|791: Auckland Baptist Tabernacle Auckland, New Zealand|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Men in AllBlack.
The church: Auckland Baptist Tabernacle, Queen Street, Auckland, New Zealand.
The building: The Auckland Baptist Tabernacle, or "Tab" as it is known colloquially, is a typical but nonetheless impressive example of Victorian reformed classicalism. This illustrates the clear precepts of God by way of a symmetrical and uncluttered portico outside, and a large, galleried meeting hall within. This hall is framed at the the preaching end by a large arch under which rises an impressive pipe organ, and a platform from which services are conducted. The church has no pulpit, but a plain wooden lectern is situated under the arch in the centre of this platform. The senior pastor stood there, manfully, for the entire service. In the side aisles of the church a number of notice-boards are to be found, mostly containing information about missionary work, which the church expends considerable energy and resources in supporting.
The church: The Tab has a large, thriving congregation and could be considered the cathedral of baptists in this part of the world. The congregation is a mix of all ages with considerably more youth than in most churches. We saw a large smattering of youngish Asians from China or Korea, to whom the church has a particular ministry. There seemed to be a large student presence, which befits the church's proximity to two universities. The dress code was a mixture of traditional shirts and ties, and dress down casual.
The neighbourhood: The Tab is located at the top end of Queen Street, just where the central business district of Auckland meets the urban hinterland in need of regeneration. Secure in its architectural dominance, the church building straddles both zones. It is surrounded by a mixture of chain stores, offices and English language schools, located in multi-storey buildings. By day, it is in the lee of the shopping district further down the street; by night it is in the lee of the city's entertainment district which is centered on nearby Karangahape Road. On Sunday morning the locality gave forth the sense of sleep from exhaustion, as these parts of cities often do.
The cast: Senior pastor Bruce Patrick, and assorted musicians.
What was the name of the service?
11 o'clock service.
How full was the building?
The building looked as if it could comfortably seat 600 people, and was half full. More people trickled in as the service began.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The Men in AllBlack entered separately. Both were greeted with a handshake and a collection of pieces of paper giving information on numerous church activities. Once we were seated there was no further contact.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes! The tab's pews appear to have been designed as seating for watching films, and perhaps they originally were.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Plenty of friendly chatter and greeting was taking place as we entered. People were freely mingling and catching up with one another prior to the start of the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The band called the assembled faithful to order by striking up with a chorus of "Jesus is lord", which successfully subsided the chatter. This was followed by an acknowledgement of "Thanks, and good morning".
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. A power-point projector was used instead. All very visitor-friendly, and with none of the fumbling around with books that some churches require.
What musical instruments were played?
The mighty pipe organ was not used. Instead a band containing a violinist (who could be hardly seen or heard), two guitarists, a drummer, a pianist and a bass player led the congregation in worship.
Did anything distract you?
Yes. Throughout both times of worship, the senior pastor remained at his lectern behind and above the band, but just below the overhead projection: right in one's line of vision. The effect reminded one of God looking down beneficiently upon his creation, which was perhaps apt bearing in mind the subject of the sermon.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Evangelical happy clappy; the congregation were clearly comfortable in waving their hands around, and expressing emotion, but nobody was roaring like a lion or ululating. The worship took place in two, 20 minute sections and consisted of choruses, a couple of which were recognised as the work of Saint Matthew of Redman, and the blessed Noel Richards.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
39 minutes. One might say that there were two sermons; the second occurred in the slot for notices, when people came forth and gave testimonies about their lives, studies and work overseas.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 The delivery was good and clear, in line with the architecture of the tab, and the clear, scriptural, and uncluttered light of baptist theology. There was a good use of PowerPoint. The only reason for not understanding this sermon would have been not listening (and some of the congregation probably weren't because they looked as if they were just recovering from a good night's partying). The preacher also used lists of acronyms to hold the congregation's attention, structure the sermon and keep everyone interested.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was a commentary on Genesis 1 and 2, about the creation, followed by two testimonies/stories: one about a drug addict who found Christ and reformed; and another about a person who found what it means to have Christ as treasure when her house got burgled. The preacher is a thoroughgoing creationist, and having cautioned that the Bible was not a scientific document then went on to treat it exactly as one. This theme took up the bulk of the sermon. Whilst on the one hand, the pastor gave an interesting in-depth verse by verse analysis of these two chapters, on the other, by doing so he missed what one might see as the purpose of the chapter (if one does believe Genesis 1 to be allegorical anyway). He redeemed himself with a couple of stories illustrating our need for God, and ended with a call to the lost sheep.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The hilarious home video produced by the church youth group that was shown during the notices section. The purpose of this film was to raise money so that the group could head off on an easter camp, and gorge themselves on chocolate which has amongst its attributes (according to this video) the ability to keep girls safe from boys.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The pastor, in his sermon enthused about the multitude of creatures God has made, and how he has given creation over to our ownership and use. However, he said precisely nothing about responsible stewardship, thus unwittingly illustrating the reason why more and more species become extinct each passing day. Also, the worship, to us at least, lacked substance, as it was comprised of choruses that say more about immediate emotions rather than the eternal love of God. One Man in AllBlack described the words to these songs as "bubblegummy".
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One Man in AllBlack lingered under the portico, the other wandered around inside the church. Neither of us were spoken to, however the contacts given on our notice sheets gave us ample opportunity to make contact. One presumes that this is the tab's method of dealing with the problem of lost sheep wandering round unnoticed, as it is quite a big church and they must get visitors every week.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We lingered so carefully that we missed it as it was taking place in some other part of the building complex. A couple of girls from Sunday School handed out biscuits they'd baked themselves. A pot luck lunch was just getting going as we left.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 Like the sermon, 5 out of 10. The subject of the sermon, and the style of service were not our thing. However, it is clearly a very active church. The church's ministry amongst overseas students looked really good, and while no-one spoke to us personally there were many ways we could have made contact if we'd chosen to do so. However we are committed elsewhere.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes and no. The attitude to God's creation expounded in the sermon, not to mention its casting aside of 150 years of science was disturbing. But on the other hand, this is a lively church, which is both active in the community, and supportive of mission work. It is also good at bringing people together, and getting them to look after one another.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Senior pastor Bruce Patrick inadvertantly doing an impression of God in a painted mediaeval last judgement by remaining enthroned with his lectern throughout the service.