|233: The Wharfedale Vineyard, Leeds, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: John Wimber.
The church: The Wharfedale Vineyard, Leeds, England.
The building: The church meets in the David Lloyd Leisure Club, which has large, postmodern wavy roof segments echoing the new Sainsburys supermarket opposite (not quite as big as Sydney opera house). An outdoor swimming pool and tennis courts are set amongst contrived landscaping hillocks densely planted with planning-permission trees.
The neighbourhood: Exceptionally expensive cars in the car park. Strangely, for such an exclusive leisure club, it is in juxtaposition to several estates of council houses.
The cast: David and Alison Flowers.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The conference room was fairly full, about 60 adults and 50 children (mostly 5-11years old).
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A lady in her late 30s said, "It's a disaster: the coffee, doughnuts and newspapers haven't arrived yet." (Newspapers!) She walked in with us and made sure we eventually did get coffee, and stayed chatting for a short while.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a cushioned hotel conference room chair pretty comfortable, really.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly convention, actually. People were sitting around large circular tables drinking coffee or soft drinks, eating doughnuts and reading the Sunday papers. There was a genuine welcome from some people as they wandered round chatting. Some children watching The Simpsons on television in one corner and others playing on a bouncy castle on the patio.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
There weren't any opening words, really. Suddenly all the children were at the front doing some line dancing (not to Christian music). Some of the adults continued chatting or reading their papers while the children had their bit.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Sunday Observer, Telegraph on Sunday, Mail on Sunday and a printed sheet with the words of the songs on it.
What musical instruments were played?
Guitar and digital piano.
Did anything distract you?
The atmosphere was extremely casual and relaxed, with everyone behaving naturally like in a large family party. At two years, my daughter did not even find all the activities that were available for her, because there was so much to do: face-paints, making heads with grass for hair, ride-on toys, duplo railway, colouring...
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was more like background music in a cafe: it just happened, and there was no one telling us to join in. Some did, some didn't, and everyone seemed comfortable. It wasn't the intense compulsory worship experience I expected to find in a Vineyard church. All the songs were extremely competent cover versions of recent Vineyard worship CDs. The lead singer sang expressively as you would expect a professional to sing.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Was there one?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
I left thinking I want to know more about this friendly crowd of people and because there had been no real preaching, I felt I wanted to go to the Saturday night church two weeks later to get something more. How long has it been since I left a church service wanting more?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The children's entertainer was interviewed and explained why he followed Jesus. Another couple was asked why they came to this church.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The relaxation. Definitely an event for all the family, and not in the least bit childish or patronising to adults.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The person who invited us did not mention in the email that there was lunch (everyone brought something to share, which they do every week) and then more activities in the afternoon. We felt we missed out.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Our dinner was in the oven, so we didn't stay after.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fresh coffee was available throughout the time in proper cups and saucers. Also two kinds of fruit juice and separate drinks for the children. And a stall with free sweets, carrots and healthy snacks that the children helped themselves to.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10. We probably will.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. This is the only church I can ever remember thinking that my work colleagues and their children would really enjoy.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Doing play-dough with my daughter while listening to the musicians playing songs from our Christmas-present worship CDs in the other room and thinking, "This is what I do at home. This is not so much of an alien sub-culture like most churches I've been to. It is transferable to everyday life."