|472: New Life Christian Centre, Deal, Kent, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Chameleon.
The church: New Life Christian Centre, Deal, Kent, England.
Denomination: Assemblies of God (Pentecostal).
The building: Small and old, with white walls and dark brown beams, giving a barn-like yet cosy feel. The flimsy purple curtains were rather unusual, as was the scene (a view of hills in the distance, with several trees and bushes) painted on to the front wall, behind the stage. Overall it was a pleasant non-church-like hall.
The neighbourhood: The immediate neighbourhood is a rough, ex-mining community, which is also served (or used to be) by a Spiritualist church. It's also an urban regeneration area (as we were informed by Ann Gillibrand more later).
The cast: An assortment of ministers, as this was a united service. Peter Fermor (of New Life) led the service. Martin Graham (the chairman of On The Move, a local mission) spoke.
What was the name of the service?
Christians Together In Deal United Service
How full was the building?
Bursting at the seams they had to add extra rows of chairs at the back for latecomers. The New Life Christian Centre looks to hold 80-100 comfortably, and there were 120-plus of us!
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The bouncer at the door smiled nicely, shook my hand and welcomed my friends and I in.
Was your pew comfortable?
We were among the last few to get comfy padded seats. However, the comfort of the seats was somewhat offset by the way they were tightly packed together, so you were nearly sitting on your neighbours.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As we entered the room I became aware of an excited buzz of voices, as people from several different churches chatted together. There was a friendly and cheerful, if damp, atmosphere in the room.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening and welcome to New Life Christian Centre."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
All the songs and prayers were displayed on an OHP. During the sermon, Martin Graham read from the NIV Bible.
What musical instruments were played?
Three male guitarists, not looking particularly happy, accompanied the lead singer on the stage. Ah yes, the lead singer. What can I say? It would have been wiser perhaps to ask someone who could sing in tune to lead the worship. However, she more than made up for her lack of vocal talent by instantly assuming a rapturous/deeply spiritual/hen laying an ostrich's egg expression every time she began to sing and play.
Did anything distract you?
The lead singer's knack for pitching her voice just out of tune didn't help me to worship. Also various members of the congregation felt led to assume spiritual superiority by punctuating the various notices and speeches with "Amen!", "Alleluia!" and the deeply spiritual "Mmmm, yes..." I identified two distinct factions, possibly each cheering on their own minister? If they wished to comment, could they not have asked for the mike and actually spoken to us? This would have been less distracting in my book. And it wouldn't have made much difference to the service, as Peter Fermor seemed to be randomly assigning jobs on the spot to ministers as he saw them ö giving an ad hoc, unplanned, disjointed feel to the service. Each minister was thinking on his/her feet, and bluffed their way through their part with varying levels of success.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Ecstatic, rapturous, close to orgasm (and that's just the facial expressions around me!). I didn't know any of the songs, which meant I focused on the lead singer, to try and pick up the tune! This was a mistake. I like to be free to worship how I want to, not to feel I have to follow other people, and my hackles rose as virtually everybody in the room adopted the same expression and they say it's Anglicans who are sheep!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Martin Graham is a highly amusing speaker, incorporating on-the-spot jokes with well thought out comments, illustrations and ideas. He had possibly drunk a little too much coffee, as his enthusiasm verged on manic at times during the talk. He can be forgiven for this, however, as he had already done this talk in seven different churches and meetings that day, after driving down from Birmingham. Overall he was amusing and both grabbed, and held, my attention well, so much so that I didn't notice how long he had been speaking til he finished and I checked my watch!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
On The Move a four-day evangelism/outreach event being held in Deal from the 5-8 June this year. Martin spoke about what God can do, if we let him. He read from Acts 2, where the Holy Spirit fills the disciples, and the crowd start asking questions. There the disciples were "flying by the seat of their pants!" Without the Holy Spirit moving among the "unchurched"â (I hate this expression, almost as cringeworthy as "pre-christian"), evangelism is impossible, as the atmosphere in the world is deeply cynical of anyone who offers free gifts. The Holy Spirit can permeate and change the atmosphere to one of trust. We, in our weakness, need to say, "Lord, use us."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Martin Graham's ad libbed comments were pure comedy. The warm and friendly atmosphere as we walked in was also lovely, particularly as I wasn't expecting to be greeted with a smile by a stranger. And (unusually for a united service) the various churches had mingled and spread out, rather than sitting in tight bunches with fellow members.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The lead singer I was grinning and giggling quietly, and one of my friends was near-hysterical by the end of the worship! And the manipulative proof-texting prayer we were required to recite together while we gave money to the collection.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As the service had gone on for rather a long time, and my group were either fuming or giggling helplessly, we judged discretion to be the better part of valour and beat a hasty retreat during the proof-text prayer for giving. Discreet questioning of others who remained gave me the impression that once the service had ended there was no chatting or coffee, everyone simply left.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 I would never make this my regular church, though I may visit next time I'm particularly annoyed/angry, as one song would reduce me to helpless laughter, and leave me giggling for a while.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Overall, despite the distractions and hellish parts, yes. We, as Christians from different backgrounds and denominations were united, and managed to meet together without disagreeing. Instead, we focused on our common ground and shared beliefs in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The expression on the worship leader's face!