|33: The Vineyard, Anaheim, California|
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Mystery Worshipper: Wholly Fool.
The church: The Vineyard, Anaheim, California.
Denomination: Association of Vineyard Churches, which began as a movement in the early 1980s, led by the charismatic John Wimber.
The building: The Anaheim Vineyard started life as the Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda in the late 1970s, a small group of 15 people which was the vision of John and Carol Wimber. The group joined the growing Vineyard movement in 1982 and by the time they moved to Anaheim the following year they numbered 2,000 people. The church is in an industrial complex, the ultimate postmodern worship site.
The neighbourhood: A Mercedes and BMW dealership are directly across the street.
The cast: Carl Tuttle.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Evening Service.
How full was the building?
The service was not held in the main sanctuary due to construction work. The room we were in was rather full, with about 200-250 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, we came late.
Was your pew comfortable?
The room contained chairs in three sections surrounding a makeshift platform. They were comfortable, with plenty of padding to break the falls of anyone who became enraptured by the Spirit during worship time.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Great anticipation filled the room. Just to give some context, the service I attended occurred just after the first few barkings of what would become known as the Toronto Blessing. The Toronto church at that time was still under the direction of John Wimber and the Vineyard. Needless to say, there were folks there who expected God to move, and were determined to make something happen, whether God was in on it or not.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
It's too long ago to remember.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a worship chorus book on every seat.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, guitar, drums.
Did anything distract you?
During Pentecostal-type worship, it is hard not to get distracted. This meeting was particularly frenetic and very far removed from what I am comfortable with. There were lots of shrieks and 'holy jerking'.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Since praise and worship is the gateway for spiritual manifestations to begin, the atmosphere was electric. The singing was loud and boisterous with hands raised, and many of the participants were dancing in the aisles.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes a short homily. The sermon was not the focal point. The worship time, both before and after the sermon, was the most important thing.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sincerity of the participants was admirable. Most were earnest seekers of the Spirit of God who really believed that through acts of asceticism, faith and vibrant worship they would gain God's attention and that he would give them a warm, fuzzy congregational squeeze. There was no guile in this place.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The fellow who brought me was a rather aggressive Pentecostalist who beckoned me towards the front in order to pray for me. He began to pray by waving his hands in front of my face without ever touching me. Others surrounded me and began doing the same thing. These calisthenics, as I have gleaned, are learned behavior from watching other evangelists, such as Aimee Semple McPherson, Kathryn Kuhlman, Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn. Ideally, they want to see you fall back or do something really outrageous, believing that anything outrageous must be from God. I was open to something happening, but nothing did. They finished their gesticulatory gnostic dance, gave me a look of disappointment, and ventured to another victim... er... person.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Since the prayer time extended almost two hours after the final benediction, I talked with some of the others milling about. I waited patiently, observing the various signs of manifestational glory.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0. Since 1995, the Vineyard has split with the Toronto Airport church, John Wimber has died of cancer, and the head pastor (who preached the night I visited) has stepped down due to personal problems. The entire denomination is in a tremendous state of flux.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The jury is still out. I admire the Pentecostal fervor and vibrancy, but some of its fringes are complete and utter nonsense, based on a poor hermeneutic and absolutely no historical consciousness.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
During the worship time at the end of the meeting, one fellow who ventured forward started to scream at the top of his lungs. Over and over he bellowed: 'Stop playing church! Stop playing church! Stop playing church!' as if to suggest that those assembled should turn from their rank hypocrisy and start being real Christians. I watched him with some alarm as he kept this up for a good five minutes, his face turning a bright red color in the process.