Mystery Worshipper: Tickle Me Elmo
Church: Oasis Family Church
Location: Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Date of visit: Sunday, 3 September 2017, 9:00am
From the outside, a modern (not ultra) rectangular brick building with adjoining play school. Inside is auditorium-style, rather plain, with chairs arranged in rows in front of a raised platform with musical instruments.
As their name implies, and as was evident from their activities, they are a family focused church. Quoting from their website: "We want the children of Oasis to love and worship Jesus freely and ... go out into the world and make a difference." They have "Life Groups," which, again quoting from their website, "meet together once a week to discover Jesus for themselves ... [following] an open conversation, self-discovery format." They have two Sunday services, morning and evening.
Port Elizabeth, about 500 miles east of Cape Town, is the southernmost large city on the African continent. It is one of South Africa's largest cities and a major seaport. Port Elizabeth is home to South Africa's automobile industry, with General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen and Continental Tyres having major facilities here, as well as other automobile-related manufacturing plants. The city gained notoriety in 1977 as being the site where anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko was interrogated and tortured. Oasis Family Church is located in the Charlo neighbourhood, known for its greenery, large gardens, and easy access to the beach as well as to the airport. The church is across the road from the Italian Club.
Kurt Sutton, senior pastor.
What was the name of the service?Morning Service, although no official name was posted anywhere.
How full was the building?
About 70 per cent, more or less.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The greeter at the door offered a "greeter's duty" greeting possibly he was having a bad day. After we were seated, a gentleman named Cecil approached us and asked us if we were new. It was refreshing to have someone chat to a new person and do more than the "polite" greeting and then run away. Cecil also brought us visitor cards and info.
Was your pew comfortable?
A range of seats, from your average stackable plastic seats to more comfortable cinema seats. However, the cinema seats are not bolted to the ground, so a heavier person leaning back could take the whole row of seats over!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People chatted to the people they knew. Sadly, people in general do not speak to new people here and remain in theirs cliques. We spoke with a lady in front of us who said that she was also new, and that no one had welcomed her or spoken to her she felt that she had fallen through the cracks.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"One, two, one, two" [testing the microphone]. "Morning, morning, morning, morning. Can you all wave at me? Good to see you."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Words were projected on screen as required during the service.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, drums (acoustic and electric). Overall, the sound quality was a fairly good mix, with the volume not ear destroying, and with even levels across the frequency band.
Did anything distract you?
During one of the quieter parts of the worship, some thoughtless person saw fit to blow on a shofar horn. It sounded louder than acoustical feedback and made everyone (well, me, at least) nearly have a heart attack! There is a time and place. It did not add anything to the service or to the global worship.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed. People worshipped in the way they felt comfortable with: some with arms raised half way, others full wing in the air hands up, and others in between. No pressure from the front to do things any particular way, as is seen in some churches. It seemed to be a more honest, authentic worship session. On the whole it was pretty refreshing, with the worship team worshipping and not performing. It was also nice to know most of the songs and to see that the worship team had not fallen into the trap of playing "worship top 40" to try to fake being hip and cool.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
45 minutes, more or less my timer did not play the game with us this morning.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – I don't often rate sermons highly, but Kurt Sutton's preaching was honest. He did not hide from his mistakes of the past and was not afraid to admit current ones.
He was easy to follow, and one did not need a theological thesaurus to decode his remarks. Some may take offence at some of his language, but he seemed secure in who he is is.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His message was about rejection: its effects and how it presents in everyday life. Problems, once identified, have solutions.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The worship: honest, intimate, connected and real.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That shofar horn. I almost needed a change of underwear! Speaking of which the door to the toilet was located about three metres to the left of the stage. So as people got up to use the facilities, everyone knew where they were going, and when they returned it was like making a grand entrance on stage!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A big hoo-ha was made about being sure that new people get a cappuccino after the service. But when the service ended those who had said that were nowhere to be seen. We moved outside to where everyone was gathered. We stood there. Everyone was in their clique talking. No one even acknowledged our existence. We decided to leave. What would it take to make everyone break out of their cliques and include new people not out of duty, but because they actually care about the new people?
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I wouldn't know we were not offered any although it did seem to be available. Hot dogs were also offered for sale.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I liked the authentic feel to the worship, and the sermon was an honest presentation, not piously religious. But they have to work on their welcoming of newcomers.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?