Mystery Worshipper: JamesP
Church: Fusion Theater
Location: Lowell, Massachusetts, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 July 2016, 10:30am
They meet in a building formerly belonging to St Jeanne d' Arc Roman Catholic Parish, which was closed in 2004. It looks more like a school than a church, though, of nondescript concrete and granite on the outside. But the inside (or at least the theater/ sanctuary we saw) has been extensively renovated and is quite lovely spacious, airy, with beautiful original crown moldings and modern but exquisite chandeliers. No stained glass, though, as that was sadly ripped out by its former owners when they departed.
What is clear is that the church is more of a community than many others whose roots are deeper. My understanding is that the goal is to develop a fully functioning arts and community space over the coming years. There is a particular arts oriented focus on outreach to disadvantaged youth and those recently coming out of prison. They have a food pantry and job training programs. There are pot lucks, movie nights, yard sales and other social activities as well as a variety of worship events. They offer their facilities to local community organizations.
Lowell is a city in northeastern Massachusetts. Founded in 1820 as a planned textile manufacturing center, it is regarded as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. In the good old days from the mid 1850s to the mid 1920s, Lowell was a boom town that attracted many French Canadians and Irish immigrants. But after the good old days were over, the city fell into long term decline despite a short-lived resurgence of the old textile mills during World War II for making parachutes. Poverty, crime and drugs were rampant as the 20th century waned, but Lowell has worked hard since the 1970s to try to bounce back. Recent years have seen many of the old mill buildings renovated and a flood of technology and creative professionals moving into them. As a result, today there are good music festivals, museums, art galleries and the all-important upscale coffee shops. Even so, Lowell remains a divided city: yuppies in the city center, but huge swathes of poverty and suffering elsewhere.
Pastor Jake Scott, worship pastor Acacia Mayo.
What was the name of the service?Worship Gathering.
How full was the building?
When we arrived about five minutes before the service started, there was only a handful of folk in a big room - no room to hide. But as the service started, people began slowly to drift in till there were around 40 in attendance.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We had an extraordinary welcome (not the only extraordinary event of the morning). As we parked our car, we noticed a young boy of no more than seven or eight sitting alone on a wall outside the church. He approached us, asked us our names, welcomed us individually to Fusion, and led the way (including opening doors for us) to the sanctuary.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, both spacious and cushioned.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly and relaxed.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to Fusion."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
A digital keyboard, electric guitar, bass guitar, and two vocalists of quite extraordinary ability. The music appeared to be played in minor keys with sparse notation. As followers of electronic music might say, it was "ambient and soulful" and quite unlike any music I have ever heard in a church before. Absolutely lovely.
Did anything distract you?
No. In fact I, was mesmerized from start to finish, and as I have the concentration span of a goldfish, that is quite a bold statement.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I suppose it was happy clappy, but the laid back nature of the music made it much more meditative than I expected. That being said, there was almost no formality or noticeable structure to the service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I would like to have scored Pastor Jake higher, but the sermon was a little long and at times he seemed a little nervous and unsure of himself, peppering in a few self-deprecating jokes. Nevertheless, he was a good, energetic and enthusiastic preacher, and I only checked my watch to time the length of the sermon. Along the route, the sermon took a number of detours down one or two rabbit holes. It also had some memorable lines, my favorite being "Boom! You have been knowledge bombed!" The points he was trying to make were well made and deftly taught. It was an odd mix of clearly well researched biblical scholarship delivered in a "I'm just a regular guy from Lowell" style. All in all, I found it quite endearing.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was an exploration of Matthew 28 (the resurrected Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission), in particular the doubt amongst the disciples and the need to connect with others who are seeking peace in their lives. Doubt is the modus operandi of the human heart, and it is normal and natural to doubt God at times. After all, if the disciples had doubt with all the evidence they experienced, why wouldnt we sometimes doubt too? It is OK to tell God you doubt him sometimes, and to ask God where he was when you needed him. The second message regarding connecting with others was a meditation of sorts to "know when you are in the presence of a person of peace" and to "realize when God has already been awakening another and to support them on that journey wherever they may be." This was illustrated quite movingly by a recent convert taking the stage and talking about her joy and experiences of Christ.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was hypnotic (in a good way) and truly moved me.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Stepping into an almost empty church and realizing there was now no escape.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Oddly enough, nothing. The service ended rather abruptly and folks seemed just to chat and catch up with one another. There may have been coffee available but we didn't see it, so we made our way home.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Impossible to say, as I never saw any coffee.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I truly enjoyed my visit to this extraordinary church and I could see myself popping in when in the area again. Furthermore, I would happily buy a CD of the music. Yet there was a certain local Lowell intimacy to it that I doubt I would ever fully be a part of. I like more structure and liturgy in my church, but I truly hope this place thrives, as Fusion seems to have a good heart and huge ambition.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did, in fact very much so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The surreal welcome by a small child.