In the words of associate minister Claudia Highbaugh, Sunday's service at the First Christian Church in Orange was truly inspirational.
"Here we are in Orange County, the bastion of what some would call conservatism, and you have a black woman minister preaching after a Soviet Baptist minister. . . . This morning we celebrate the unity of faith."
It was, indeed, an unusual Sunday gathering, with more than 300 people turning out to hear and see the Rev. Anatoly Sokolov, the pastor of a Baptist church in a Moscow suburb.
Sponsored by the First Christian Church, the Interfaith Peace Ministry of Orange County and the Society for Cultural Relations between the Soviet Union and the United States, Sokolov's visit was billed as part of effort to build good will between the two countries. Dressed in a gray suit, white shirt and red tie, Sokolov, 41, used humor and biblical teachings to preach his message of peace and understanding.
"My heart is full of peace for our unity and for peace in the world," he said. "It is important in these dangerous times that peace will last on earth. We pray to you to make it possible."
After conducting a silent meditation and leading the worshipers in prayer, Sokolov told the hushed congregation: "I was flying more than 20 hours to come to your country to proclaim the Gospel and pray together with you." Apologizing for his imperfect and heavily accented English, Sokolov added with a smile: "It is worth to fly so much.
"Our two great countries have so many barriers--the hours, the water, the language--but when I come personally to your church, I feel really at home."
Sokolov, who is also the director of the All Union Council of the Evangelical Christians/Baptists of the Soviet Union, said Christians from both countries should see themselves as "ambassadors of Christ."
"At a time when the world situation is unfortunately more and more dangerous, we as ambassadors of Christ must go to the people as peacemakers," he said. "Our two great nations have unfortunately not good relations now. As peacemakers we have a responsibility to make them closer, establishing bridges of love, prayer and peace."
After the service, one of the congregation's members, Terry Donahue, said she enjoyed Sokolov's message.
"We are all really the same with one goal--peace," she said.
Bea Foster, a member of the Anaheim Unitarian Church, said: "I came just to see how a more deeply religious congregation handled a Russian. I was very impressed. I'm so pleased that he came and that the congregation was so respectful and willing to listen."