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1800: The Meeting House, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Meeting House, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Mystery Worshipper: Transformed.
The church: The Meeting House, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Denomination: Brethren in Christ of North America.
The building: They meet at nine different locations, but the main site is in Oakville, just west of Toronto. I attended the Yorkdale site, which is located at the Silver City Cinema at the Yorkdale Mall, a popular shopping venue and "hangout" place. The Silver City was the first cinema in Canada to be opened in a shopping mall. It is a multiplex, a complex of ten theatres, some of which are used for Sunday school and an after-church program called "Prayer and Care." The theatre in which the worship service was held is large and comfortable. I don't recall the decor, as the lights were dimmed as materials were projected onto the screens.
The church: They bill themselves as "a church for people who aren't into church" and have seen tremendous growth lately. The service in Oakville is sent via video link to the other locations. There is a live band and lead minister to open the service, but the rest is via video until the very end. They sponsor "home church" during the week, where small groups meet in people's homes to discuss the previous Sunday's teachings and to build fellowship. They also conduct "Kidmax," a ministry for children up to age 12, and "the Underground" for teenage youth.
The neighbourhood: When it opened in 1964, Yorkdale Mall was located at the edge of town, with nothing around except the highways that border it. Today the area is more built up, with housing tracts and an industrial complex nearby. But it is still a long trip from downtown Toronto, especially by public transit.
The cast: The Revd Dave Drinkwalter, lead pastor, conducted the service. Preaching via video link was the Revd Tim Day, senior pastor.
The date & time: August 23, 2009, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
No name was given.

How full was the building?
The theatre was mostly full. There were also many children who left for Sunday school after the opening.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I was confused about the location. There were no signs until you got into the theatre multiplex area, past all the food stands. I had to look around, and once in the theatre, I wasn't sure which auditorium the service took place in. I was never handed a programme.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very! Plush theatre seats with cup holders.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A praise band was rehearsing. The music was very loud, but the quality was excellent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
There was no clear beginning to the service. Someone said: "Let's stand and sing together," and so we did, but people kept streaming in for about 15 minutes.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Bible. The programme also had some sermon notes, but I wasn't handed one – I picked one up at the end of the service.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, vocalist.

Did anything distract you?
There was information and announcements projected onto the screen, including one to turn off cell phones and Blackberries. The man behind me kept putting his feet on the back of my seat, which was disgusting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Rocking. The music at the beginning of the service lasted 15 minutes, and we were asked to stand for the whole time. The theology was rather conservative. There was very little prayer, and what there was was led by the ministers. There was no time for personal prayer or silence. When the minister did pray, he seemed distracted, frequently flipping pages as he prayed.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
40 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – It was a little hard to connect to a sermon offered via video. The preacher was dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt and looked a bit rumpled, but comfortable. He spoke clearly in a conversational manner. He made jokes about the name of the city of Shittim.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The story of Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2:1-16). The point was that God is the only one who judges us and our intentions, even though we may want to categorize people.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was very good, but has a very limited audience. Grandma wouldn't enjoy it. The seats were comfortable, and the atmosphere was relaxed.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the beginning of the sermon, there was an introductory film with scenes of war. The images and sounds were very disturbing and loud. I was also uncomfortable with the connection the minister made between sin, unprotected sex, and AIDS. There are many ways people can get AIDS. I found him quite judgmental.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People just left after the service. I went to the mall.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None, but before the service there was coffee available in paper cups from the Tim Hortons coffee house chain.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – They're too big and impersonal and quite conservative in their theology. The home church program, however, probably does help people connect with others.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
So-so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Preaching that came by a video link.
 
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