man or flying the Millennium Falcon.

And we didn’t even have to wait in line. You can’t say that for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad!

The sun sets on Pixar Pier at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim.

The sun sets on Pixar Pier at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim.

ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.

Filed under: Ball Road Church of Christ church and politics Churches of Christ in California Disneyland Insight National Newland Street Church of Christ Opinion Top Stories Tourist town churches travel

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