Mystery Worshipper: Ellesappelle
Church: Subiaco Church of Christ
Location: Subiaco, Western Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 August 2007, 10:30am
It is a fairly large red brick building with parking behind it. Apart from a roof with perhaps churchy angles, and some banners up outside, it is fairly unobtrusive and doesn't stand out on the street. Inside there is a medium-sized foyer with big doors that go through to the auditorium. The doors can be covered with curtains while a service is going on. The auditorium itself is quite large and rectangular with a small stage, and there are two fake stained glass windows with lights behind them on either side of the stage.
It is quite a diverse congregation ethnically. There were a large number of people from Asian or Indian backgrounds, and some Africans, as well as a mixture of white people, a significant few from North America, including two pastors. I also picked up a few Italian accents. It is diverse in its age distribution too it was nice to see a church that has managed to attract and not alienate both old and young and in-between.
Subiaco, a suburb of Perth, is a fashionable little area with lots of cafes and a great chocolate shop just down the road. On the Sunday I visited, there was an Australian Football League (Aussie Rules) game in the stadium that afternoon, so there were scores of people wearing the colours of either the West Coast Eagles or the Fremantle Dockers hanging round the pubs or getting off the trains. Quite an atmosphere.
Barbara Mincham was the worship leader, and the Revd Graham Johnston, senior pastor, preached. The Revd Dean Groetzinger, associate pastor for youth and young adults, gave a presentation on some missionary work the church had been involved in.
What was the name of the service?Morning Worship
How full was the building?
The building was almost completely full, and they had to put out some more seats. I would say there were probably about 300 people there.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I arrived, the earlier service was just finishing, so it was pretty chaotic simply trying to get into the building. As I was trying to make my way into the foyer, a gentleman smiled and informed me I would have to fight my way in! There was a teenager standing at the door to the auditorium handing out booklets but he didn't see fit even to look at me. I sat down next to a middle-aged couple, but they also paid no attention to me. I felt rather invisible. Later on, when we were asked to greet our neighbours, the people around me managed a hello, but that was it.
Was your pew comfortable?
Instead of pews they had those rows of generic plastic seats stuck together that can be moved around. Surprisingly, they were not as uncomfortable as they looked.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Well, as before chaotic. But it had a friendly vibe to it, especially in the auditorium, at least from the point of view of an outsider looking in. You could tell that the people at this church really enjoy being together. There was a lot of mingling, and the worship leader had to make a few pointed comments to start the service off and get people to their seats.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning! Good morning! Welcome to Subi Church as the congregation continues to come in."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
All the songs were projected using Powerpoint, as was the main reading before the sermon, but we were given a booklet/newsletter type document with service details and so on. Scriptural references made during the sermon were not projected, but it was very refreshing to see people looking up passages in their Bibles.
What musical instruments were played?
Two keyboards, two guitars, violin and drums.
Did anything distract you?
At one point when the worship leader was praying, I could hear a loud conversation going on in one of the back rooms somewhere. At another point I heard what sounded like rain on the roof, and instantly wondered how I would make it back to the train station.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was an interesting and vibrant service that kept me hooked the whole way. Happy clappy, but not over the top. Most people clapped during the earlier songs, and there were a few arms in the air, but I didn't feel uncomfortable standing with my hands at my side like the good Brethren I am. It was actually just about the perfect amount of exuberance, and you could tell everyone felt completely at ease worshipping in any way they chose.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Graham Johnston was a fantastic speaker who structured his talk well, stuck to the scripture, and was emotively wonderful. I could see a few people dabbing their eyes close by and I almost had to do the same at times.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His topic was "What's in store?" Should we as Christians have to fear meeting God when we die? Will he shame us? Recall Hebrews 12:1-2: "For the joy set before him, Christ suffered the cross," and Ephesians 1:18: "In order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints." Therefore the heart of God toward us is not anger and wrath, but joy and grace. We no longer have fear hanging over us to motivate us, but thankfulness.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The last two verses of the song "How deep the Father's love" were beautifully played by the musicians, and though the music was loud, I could hear the whole church rising up in song throughout the auditorium as well. It felt like everyone was part of something big. However, it was the sermon that really got me, and I felt by the end both encouraged and challenged.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The first verse of "How deep the Father's love!" Painfully slow, without much musical backing to give a beat, and with the violin and solo singer struggling to play/sing slowly without sounding terrible. It felt like the entire congregation was straining to hold themselves back. But luckily the music gained some bass and rhythm and sped up a little after that verse.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Again, almost no one spoke to me. I made an effort to look very conspicuously lost, but I stood by myself for about 10 to 15 minutes without a single person noticing or saying anything. Finally, as I was about to leave, the wife of the young pastor came up to me and engaged me in conversation she was very nice, and she suggested I come that evening to the youth service.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
They claimed to use freshly ground beans, and charged $2.00 for it, but you had to get it out of a machine, in a cardboard cup! I thought it a real shame they didn't have people serving good old freshly brewed coffee, or even instant! In a big church like this a personal touch is sorely needed.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I really thought it an exemplary service, and it is the sort of place I would definitely consider joining. The initial lack of friendliness is the only sticking factor, and if I went a second time and still found it hard to meet people I would probably be too discouraged to try again. All the same, I could tell that once people meet each other at this church, things get a lot easier. It was a sociable church, a real community.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Mostly, yes. This congregation has all the vitality a church sometimes misses, but it never went too far. The speaker obviously knew his stuff, and you could tell the Bible is very important in church life. It was a moving and encouraging atmosphere. But it also demonstrated some of the other problems that churches need to address, most notably the fact that strangers appear to be for the most part ignored. Had I not been Mystery Worshipping, I probably would have left before the service even started.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Probably the sermon, actually it gave me serious food for thought.