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|2048: New Birth
Missionary Baptist, Lithonia, Georgia, USA
Missionary Baptist, Lithonia, Georgia, USA.
An enormous auditorium-style sanctuary with seating for 10,000.
Flags of many nations were on the walls. The seats surrounded
the stage in a semi-circle.
One of the largest churches in the United States, claiming
25,000 members. Their astoundingly wide range of offerings,
especially aimed at young professional singles, has earned
them the nickname "Club New Birth". They encourage
100 percent home ownership among their members, as well as
100 per cent freedom from debt. And they would like 100 per
cent of the membership to tithe. Oh yes, and they have their
own fitness center! New Birth Missionary Baptist is known
as a good place for young professional singles to find a mate.
Lithonia is a small town to the east of Atlanta and is a predominantly
African-American area. The town government has found itself
at the center of some rather interesting scandals. For example,
in 2006 it was discovered that the town's police
force had been patrolling for months in uninsured cruisers,
and that the mayor, embroiled in monetary troubles, had changed
all the locks on the town council chambers without giving
anyone new keys. The church campus itself sits on a 250-acre
parcel of land.
Bishop Eddie L. Long, senior pastor, gave the message. Elder
Darius Wise led the service. There was a worship leader but
I am not sure of his name. There was no program given out
and names were not projected on the screen. Elder
Bernice King (Martin Luther King's daughter) spoke the blessing
over the offering.
The date & time:
Sunday, September 26, 2010, 8.00 am.
What was the name of
How full was the building?
Almost full, about 8,000 people. This fact was helpfully supplied
by one of the elders on the stage: "I see about 8,000
Did anyone welcome you
Yes. There were ushers at the door to escort people to their
seats. Later in the service we were asked to hug the people
around us, which made us feel welcomed.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, very. The chairs were the kind you'd find in a movie
theater – very well padded with armrests.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Very noisy. Gospel music was already playing loudly and some
people were worshiping at the front of the altar. Others were
talking in their seats. The young man sitting next to me had
his head on his hand and admitted he had come straight from
a night on the town to the early service. Presumably he was
going home to sleep afterward – but maybe he should
have just gone straight home!
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"God is in the house!"
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
No hymnbooks were used. Song lyrics were projected on a large
screen. People used their own Bibles so I am sure many translations
What musical instruments
A full band – piano, guitars, drums. There was also
a large gospel choir, dressed in black and white outfits rather
Did anything distract
A lady in the balcony kept waving a large red hoop with long
tassels. A man stepped out into the aisle and did some kind
of interpretive dance to the music.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Lots of clapping and shouting and hand-waving. A very lively
atmosphere. Contemporary gospel music throughout. Unfortunately,
I did not know most of the songs and the lyrics were projected
only sporadically on the screen. But as things progressed,
it became clear that this service was more than just a usual
Sunday worship meeting (read on!).
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
8 Bishop Long came out accompanied by his wife, Elder
Vanessa Long (also known as the "First Lady"); they
held hands. Thunderous applause ensued. He gave his wife a
kiss before starting his sermon. As a speaker he was very
engaging but referred often to notes on his iPad.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
Bishop Long took as his text Psalm 34:19 ("A righteous
man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from
them all.") He spoke about handling painful and difficult
situations. We need to focus on reality, he said. No one is
exempt from trouble, but God is with us. Painful times only
make the joyful times seem that much more magnificent. Now,
this was an important Sunday for Bishop Long. He has four
lawsuits against him for allegedly coercing young men into
sexual relationships, and he had said he would give a statement
during the service. However, he only said a few words about
the matter, namely: "I've been accused. I'm under attack.
I want you to know, I am not a perfect man. But this thing
I'm gonna fight. And I want you to know one other thing. I
feel like David against Goliath, but I've got five rocks and
I haven't thrown one yet." And he left the stage with a flourish.
Which part of the service was
like being in heaven?
The gospel choir was amazing. There was a song with a chorus
of "Our God is greater, our God is stronger" that was sung
with so much conviction you could not help but believe it.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
The rap on the churches that preach what is called "the prosperity
gospel" is that you can sum up all their preaching as: "God
wants you to be healthy and wealthy." This was alive here.
Before the sermon, congregants read a prayer together from
a screen, to the effect that: "We rebuke the spirits
of debt, poverty, cancer, arthritis, insomnia, etc. and welcome
prosperity and wholeness." In fairness, though, we were
also asked to rebuke the spirit of envy, jealousy and other
things of that nature. And Elder Bernice King mentioned that
the "blessings of the tithe" may not always be financial
but could also be spiritual or emotional.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. The place was so busy that no one could tell if you
were lost or just waiting for a friend.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
I don't know if there was any. Nothing was announced.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
6 I don't completely like the style of worship and
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It is good to know God can be worshiped so many different
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The singing – and, of course, Bishop Long's "fighting
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