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||1515: Word of Life, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Mystery Worshipper: The Emirati Auntie.
The church: Word of Life, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
Denomination: Interdenominational with Baptist background.
The building: Word of Life meets in a partitioned-off corner of the
ballroom at the Holiday
International Hotel, a tall concrete monolith near Sharjah lagoon. One
of the walls in the ballroom consisted of slightly tired looking Muraspec
panelling, the other was of beige plaster heavily decorated with gold plaster
reliefs. The chandeliers were large, and gold, as were the lighting sconces
along the walls. The carpet, in my humble western opinion, was hideous.
The church: Friday is a holy day here as in other Muslim countries,
and for many people the only day off in the working week. And so Christian
churches often meet on Fridays too, either instead of or in addition to
The neighbourhood: Sharjah is the second largest of the seven emirates
that make up the United Arab Emirates. It has roughly a 20km coastline on
the Arabian Gulf as well as several enclaves on the Gulf of Oman. Being
the only emirate with ports on both coasts, much shipping trade goes through
here. Sharjah prides itself on being the cultural centre of the UAE and
is noted for its many museums and examples of traditional architecture.
The area around the Khalid lagoon has undergone significant improvement
in the last ten years and is now a visual and social focal point for the
The cast: Worship was led by a gentleman known only as Peter. Other
gentlemen named Frank and Marco led the prayers and gave the address, respectively.
The date & time: Friday, 11 January 2008, 11.15am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were 84 chairs laid out, and I guess around 25-30 persons, so less
than half full, though I suspect the chairs were laid out to fill the hired
room, rather than to accommodate an expected number of worshippers.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I got a "good morning" on arrival. Tea, coffee and water had been set
out at the back of the room, and I was invited to take some refreshment.
Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs were standard hotel banqueting chairs, covered in white damask. At the end of the sermon I was quite relieved to stand up to sing!
How would you describe the pre-service
Pre-service was a quietish buzz as people moved around and spoke to one
another, but always reverentially. It did seem to fill up seconds before
the 11.15 advertised start time, so the actual opening of the service was
delayed about five minutes.
What were the exact opening words of the
"OK, let's start. We're running late and we'll pray."
What books did the congregation use during the
Songs were on old-fashioned transparencies laid on an overhead projector,
though the speaker used an LCD projector with PowerPoint during the sermon.
Both the prayer leader and preacher used handheld devices for their scripture
references. Some of the congregation had brought Bibles with them.
What musical instruments were played?
Guitar, played by the worship leader, Peter, who also sang.
Did anything distract you?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and one man's meat is
another man's poison. But anyone exposed to the the Holiday International
ballroom would have to check into a clinic for a dose of decor antivenom!
I guess the upside of the decor was that it did make you want to concentrate
fully on the speaker rather than the walls, floor or ceiling. The children
met outside and played or watched videos, and sometimes this could be heard,
but not too much. About halfway through the service, a small boy (who, as
it turned out, was Peter's son) walked into the room and asked quite loudly,
"Is church nearly finished now?"
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
The worship was simple and slightly upbeat. There was lots of music but
no clapping. The worship leader was a strong singer and played the guitar
well. Congregational participation lagged now and then – for example, one
of the songs (which was unfamiliar to me and I suspect to others) was supposed
to be echoed, and Peter said, "Let's try that again. It does say 'echo'
Exactly how long was the sermon?
62 minutes, including the closing prayer.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 The speaker, Marco, mentioned that he was quite used to addressing
business and governmental groups but always felt nervous when speaking in
church. But he made good use of visual aids and his presentation was smooth
and quite positive, so if he was nervous he didn't show it!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
It is important to maintain a relationship with Christ, keeping God at the
centre of your life in order to receive God's riches and to experience life
to the fullest. Doing for God comes from being with God, not the other way
round. Think of the classic video game Pac Man. If the "wedge"
of God is removed from your life pattern (i.e. Pac Man's mouth) you might
be hungry, but you'll never be filled up by eating the dots. There will
always be more levels of more dots!
Which part of the service was like being in
There was nothing that would quite rise to being heavenly, although I enjoyed
the worship and Marco's address.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The prayer leader's frustration at the apparent lack of interest in praying
aloud. And, of course, that ghastly decor!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't get the chance to look lost! The speaker introduced himself promptly
and we had a nice chat about his work. Other people were also very welcoming
and I even received a handmade invitation to a "Queen Esther party" someone
was holding after church next week.
How would you describe the after-service
The refreshments were catered by the hotel and so were served on proper
china plates with cups and saucers. I'm not a tea or coffee drinker, but
these seemed popular enough. There was water served in proper glasses, but
by the end of the service the water was a little warm to my taste. There
were also plates of mini butter cookies and some fruit cake, both of which
were very tasty!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 Being a resident of Dubai, my regular church is in my home emirate;
but if I were to live in Sharjah, I am sure I could make this my spiritual
home. My home church starts the Friday service at 9.00am, and as I like
spending Thursday nights out and about, I could easily accommodate myself
to an 11.15 service.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. The service was uplifting yet challenging, without being uncomfortable
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Probably Pac Man syndrome.
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