Mystery Worshipper: Wldflr
Church: Encounter Christian Centre
Location: Avondale, Auckland, New Zealand
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 September 2014, 10:00am
A converted warehouse. The building cannot be seen from the road and is down a long driveway. The exterior of the church is unremarkable save for the entrance door and sign thus denoting that it is in fact a church building.
They have what seems to be a flourishing children's and youth ministry. Their website lists such ministries as a community garden, food bank, community lunches, drop in centre, budgeting services and employment training, to name a few.
They are on Rosebank Road in the midst of one of West Auckland's larger industrial areas. Early on it was host to several seasonal camps for trappers hunting birds, and later became farmland for pigs particularly, and also for brickworks, which utilised the clay found in the area. Some 30 years ago I served my apprenticeship a few hundred meters up the road in what was then Australasia's largest furniture manufacturer. Rosebank Road still boasts hundreds of large and small businesses of all kinds. From the mid 1900s market gardens and manufacturing gradually increased until it became what it is today.
I did not get the name of the song leader, but Brent Douglas, pastor and senior leader, was the preacher. Patricia Douglas, the pastor's wife, made some announcements during the service as well.
What was the name of the service?Worship.
How full was the building?
I estimate that the building could seat 250 to 300 comfortably, and as best I could tell, there were 100 to 120 or so in attendance of all age ranges.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I was given a warm hello as I arrived. I discreetly found my way to a seat.
Was your pew comfortable?
Individual chairs locked together in long rows of 14 or so very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I pretty much arrived bang on time, so the general chatter didn't last long.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
They were the words of the first song, "You Are Good" by B Johnson and J Riddle. There was no initial welcome, just straight into the song.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Only personal Bibles were used during the sermon. Everything else was projected onto a screen.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, two electric guitars, a bass guitar, drums. There were the song leader and three singers besides.
Did anything distract you?
There was much to distract me. The fellow just in front of me, who was a bit of a Pentecostal shouter; the attractive auburn haired girl up front, who had a nice demeanour about her; and the strange Perspex "wall" that for some reason was around the drum set. Why this was there I can't imagine, except maybe the drummer was wont to hurl a drumstick from time to time.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I grew up Anglican and spent 13 years in the Pentecostal churches, so I have seen and am used to a vast diversity within the Lord's vineyard. This was typical of today's Pentecostal churches in that it was lively and open to expression from individual worshippers, some more expressive than others. The songs chosen were OK as far as they went. Overall, I did enjoy them and the worship experience they afforded (see below), especially the Lord's Prayer song by Marcus Meier. I also have to say that as song leaders go, the lady who led them was superb. And of course there were the usual shakers and quakers and those slain in the Spirit. Folks were prayed for and miraculous things appeared to happen: for example, a sore wrist and stiff back were healed. But I couldn't help notice that those who had arrived in wheelchairs and on crutches left after the service by the same means.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Pastor Douglas sports a glaringly obvious belly – a "beer belly", as it might be called in other circles. Aside from this distraction, he was moderately engaging and easy to listen to. He paced around the pulpit mostly and was not overly loud in his speaking. He is not an expositional speaker; rather, he seemed to superimpose what he wanted the text to say onto the plain words.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The pastor's text was John 8:2-12 ("Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.") He said that we all need a quiet place from time to time in order to "download" from God, and that the church should be a safe place to come to. He had a basket of smooth white stones, which, he said, represented judgementalism, criticism, hatred, religiousness and so on. He invited us to take these stones and cast them away from ourselves.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
During the song "Our Father" I did have a wonderful time of worship in singing unto the Lord. The musicians were excellent, I have to say, and the volume was just right so as not to overpower the experience.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There were a couple of things. First, the mind-numbing repetition of some of the songs. Many churches nowadays neglect good hymns and gospel music. Instead, they opt for a hodgepodge of one-liners, or scrappy little mementos pasted together and made into a song: what I call "milk for infants" (1 Corinthians 3:2). "Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness" (Hebrews 5:13). The second thing was the "healing time." It was stated that at the evening service the Holy Spirit was going to show up and move in an exponential way. I was left wondering how they knew this, and why he didn't show up at the morning service to heal the wheelchair bound.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service sort of ended, but was to carry on for those who wanted more of a touch from the Lord, so I quietly made my exit.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I do not know it there was coffee.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – If I were a Christian satisfied to feed on infant formula, sure, this church would be fine. However, I need a substantially more mature diet of diversity in song and sermon.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Brent's "beer belly."