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1730: The Orchard, Loganville, Georgia, USA
The Orchard, Loganville, Georgia, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Friar Tuck.
The church: The Orchard, Loganville, Georgia, USA.
Denomination: United Methodist Church, North Georgia Conference.
The building: The Orchard campus consists of two red brick conventional church-type buildings joined together by a walkway. Inside the primary building is a huge lobby decorated with nice red sofas and overstuffed chairs. There is a snack shop, bookstore, and a large welcome center with free coffee, hot chocolate and, oddly enough, Bibles. There is a plasma TV on the wall between the two doors into the auditorium. I don't know about the ladies' room, but the men's bathroom features a putting green and current sports pages over the urinals. There are free Bibles available there as well. The auditorium, dark and windowless, has the feel of a movie theater, with a large screen over the stage. There is no pulpit. I found it to be an inviting atmosphere that encouraged worship. The other building on campus is dedicated to children and youth. I just popped my head in the door but was pretty impressed to see the way the children exited their classes – via a slide tube from the second floor. As a child I would have loved that!
The church: The Orchard mantra is "making new and better disciples of Jesus." This seems to define them pretty well, as their announcements were mostly about small groups, mission trips, and service opportunities.
The neighborhood: Loganville is a small but rapidly growing city in northern Georgia. Despite its growth, it retains a small town, family oriented feel. The Orchard campus is on top of a rise and overlooks a farm on one side and soccer fields on the other. The driveway is off a busy highway, but once you make the turn into the long driveway you can usually see a farm animal or two. It is an interesting and unusual place for a church.
The cast: Eric Rubio, whose title is lead worshipper, led the praise band and the congregational singing. The Revd Ben Cathey, lead pastor and ministry coach, preached and officiated at several baptisms.
The date & time: Sunday, May 17, 2009, 11.10am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship (this particular morning was Baptism and Celebration Sunday).

How full was the building?
About 60 per cent full. People were comfortably dispersed.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A greeter shook my hand and gave me a bulletin. I was impressed that several other people introduced themselves and welcomed me to the Orchard. I walk with a walking stick, and a couple of people scrambled to open the doors into the auditorium for me.

Was your pew comfortable?
There are pew chairs instead of pews and they were quite comfortable. I particularly liked that the rows were set up to be wider on the ends than in the middle, making getting to and from your seat easy.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The pre-service atmosphere was controlled chaos. The praise band was playing, the back doors were open, and people were going out and coming back with coffee and water. People were chatting with their neighbors while some were obviously really into the praise band. It was like the beginning of a big family reunion. I liked it.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to the Orchard. We're glad you're here."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Songs and scripture were projected. There were Bibles available. The New English Bible was used – not a translation I am particularly fond of.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, three guitars, drums, and two vocalists. All the musicians were very good.

The Orchard, Loganville, Georgia, USA

Did anything distract you?
The only thing I found distracting at all was a couple sitting across the aisle from me who whispered during the baptisms.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was uplifting and energetic. Most people stood the whole time but some did not. There were people clapping and a few hands raised in worship. The projected backgrounds behind the praise band were well chosen and helped set the mood for the song being sung. The worship leader was gifted in leading while not making himself into a celebrity. This is a rare gift these days.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
26 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The sermon was very different and I'm sure not typical, so it is hard really to comment on the preacher's style. A portion of it consisted of answering questions the congregation had posed, and I felt that overall the pastor did a great job. It was a gutsy thing to do.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pastor Ben spoke about baptism, referring to Matthew 28:18-20 (Christ commissions his disciples to baptize), Acts 2:37-40 (baptism brings forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit), and Acts 19 (John's baptism was one of repentance). It was a solid, very Methodist, sermon done in a very different, unique style.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
After the baptisms were finished, a young man in his 20s suddenly came forward and asked to be baptized. Watching his baptism and then experiencing the shared joy and celebration of the congregation was a great moment I will cherish for a long time.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As solid as the sermon was, I felt that the pastor was deliberately misinterpreting one scriptural passage that he referred to. That was a pretty hellish moment for my theological mind to experience.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Sad to say, for the five minutes I stood in the middle of the lobby after the service, not one person spoke to me except to ask me to move out of their way. I am finding this to be typical even of friendly churches like this one. It is like "Church is over, let's get home to eat."

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I think I could be very comfortable at the Orchard. I like the worship. I like the outward orientation. The only reason it doesn't get a 10 from me is that I prefer a non-denominational church. The Orchard, for all its contemporary fašade, is very United Methodist.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The look on the young man's face as he left the baptistery!
 
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