|1159: Canberra Christian Life Centre, Canberra, Australia|
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| Mystery Worshipper: The Assiduous Surveyors.
The church: Canberra Christian Life Centre, Canberra, Australia.
Denomination: Assemblies of God.
The building: Five years ago this congregation took out a lease on an old school and now meets in what used to be the gym. The building's exterior is rather drab, but the inside looks much more inviting. Black walls contrast with a white stage, behind which hangs a high white curtain. I learned later that the curtain was fashioned out of the same material that bras are made of, by a woman who lives in a town called Wagga Wagga.
The church: The church was founded in 1964 and has planted churches in various areas of the Australian Capital Territory. Three Sunday morning worship services and an evening service are held each week. The church also sponsors many community programs such as crisis care, counseling, nurturing, and craft groups.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in Charnwood, a somewhat socially depressed suburb of Canberra, Australia's capital. Charnwood was designed on the Radburn Plan, named after a "motor age" town in New Jersey, USA, laid out in such a way that no pedestrian path crosses a major road at grade level. The church itself sits within a small shopping area on the edge of the neighbourhood.
The cast: Pastor Sean Stanton, some person called James, the worship team and miscellaneous others.
What was the name of the service?
5.30pm evening service.
How full was the building?
Out of about 260 seats, slightly fewer than 200 were occupied.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but that was our own fault, as we arrived 10 minutes late due to a miscalculation of traveling time.
Was your pew comfortable?
I'll say it was! Slightly overstuffed, nice and wide with a nice high back. It was the pew of the future (and what a luxurious future it will be!).
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As we arrived late we missed this, but we would imagine that the congregation looks forward to sitting on those slightly overstuffed pews.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
We wandered in toward the end of the announcements. The first words that caught our attention were: "Now would you please turn off your phones or place them in silent mode."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everything was projected onto screens on either side of the stage. Some people, including us, had brought along their Bibles.
What musical instruments were played?
There was a drum kit behind a clear perspex shield, along with a bass guitar, electric and acoustic guitars, and an electric violin. These were augmented by five singers as well as the pastor, who vocally joined in on occasion.
Did anything distract you?
The only distraction was the young guitarist. Everyone looked happy to be there except for this lad, who had slung his guitar low on his knees and who looked completely bored. Maybe he was just being intense.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy clappy. There was even a short speech on the benefits of raising hands in worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Difficult to say because it was hard to know when it actually ended. After 26 minutes Pastor Sean started his "final point." Three minutes later, he invited the band to play as he continued speaking. Three minutes after that, he started the response part of his talk. Exactly 41 minutes after the sermon began, he gave his closing prophecy. And then two minutes later, the final song was sung.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 The talk was involved and interesting but it lacked structure. It was difficult to follow the actual content. We weren't sure we had come away with the same understanding the pastor seemed to want us to have.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
After kicking off with the phrase "Are you ready for the Word?" he encouraged us to stay firm in the faith while we face life's struggles.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Probably the service as a whole, I'd say. It was joyous and enjoyable to be a part of, especially when the congregation got into full voice. This is a congregation not afraid to belt out a tune.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
In each song there were interludes of humming and mumbling of various praisy phrases. For those of us not in the know, all we could do was stand about uncomfortably and fidget until the singing started again.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't get a chance to hang around or look lost! Within seconds of the service finishing, we were approached by people who greeted us. It seemed, however, that they were more interested in whether we enjoyed the service than they were in getting to know us.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We didn't sample any, as you had to pay for it! There was a trolley offering a particular franchise's coffee along with snacks. I'm sure the coffee was adequate as far as coffee goes.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 While it was overall very good, it just felt a bit impersonal, like being carried along by an enjoyable tide. I would need to go more often to be sure.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. There was an overall sense of happiness, with everyone wanting to be there.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The slightly overstuffed pews! These were exceedingly good!