Catch the Fire, Toronto (Exterior)

Catch the Fire, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Catch the Fire
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 October 2013, 10:30am

The building

Their building near Pearson International Airport is their principal and largest venue. I would guess it is of mid-1960s construction and may have served at one time as a warehouse. In addition to the large central auditorium there are a coffee shop, bookstore, and various meeting rooms. On one side of the auditorium there are a large number of flags from various nations hanging from the ceiling. On the other is a mural of Noah's ark complete with creatures. There is an enormous stage front and centre of the auditorium that has an intricate lighting system such as what you'd find in a professional theatre. The stage is flanked by two enormous screens on which words for worship songs, along with images of those at the front, were projected.

The church

Founded in 1987, they originally met in the home of the founding pastor's mother near the airport (hence their original name Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, which they changed in 2010 to reflect more accurately the many churches they have planted in Canada as well as internationally). Later they met in a school, and they acquired their present building in 1995. They call themselves a "global revival centre." Quoting from their website, their members "experience the fullness of God's love, the power of his Holy Spirit and his healing" in order to "equip you to receive everything he has for you" by means of "an ongoing program of schools, conferences, cell groups and much more." The revival movement that has come to be called the Toronto Blessing, characterised by ecstatic worship including falling in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, "holy laughter", shaking, crying, etc., was said to have had its start here in 1994. They are a member of the Partners in Harvest family of churches.

The neighborhood

They are located on Attwell Drive near Highways 401, 409 and 427, very near the airport. The area is strictly commercial; there is no residential housing nearby, although there are several hotels and a Seventh Day Adventist church.

The cast

Steve Long, senior leader, led the service. There were several guest speakers, including John Bootsma, airport lead campus pastor; Donna Holbrook, Canadian director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, a non-denominational faith ministry; Majed El Shafie, a human rights advocate and founder of One Free World International, a group that advocates for religious minorities globally; Martin Forget, a member of the Conservative Party of Canada; Aubrey Eisenberg, of B'nai Brith International, the well-known worldwide Jewish community service organization that is a leader in the fight against antisemitism and anti-Israel bias; DJ Schneeweiss, Consul General of Israel in Toronto; and Mark Adler, MP for York Centre.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Morning Worship: A Day of Prayer for Peace for Jerusalem. This is an event that was begun in 2004 by two Pentecostal evangelists and is celebrated around the world each year on a date in October to coincide with the Jewish high holy days.

How full was the building?

The large auditorium seats roughly 2000 people and it was about three-fifths full. I was seated about half way between the front and back of the auditorium, perhaps 60 metres from the stage.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. I was welcomed as I entered the auditorium by a lady with a beautiful smile. She asked if I was visiting and handed me a bulletin. Part way through the service we were asked to shake hands with a couple of neighbours. I did and discovered that the people seated directly in front of us had travelled from a community even farther away than the 48kms we had travelled to attend this church. But even more astonishingly, they told us that this is their home church and that they make the long trek on a weekly basis.

Was your pew comfortable?

We were seated on waiting room style chairs that, while they had no arms, had a little bit of extra cushioning in them. Unfortunately the little bit extra was not enough as the clock began to advance well into the second hour.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was very noisy. The rock worship band, which seemed to consist mostly of a very loud drum, was hammering away as we entered the auditorium. A young man was singing loudly over the microphone and people were talking to each other in anything but muted voices.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, one and all, and welcome to morning worship."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None. All worship songs were projected onto the two giant screens.

What musical instruments were played?

Guitars, bass, tambourine and drums were the instruments I could hear. I was not near enough the front to see if there were others. They were all played very loudly – loud enough that it was difficult to hear many people singing. Some just gave up and let the band "perform."

Did anything distract you?

While I thought the band very good indeed, and obviously enthusiastic about their work, the most distracting thing was the volume at which the music was played. It didn't leave a lot of room for corporate worship, as the worship team just seemed to take over the sound in the building. The twelve or so minutes that were allotted to the repetitive singing of each song was a little much for me as well. Another really distracting thing was the incessant chatter during the worship service. It was especially disturbing when some continued to talk with one another during prayer. Another horrible feature of the room was that there was a large, tall platform that housed the video and sound equipment; this occupied pretty much the middle of the auditorium. I could not understand why it was not much closer to the stage below eye level of the congregation.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The worship was in a rock style: the pieces included (by words of first line) "You are the everlasting God", "Christ cornerstone", "Forever I'll be for you", and "Up from the ashes." Although unfamiliar initially, they were all very pleasing and singable. However, after singing each at least 10 times they became a little too familiar. The Canadian National Anthem as well as the Israeli National Anthem were sung. The worship also included a dancer who swirled flags around as well as an artist who produced paintings on the stage while the singing was taking place.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

Collectively, over one hour.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 – The guests all spoke in turn, and all were excellent. Majed El Shafie's talk on human rights with regard to religious persecution was especially outstanding and was peppered with passion, compassion and great humour. The Israeli consul general also spoke very well.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The talks centred on Israel and the case for supporting Israel.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The talks by Majed El Shafie and DJ Schneeweiss were thoughtful and thought-provoking. The friendliness of those who spoke to us was wonderful as well.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The chatter that occurred during prayer time and the band drowning out other people's voices.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Mr Ronnie stopped off at the coffee bar, but I didn't. After two hours and thirteen minutes I'd had enough of sitting, I'm afraid. I left. I did notice, though, that they provided visitors with a gift package consisting of a book called Grace and Forgiveness written by the founding pastors, a booklet outlining services and groups of the church, and a card to fill in and turn into them should you desire further contact – all packaged in a pretty red bag. A nice touch, I thought.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Mr Ronnie, who loves a strong cup of coffee, thought this coffee awful. There were cookies for sale, but he didn't buy any.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – This service was, I expect, outside the norm. I don't know how likely these special guests are to return for other services. The volume of the band was overwhelming, and that would make me feel like not going much.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. The speakers were wonderful and it was fantastic to learn about more organisations that are fighting against persecution and hatred.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The wonderful talk of Majed El Shafie and learning more about his organisation, One Free World.

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