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1557: New Hope, Visalia, California, USA
New Hope, Visalia, California
Mystery Worshipper: Jill of All Trades.
The church: New Hope, Visalia, California, USA.
Denomination: Non-denominational.
The building: Modern, sporting a huge sign that reads, "No Perfect People Allowed!" A modern interior as well, with chairs instead of pews and a pull-down screen.
The church: They sponsor a number of social and religious groups and seem very involved in the community, looking to bring people to God and to turn the face of the church outward.
The neighborhood: At first no more than a creekside settlement, Visalia is now a thriving city with over 118,000 inhabitants who take great pride in the city's small town feel and family-friendly atmosphere. The church sits on a fairly busy street in a mostly residential area.
The cast: The Revd Scott Pederson, lead pastor.
The date & time: April 20, 2008, 9.45am.

What was the name of the service?
Gathering.

How full was the building?
The church was only about half full when we entered, but was completely full when we left.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes! There was a welcome table at the entrance of the church and we received a welcoming bag with information and chocolate. Yumm! Everyone seemed very friendly and happy to have us there. The pastor came over to say hello as well.

Was your pew comfortable?
There were no pews, but padded chairs instead. Quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were chatting, but to tell you the truth it was hard to tell because the music playing was so loud.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Morning. Let's praise God together."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books available during the service.

What musical instruments were played?
A keyboard and two electric guitars.

Did anything distract you?
There was a technical malfunction of the sound system that caused just about everybody to jump out of their seats!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was very contemporary and energetic. Lots of raising hands in worship and even the occasional "Amen!" during the preaching.

New Hope, Visalia, California

Exactly how long was the sermon?
35 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The preacher was very down-to-earth and relaxed. He wore regular clothes and seemed very approachable. I don't usually take notes except when I'm Mystery Worshipping, but I found myself jotting down scriptural references and notes throughout the sermon, and probably would have done so even if I were there under other circumstances.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We need to stop going to church, and start being the church. We are the church, not the building we happen to meet in. We need to live our lives under the guidance of God. God is a God of favor, not of wrath.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon was excellent. It gave both my husband and me lots of fodder for discussion over breakfast.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I thought the music at the beginning was way too loud. It didn't exactly make one feel particularly reverential. And, of course, the microphone malfunction just about put my eardrums out (not something that could be helped, I know)!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We went into the coffee room but nobody spoke to us. A man nodded on his way out. But in all fairness, it seems that coffee hour takes place before the service, not so much after. The little coffee room was packed when we arrived at the church. There wasn't really much room for another soul.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was OK, but all that was left of a plate of cookies were some crumbs!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I felt pretty comfortable here. People were friendly and I liked the pastor a lot. The sermon was excellent and gave us a lot to think about. I'm thinking we'll probably go back. This is the first church I've been to in a while where I felt at home, and one where I could bring my family.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I'm always happy to be a Christian! But the service made me more aware of just what that entails. Christianity doesn't mean a lot if you don't share Christ with others.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I think my husband and I will probably still be talking about the sermon.
 
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