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||1375: West Edmonton Christian Assembly, Edmonton, Alberta,
Mystery Worshipper: Blender.
The church: West Edmonton Christian Assembly (WECA), Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Denomination: Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: WECA is a sprawling, whitewashed concrete jumbo jet
of a building that's happened to emergency-land beside one of Edmonton's
recently developed suburbs. Two adjacent wings are connected via a series
of four stark, surrealistic, angular arches, one inside another, framing
the main doors. Next door to the main auditorium, an equally expansive Community
Life Centre is on its way up, featuring a youth hangout, a Starbucks-type
coffee outlet and an auditorium for community use. With this new facility,
the congregation hopes to connect with neighbouring communities through
The church: This mega-church is on the march, ready to transport
born-again souls into a world of creation science, Bible-based certainty
and a bapticostal form of worship. They conduct a number of programs for
children, youth, young adults, the early middle-aged, the late middle-aged
(including a bowling league), men, women, etc., all of which are described
on their website.
The neighbourhood: In Edmonton, as in most of western Canada, a housing
boom is on as the big oil-driven economy is creating jobs. Down the street
from the church you can apply for a job at the local convenience store and
receive a $700 signing bonus. The church is surrounded on all sides by newly
built single-family homes that appeal to middle-class young families, as
well as condos for those, as WECA calls them, "west of 50."
The cast: Pastor Glenn Patrick led the service, ably assisted by
a group of talented but unidentified musicians and singers dressed in uniform-like
outfits that reflect the church's values: black and white.
The date & time: November 12, 2006, 10.45am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
By the end of the carefully choreographed 90 minute service, the 1100 seat
auditorium was about three-quarters full. But these laid back Pentecostals
aren't big on punctuality – at the advertised starting time of 10.45 the
place was less than a third full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No less than three officially designated greeters eagerly extended their
hands. Mrs Blender has an aversion to shaking hands and was somewhat taken
aback by so much hospitality. More handshaking followed during the service,
but there was no recognition that we were new or special in any way. It
made me somewhat envious of the treatment the star character in the film
Borat received when he visited a Pentecostal camp meeting and tongue-spoke
his way to a new relationship with Mr Jesus.
Was your pew comfortable?
About as comfortable as they get. Mrs Blender particularly appreciated the
padded chairs with a handy foot rest on the back. Of course, we stood for
large swaths of the worship time.
How would you describe the pre-service
Sparsely populated, relaxed, chatty. People entered sipping coffee from
steel thermos cups; they all looked as if they were happy. A continuous
PowerPoint kept us informed of such events as a men's breakfast at 8.00
on an upcoming morning (I guess men aren't allowed to sleep in), a "snack
and yack" for the young adults, and bowling for the west of 50 group.
The latter was illustrated by a picture of an older man on a beach raising
his hands. What's bowling got to do with the beach?
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning. This is a great day." Indeed, in Edmonton, a frosty,
snow-covered -20 degrees celsius is a great day. At least it wasn't -40 degrees!
What books did the congregation use during the
No books. PowerPoint slides projected on the walls led the way. There was
a sermon notes handout. Pastor Glenn appears to be an avid reader – he
helpfully listed all the books and authors he would refer to in his sermon.
What musical instruments were played?
A rock band piano, guitar, bass and drums. The group wasn't visible from
where we sat, but had us creatively moving in a minimalist, shuffly sort
of way. There was also a choir of 31 voices. At one point (see the part
below about the heavenly bits) we were treated to a 10-voice visiting choir
from the Women's Dream Centre, a refuge for women who have been in abusive
situations or involved with drugs and are getting their lives cleaned up
Did anything distract you?
You have to feel sorry for young moms. Just as we began to get into a bluesier
song that touched on pain and brokenness, up pops the number 79 on the wall-mounted
LED display, indicating that someone's baby needed attention in the nursery.
A mother trudged past three 30-something women who were weeping, arm in
arm in arm. Other distractions included strong perfumes, interminable announcements,
and a PowerPoint alert that a silver Acura had left its lights on.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Our crew-cutted, unnamed but talented worship leader led us through pleasant
choruses and uttered basic prayers between the up-tempo songs. "Take
a deep breath," he said. "God gave that to you." He made
a classic attempt to encourage the congregation to engage in the musical
equivalent of speaking in tongues, otherwise known as singing in the spirit,
but it failed to take full-throated flight. We heard just a faint baritone
hum from the back, along with a few lip-smacking utterances of "Yes,
Jesus!" During one number with taped accompaniment, I heard a weird
organ crescendo that sounded like a pig being threaded through a meat grinder.
Clapping was persistent and a few arms were raised toward heaven. It was
Remembrance Day, and so, accompanied by music from the film Titanic
and a reading that began with the words: "Back when truth was
real and men would march..." there was read out a tribute to our soldiers,
the 60,000 Canadians who perished in World War I, the 42,000 in World War
II, and the 40 and counting in Afghanistan. This was followed by a minute
of silence, during which the pastor jumped up to move his pulpit to centre
stage. (One wonders why he couldn't have waited until the minute of silence
had passed.) The service closed with the pastor praying that God would protect
us in the parking lot.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
28 minutes about 15 minutes too long!
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 Pastor Glenn looked too young to be pastor of such a large church
– picture the actor Rob Lowe wearing a double-breasted Miami Vice
suit with a pale blue T-shirt underneath. They don't sell those at Wal-Mart!
He treated us to ponderous kindergarten material, joking about putting his
wife on a cell phone plan because she's chatty. At one point he noted that
Jesus taught outdoors "Nothing makes me feel closer to God than being
outside." Halfway through the sermon I felt the same way.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The sermon title – "The road best travelled: Exposing the one-size-fits-all
myth" – sounded intriguing. Pastor Glenn "exposed the myth"
that all must relate to God in the same way, saying some are bent differently,
feeling more comfortable to worship either with mind or heart, in nature,
with friends, or contemplatively. I was cheered by the move, but soon he
began to draw the boundaries. The New Age movement (whatever that is) and
environmentalists have got it wrong with their tolerance and tree-hugging.
Further, the church website makes it clear that homosexual practice is regarded
as spiritual disobedience. During his talk he mentioned Henri Nouwen, the
Roman Catholic priest noted for his work among people with developmental
disabilities and a prolific author. But does Pastor Glenn know that Father
Nouwen was not only supportive of homosexuals but was gay himself? Would
he be welcome at WECA were he still alive? The pastor concluded by praying:
"Forgive us when we judge and stand on our soapbox. Thank God for diversity."
Too bad the diversity evidenced by this sermon was a very narrow one indeed.
Which part of the service was like being in
Admirably, WECA supports the Women's Dream Centre, and the visiting choir
from the Centre sang most heavenly. They were accompanied by an enthusiastic
Norah Jones-like woman on the piano. As they sang "To the river I am
going, come and cleanse me, Lord; I need to meet you there," the Norah
Jones figure shouted out, "Sing it one more time! Come on, praise Jesus!
Sing it!" Sustained applause followed.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The occasional references in Pastor Glenn's sermon that reinforce the walls
between church and world. And the stereotypical "Father Knows Best"
attitude he displayed.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There were so many people in the foyer, we could have streaked and wouldn't
have been noticed. (Well, they may have noticed Mrs Blender.) This is clearly
a close-knit and exuberant group. Pastor Glenn had parked himself at the
door but was surrounded by his fans and thus inaccessible by the likes of
How would you describe the after-service
No coffee was offered. Or we couldn't see it through the throngs.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 Maybe for worship, but not for the preaching.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
No. This service didn't make me glad to be a Christian. Instead, it made
me hungry for a church that at least attempts to engage with the world and
its troubling issues (Afghanistan, Iraq, Ted Haggard). I want to learn how
faith interacts with these sticky situations.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Pastor Glenn's suit and T-shirt. I've just got to get me some the next time
I'm down at the casino gift shop.
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