Mystery Worshipper: Religulous
Church: Global Kingdom Ministries
Location: Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Saturday, 4 October 2008, 10:00am
Formerly Scarboro Gospel Temple, the congregation changed its name to Global Kingdom Ministries when it moved into its newly built church a few months ago (summer 2008). The new building looks more like a very attractive theatre than a traditional church, having a large, two-storey curve of windows that give passers-by a clear view into the large atrium. In the atrium are several trees, a coffee bar, a guest services reception area, and a children's ministry registration table. The worship area is an auditorium with a full stage, including theatre lights, and well-padded cinema seats. On each side there is a section of seating on a much steeper incline. There are two large projection screens on either side of the stage.
The congregation is a multi-cultural mix of folks from the Caribbean and South Asia, as well as a few Asians and Caucasians. There was a mix of ethnic backgrounds represented among the many musicians, although the worship leaders themselves were all Caucasian.
Scarborough is a very ethnically diverse part of Toronto. Global Kingdom Ministries is located immediately across from one of the poorest and most violent subsidized housing high-rise complexes, cruelly named "Tuxedo Court". The new church is just south of the busiest highway in Canada (the 401), with a McDonald's on one side and low-rise industrials buildings on the other.
Pastor Rob Johnston led the service, assisted by Pastor Terry Johnston (his wife?). The preacher was Dave Toysen, president of World Vision Canada.
What was the name of the service?Worship Service.
How full was the building?
About three-quarters full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
This is a church that has obviously worked deliberately at welcoming visitors! There were attendants directing traffic in the huge parking lot surrounding the church. I must have passed a half dozen official greeters as I moved from the front doors through the spacious atrium into the worship area. They each shook my hand and said, "Good morning." One offered the latest glossy, colourful newsletter. One of the ushers wandered informally into our section and greeted various folks with, "Nice to have you join us this morning." After speaking with us, he told us he was off to say hi to his grandson. A friendly welcome, but not stifling.
Was your pew comfortable?
Although there were plush upholstered theatre seats, we spent at least an hour and a quarter singing and praying on our feet for the first part of the service. When the time for the sermon finally arrived, a seat never felt so good!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pleasant pre-recorded instrumental music was playing, and people greeted each other enthusiastically. I would say about half the congregation arrived well after the service began.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"It's time for praise. Let's praise Jesus!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Most members of the congregation brought their own copy of the Bible, which was used only briefly during the sermon. There were no other books used – the words to the hymns were projected onto the large screens.
What musical instruments were played?
There was a Korg electronic keyboard placed on top of a large grand piano (gasp!) that was never used. There was an amplified acoustic guitar played by one of the lead singers, as well as two electric guitars, a trumpet, flute, drum set, bongos, triangle, tambourine and bells.
Did anything distract you?
Although I am rather partial to the idea of using projection screens as a way of getting people's faces up so they can better worship together, it became increasingly strange to be looking at the large image of the preacher on the screen rather than at him – and he was directly in front of us. It must have been weird to be speaking to a group of people who are all looking to one side or the other, but rarely at you.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was definitely "happy clappy," since the first few songs (of nine or ten in a row, I think) involved congregational clapping. Most people did not sing along with the worship team, though some raised their hands and a lot clapped. It was obvious that folks were becoming tired of clapping for so long. There were basically three sections to the service: about 40 minutes of singing (although I didn't know any of the songs, I thought some were quite beautiful, and beautifully performed by the soloists); then about 35 minutes of people coming forward to be prayed for by a long line of ministers (lay and ordained), including "ministers' wives." As they were prayed for, the worship team led the congregation in simpler quiet songs. There was a lot of speaking and singing in tongues, and at least one person was "slain in the Spirit," and was left unattended on the floor for some time before she was encouraged to sit up again, with two women rubbing her back. At the end of this very chaotic prayer session (or was it before?) Terry Johnston recited a long pastoral prayer, naming particular people and issues, in what became an increasingly emotional and harsh-sounding voice. Finally, the sermon: almost an hour in length! Pastor Johnston had to introduce the final hymn with, "Please folks, before you leave, let's just sing this final hymn together." There was only one short passage of scripture, only briefly spoken about; no Lord's Prayer; no familiar hymns and little communal singing. Almost all of the worship experience, besides the standing and clapping, was a performance by those on the stage.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The longest sermon I have ever heard. And it was pretty good, too! Dave Toysen's message was received well by the members of this obviously extraordinarily active and mission-minded church. He warmed up the crowd by telling them about his own Pentecostal upbringing (he's an Anglican now). He very effectively alternated between horrendous facts about world poverty and heartfelt stories of his own experiences in the various countries he has visited as part of World Vision.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He began by reading the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) as the foundation of all mission work: Christians are stewards of God's gifts and should be risk-takers. He spoke about the need for the Church to be concerned not just about evangelism and helping those in need, but also to be actively involved in creating justice at home and around the world. Salvation is not just an individual thing, but involves communities working together for justice.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The soprano soloist who led several songs at the beginning had a truly beautiful, clear voice, and she masterfully led the congregation through quieter moments and transitions to different songs. Also, finally being allowed to sit down was a huge, heavenly relief!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
An hour and a quarter of standing felt liturgically sadistic! In addition, this was my first attempt at being a Mystery Worshipper. I could hardly believe my stupidity when I realized I'd handed in my checklist during the offertory instead of my Mystery Worshipper card. I was absolutely sure that a note would go up to the worship leader and that I'd be outed before the service was over!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The majority of people crowded the atrium making a quick retreat, but a few were gathered in clusters having coffee together. I eventually approached a man with an usher nametag, gave him my offering envelope with calling card enclosed, thanked him, and left.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Although I didn't have time for coffee (after all, the service was two and one-half hours long!), the refreshments afterwards really did look delicious.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I am an Anglican, so I was very comfortable with the preacher's style. But I missed having a common liturgy. Being able to pray the same words together with others is important to me, although I did appreciate the lengthy improvised prayers in which many of the congregation participated.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I was glad to be with people who were obviously excited about their faith, who clearly work hard to make their music beautiful, and who have an enviable new building. Yes, the service made me glad to be a Christian, though I did feel uncomfortable with not knowing what was going to happen next. Always being at the direction of the worship leaders felt somehow a bit demeaning.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?