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1102: Richmond Assembly of God, Melbourne, Australia
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Richmond Assembly of God, Melbourne, Australia
Mystery Worshipper: Adeodatus.
The church: Richmond Assembly of God, Melbourne, Australia.
Denomination: Assembly of God.
The building: A large auditorium with cafe, extensive bookshop, crying room, etc. Well padded, comfortable seats. There were two large screens so one could sing along with the music group on stage without needing a hymn book.
The church: This is a large Pentecostal church with a deep sense of mission. The congregation embraces a wide range of ages and ethnicities. I was handed the annual missions report and was impressed by the number of churches planted in Asia and Africa, missionaries sent and supported, orphanages built, etc. Obviously this is an energetic and focussed community.
The neighbourhood: Richmond is one of Melbourne's oldest suburbs, partly residential, partly commercial. Its residents were once almost entirely working class, but the area is graually becoming gentrified. One section is home to a considerable Vietnamese community.
The cast: Pastors David Doery and David Ratcliff. The guest speaker was David Wang.
What was the name of the service?
Mission Sunday.

How full was the building?
Practically full. I'm not great at estimating crowds but there must have been at least 1000 present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was handed the mission report and the church news at the door, without comment. Nobody actually spoke to me personally at any time. During the service we were asked to shake hands with the people around us. It was their idea of a peace ceremony, I suppose, though it wasn't called that.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfortable padded seats. No probs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived a few minutes early at the end of what seemed to be some sort of a warm-up. Not sure what was going on. Hardly quiet and reverential – lots of noise and exuberant chatter. A continual stream of folk coming in and looking for a seat.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
It was hard to be quite sure exactly when the service began. I think it was when a young man who I thought was the minister said, "Good morning. Nice to see you. Let's go!" The choir then launched into "Cover the earth with your glory." The young man turned out to be the lead singer, though not the choir director, as a woman was doing that. The minister then appeared.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books, although some people had their own Bibles. There were two large well-positioned screens that were used to display the words of the songs, promote coming events, and give a small presentation about the church's missionary work overseas.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, drums, and other typical praise band instruments.

Did anything distract you?
A man with a video camera sat on a platform in the middle of the congregation. As the speakers were projected onto the screens for the benefit of folk at the back and sides, I could see what he was there to do – but it was a distraction from the act of worship and I wished he wasn't there looming above us.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely not "stiff!" Lots of clapping, some arm waving, and the odd whoop. The young people on stage swayed to the beat, and a couple of the song leaders out front looked as if they were combining worship with an aerobic workout.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
28 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Like most Pentecostal preaching, it was peripatetic; David Wang traversed the stage from end to end with a clutched mike. He had an engaging, fluent style and used humour effectively. He was easy to listen to and didn't need notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
David was visiting from China, and gave an interesting and sometimes moving account of his missionary experiences there and in other parts of Asia. Referring to Matthew's great commission and Acts 1:8, he reminded us that we are all called to spread the gospel. I particularly liked his observation that from the time God searched for Adam and Eve hiding from him in the garden of Eden, until our own time, God has never stopped seeking us out, asking "Where are you?"

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being with such a large crowd of enthusiastic Christians, and the speaker's reference to God's continual search for us.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was taken aback by the fact that there was no communal confession of sin or pronouncement of forgiveness. This is despite the fact that we were invited to participate in a brief communion. I found this quite disturbing and wondered if perhaps my attention had wandered and I had missed something. I'd use the adjective "relentless" to describe this service – even while the elements were being handed around, the talk went on as if a time of silence would detract from the worship of God.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I found the crowd a bit overwhelming, so I made for the bookshop and browsed for awhile. A bit shy, I guess.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
At one side of the auditorium a tea and coffee bar had been set up. Fruit juices and other drinks were also available. People were helping themselves to refreshments both before and after the service. Had I taken some, no doubt I would have struck up a conversation with someone.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – It's not the sort of service I'd enjoy on a regular basis. I prefer quieter, more reflective worship. And I'm not enamoured of popular culture, so I could take only small doses of the kind of music offered by the praise band. I came away more appreciative of the theology of the hymns I'm more accustomed to singing.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. And I'm glad that so many young people and families who might not have darkened the doors of a traditional church have found a place here to worship that resonates with them.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The energy and enthusiasm.
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