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1864: Wave Church, Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA
Wave Church, Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA
Mystery Worshipper: The G.O.A.T.
The church: Wave Church, Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA.
Denomination: Independent. They seem to be more or less affiliated with Hillsong, the huge Pentecostal megachurch headquartered in Australia.
The building: They meet in what they call the Wave Convention Center, an enormous modern structure with plenty of plated glass that looks like an office building. One travels to the Center from the parking lot via golf carts, which made me laugh as I had also encountered golf carts at another church I had Mystery Worshipped. The auditorium is large and includes a baptismal pool, stage, and a cry room. (I wondered if they also had a laugh room.) In addition to the auditorium, there are two bookshops, two coffee shops (one featuring Wi-Fi access), ten restrooms, and office space for the church staff. The church had wanted to erect a 12-foot-tall light-emitting-diode (LED) sign outside the property, which would have violated City of Virginia Beach zoning regulations and was opposed by nearby residents. The city planning commission has approved a somewhat smaller LED sign, which many residents still oppose. Next door to the church is a crematorium, also marked by a prominently displayed sign.
The church: Their many ministries are all detailed on their website and are far too numerous to mention here. These include outreaches to women, children, and especially the military. They have five locations in Virginia; at the Virginia Beach location there are three services each Sunday plus Wednesday and Saturday services.
The neighborhood: The city of Virginia Beach is located in the southeast corner of Virginia on the Atlantic Ocean and is a favorite holiday destination for people who love the surf and sand. Unfortunately this section of the east coast is especially prone to hurricanes. A few days before my visit, Hurricane Bill (the first hurricane of the Atlantic season) had narrowly missed the area. Virginia Beach is also home to several army and navy bases; Naval Air Station Oceana is the city's largest employer.
The cast: The Revd Steve Kelly, senior lead pastor, and others who did not provide their names. The guest preacher was the Revd Brian Houston, founder and senior pastor of Hillsong Church, Sydney, Australia.
The date & time: August 23, 2009, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Main Service.

How full was the building?
It was about 85 to 90 per cent full. Pastor Kelly joked that they had probably missed perfect attendance because of the number of surfers who were enjoying the after-effects of the hurricane.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone held open for me each door that I encountered and wished me a good morning as I passed through.

Was your pew comfortable?
Movie theater style seats – quite comfortable. A strange incident, however, took place concerning my seat – read on!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a countdown clock displayed on one of the split HD screens at the front. It was counting down the time until the service started. People were milling about in the sanctuary as music softly played.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
When the countdown clock reached 0:00, the assembled music team on the stage instantly broke out into a song I didn't recognize. It was as if a concert were starting. I was caught off-guard by the suddenness of it and couldn't make out the words.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None.

What musical instruments were played?
Digital keyboard, one acoustic guitar, three electric guitars, and drums.

Did anything distract you?
The HD screens at the front were both awe-inspiring and, for me, also a distraction. Sometimes I caught myself watching the screens to see what else was going on instead of focusing on the service. I write this off to my having been a first-time visitor.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was very upbeat. I could see many people raising their hands and voices as they praised Jesus. There were quite a few teenagers jumping up and down in the aisles. The HD screens would alternate between showing the praise/worship team and a shot of a random person in the congregation singing along with the music. The songs were unfamiliar to me but nevertheless inspiring. At times, though, the video feed looked like a TV commercial for Christian music CDs. I was half-expecting a telephone number to appear on the screen advising me to hurry and order my CDs while supplies last.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
38 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Brian Houston's message was upbeat and inspirational.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Acts 9:1-8 (Saul's fateful encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus) and his talk was entitled "Having An Encounter with God." God will bring purpose and direction into our lives and will enable us to have a greater intimacy with Jesus and a greater sense of responsibility. Just as Saul's companions did not understand what had happened to him, so will not everyone understand our encounter with God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a part of the service where the pastor read testimonials from people who had submitted prayer request cards to him. One was from a lady who said that ever since she started tithing she has gotten three pay raises—and her husband’s business has increased 30 per cent. Another one was from a person who was praising the Lord that he had only 15 chemotherapy sessions left to endure.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
When I first entered, there was plenty of available seating. I sat in a row where there were lots of empty chairs. However, after a few minutes, an usher approached and asked me to move to a different seat – for no apparent reason other than that they evidently have a certain way they like to fill up their seats. Having to move was a huge annoyance, but I calmed down after a few minutes. After all, I was in the house of the Lord.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most people sauntered by me as if I didn’t exist. Only one man acknowledged me with a curt "Hi" as he walked past.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The line in the upstairs coffee shop was too long, and so I stopped in at the downstairs coffee shop. I didn’t purchase a beverage, but I did buy an oatmeal raisin cookie. Overpriced but tasty.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – There was nothing wrong with the church theologically or fundamentally, but I would hesitate to join a church where I am asked to change my seat for no apparent reason.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I enjoy seeing tweens and teens not be embarrassed to praise the Lord. There were plenty who would stand, shout, jump, and dance for the Lord.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The crematorium next door. It got me to thinking of how I might want to be disposed of after I die. (This upset one of the passengers in my car to no end!)
 
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