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1518: Greenhills Christian Fellowship, Pasig City, the Philippines
Greenhills Christian Fellowship, Pasig City, the Philippines
Mystery Worshipper: Pewpotato.
The church: Greenhills Christian Fellowship, Pasig City, the Philippines.
Denomination: They are affiliated with the Conservative Baptist Association and the Southern Baptist Convention.
The building: A modern, 10-storey building. An armed security guard meets visitors alighting from their cars and guides them into a big high-ceilinged lobby that looks like an atrium at a shopping mall. At the centre of the lobby is an information desk made of steel and wood, and mounted on the wall is a huge plasma TV that shows what's going on in the worship centre. The worship centre is on the third floor and one gets there either by elevator or three flights of escalators. The escalator ride is fun because it is close to the curtain glass windows with a full view of the street and the surrounding skyscrapers. The worship centre is a fan-shaped, 2100-seat auditorium. I have never seen a church with so many projection screens all throughout the auditorium. The sanctuary is huge but there's a really nice and discernible homely feeling to it. There are several more floors for Sunday school classes or child care on weekdays, a youth centre, a fitness centre, and a huge gym on the top floor. And before I forget, there's another worship centre with 1100 seats at the other wing of the building used for "smaller" gatherings.
The church: This church is quite popular in the Philippines. I was informed that the membership includes a number of business tycoons (no wonder there are armed guards all over) and many rich, upper and middle-class folk, as well as diplomats, politicians, educators, businessmen, development workers, missionaries, athletes and actors – foreigners as well as locals. There are 15 other Greenhills venues in the Metro Manila area.
The neighbourhood: Pasig City is one of the municipalities comprising Metro Manila. Greenhills sits at the very heart of Ortigas Centre, one of the fastest growing and most important commercial centres in the Philippines today – and a location not very many Philippine churches are able to afford! The immediate neighbourhood is posh. Skyscrapers, business and commercial complexes surround the church. A little beyond the buildings are the palatial homes of some of the wealthiest people in the country. I counted at least eight fashionable shopping malls within three square miles. Several blocks away is the Roman Catholic Shrine of Mary, Queen of Peace (known as the EDSA Shrine after its location on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue), a church capped by a giant bronze statue of the Virgin Mary and a symbol of the Filipinos' deep-seated Catholic culture.
The cast: The Revd Dr Luis Pantoja, Jr, senior pastor; a gentleman identified only as Pastor John (may have been the Revd Jonathan Las, pastor for Exalting Ministry); an all-women singing group known as 4Word; and an unnamed gentleman who led the call to worship, the giving, and the scripture reading.
The date & time: 30 December 2007, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Worship Celebration.

How full was the building?
It was bulging at the seams! All 2100 seats were occupied, and I saw several dozen more people standing at the back of the sanctuary. Both foreigners and locals. But I noticed that there were not very many internationals my age, mostly children and mid-aged parents.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I was. The armed guard wished me good morning. Then an usher shook my hand at the foot of the escalator. On top of the second flight, I was greeted again by an attractive Chinese lady who gave me a full-color, glossy worship guide. The male ushers wore the barong, the traditional Filipino national costume, and the women ushers wore black pants and blazers. I felt like I was attending an awards night.

Was your pew comfortable?
No pews. Cushioned chairs. But the chairs are made for Filipinos (too small for me), and they are attached to one another by some kind of a hook so they won't be disarranged. The problem with it is that they are too close to each other – the slightest movement causes one to brush up against one's seatmate.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was far from chaotic. There was a general sense of peace and dignity – obvious respect for the house of God. I noticed a Korean family enter, and as soon as they found their seats they all bowed and whispered a prayer together. An American family with children sat a few rows in front of me. They were talking, but in a reverential manner. The lighting and the soft piped-in music contributed to a very solemn atmosphere.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"On this beautiful morning of the last Sunday of 2007, I bid you welcome to Godís house to worship him with Godís people."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Songs were projected on the screens. Almost everyone brought their Bibles. There was also a full-color worship guide that included sermon notes.

What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, digital keyboards (Korg, I believe), two guitars, a bass guitar, saxophone and flute accompanied some of the nicest worship songs I've ever heard sung.

Did anything distract you?
The peaceful pre-service atmosphere was disrupted by the staccato click-clack of a lady's high heels on the hard surfaced floor. One of the women in the worship team was quite beautiful. She sang a solo, "Who can satisfy my soul like you?" and my jaw just dropped. There was a song in my heart for days thereafter!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was a very heartfelt and participative one. During pastoral prayer, the minister invited those with prayer concerns and thanks to stand and a pastor/elder/deacon prayed with each of those who stood. It was something powerful for me. Not silent, individual prayer, but a corporate faith. It was beautiful. The music was expressive contemporary. I say expressive because I've been to contemporary services that weren't expressive at all. People clapped their hands to the beat of the fast songs and raised them during the slower, more majestic ones. The music was just heavenly; the band was just pleasantly loud enough; the women's voices were angelic!

Greenhills Christian Fellowship, Pasig City, the Philippines

Exactly how long was the sermon?
40 minutes – but I honestly wished it was longer!

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – The senior pastor, Dr Pantoja, is well gifted in the area of preaching. It was not the informal talk or teaching type. It was really preaching! His intonation and diction were that of a well educated man, but his message was so down-to-earth and introspective that I came out of the service understanding what it means to make God central to my life all the time. My only complaint is the frequency with which he wiped his nose with a handkerchief, but perhaps he was suffering from a cold.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon focused on Joshua and how he always inquired of the Lord, and how this brought about great success. The times when Joshua and the people of Israel failed to seek the will of God resulted in failure. He also mentioned how we should memorialise the triumphs and even trials we face as testaments to the work of God in our lives.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The whole worship experience was just amazing. Seeing people from every tongue, tribe and nation raise their voices in praise was an awesome sight. I honestly felt like the words of Revelation 7 (the great multitude seated before the throne of God) were happening before my very eyes.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, seriously, the chairs! There might as well have been steel bleachers – at least there would have been more space for everyone!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the sermon Dr Pantoja personally welcomed the first time guests. Visitors were asked to stand (I chose not to) and the congregation applauded. It was their way of making the guests feel welcome. The guests were then led to a nicely decorated visitors centre for refreshments and question-and-answer.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The enticing aroma of coffee drifted from a social hall adjacent to the lobby, and so I followed my nose. But that's all there was – coffee! There was a full-service cafeteria near the patio but my palate has not yet adjusted to Filipino dishes – although I heard the food was good. I opted instead to visit the Burger King at a nearby mall.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – If I were to live longer in Metro Manila, I would definitely make this my home church. There are many opportunities of ministry for people there, plus of course the warm fellowship.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. More than ever.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"Who can satisfy my soul like you?"
 
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