|81: Calvary Community Church, Westlake Village, California|
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Mystery Worshipper: So.California snoop.
The church: Calvary Community Church, Westlake Village, California.
Denomination: Christian Alliance, though they don't brag about it. Mostly mainstream evangelical, seeker-sensitive style with some feelgood charismatic touches thrown in.
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The building: A brand-new, towering monument, easily visible from the nearby 101 freeway. I stood puzzling over one side of the building, where over the main entrance the architecture is dominated, 50s-style, by a large pink trapezoidal thing. I'm still not quite sure what it means, except that some kind of cross is in the design. There is also a Christian high school planned, yet in the great Southland tradition, access and parking is still a mess.
The neighbourhood: This is an upper middle-class bedroom community just north of Los Angeles. Population about 100,000. Some non-Anglo-Saxons reside here, but only a sprinkling of these were visible in the congregation.
The cast: Rev Larry DeWitt, with worship singers, musicians, ushers, cameramen, etc. in supporting roles.
What was the name of the service?
"Celebration". It was held in a "Celebration Hall".
How full was the building?
About 65 per cent. I sat in the back row of the front ground-level section and didn't get more than a glance at the upper seats, which stretched back behind me. Imagine a stadium-style theater in a multiplex and you get the idea.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. As I walked up, a person directing foot traffic in an orange safety vest said hello and gave directions. As did a man upon going inside. And of course the greeter passing out the programs at the hall door. I was even given a "thank you, have a great day" kind of salutation by an usher upon leaving.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was not a pew but a theater seat, wide enough for even my ample frame. I also noticed handicapped seats in an area nearby.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The atmosphere was dressy casual, with people in anything from business suits to flowery dresses and tank tops with shorts. Yet everyone seemed well-groomed and prosperous.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
I must confess I came in late... What I thought was the 9.00am service started at 8:45.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Lyrics for the songs were projected on large screens each side of the stage. Some people had Bibles.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, drums, guitar, bass, bongos, sax and a group of singers. The music (like everything else) was polished to a high gloss. At the end they sang the chorus "Refiner's Fire".
Did anything distract you?
Remember those Jumbotron-style screens? When the sermon came they showed closeups of the pastor, who was wearing chinos and a rather loud Hawaiian print shirt. I spent half the time wondering if it was silk or rayon or cotton/polyester, trying to decipher the pattern on it...
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Halfway between those two extremes.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
About 45 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
I'd give him an 8. He was the church's strongest point, although I didn't agree with everything he said.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"Get a life! Develop a healthy body focus" was the title of the sermon notes in the program (too nicely printed to be called a mere church bulletin). He spoke on lifestyle choices, heavy on the sex. Jimmy Carter-like, he confessed to looking at babes other than his wife on occasion, but, unlike Bill Clinton, we were assured that the lust never got any further than his heart. He said something that seemed rather odd... that there would be no stomachs, and therefore no eating, in heaven. Hmm... if true, that would put the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in a somewhat less-literal light...
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At the end, when the pastor prayed, I got warm fuzzies (or perhaps cold fuzzies, since the air conditioning was on).
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing. The air-conditioning was functional, even on a hot Southern California summer day.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were generally friendly. Not too many Stepford-Christian smiles.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The good news: they had cappuccino! (and caffe mocha, other drinks and an assortment of baked goods). The bad news: they were selling it! But the people manning the booth were helpful when I stopped to ask a question.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
It's a megachurch big enough to get lost in, but perhaps too large for some people. The Republican presidential contender Gary Bauer was a recent speaker here; some liberals might take offense at such religious-right leanings. I would rate it about a 7, but think I'll look elsewhere.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I'm still wondering who approved that trapezoidal thing...