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2790: Life Church, Longview, Texas, USA
Life Church, Longview, TX
Mystery Worshipper: Pewgilist.
The church: Life Church, Longview, Texas, USA.
Denomination: Independent. Their website says that they are non-denominational but pentecostal in style and beliefs.
The building: Located on a rather unassuming stretch of underdeveloped ring road, the church’s home is a long, low, steel-clad structure that was once an industrial sales building. A white steeple and decorated lobby nudge the aesthetic churchward.
The church: They were founded in 2005. Their website mentions a children's ministry and youth ministry as well as pastoral care, but gives no details. It does go on to say that they value relationships, hard work, and a "Spirit-filled experience" in worship.
The neighborhood: Longview, in eastern Texas, was founded by Ossamus Hitch Methvin, son of a Scottish wagonmaker and livery stable owner. In 1870 Methvin sold a large tract of his land to the Southern Pacific Railroad for the sum of one dollar, in the hope that the coming of the railroad would spur a real estate boom. The story goes that the railroad surveyor, standing on Methvin's front porch, was heard to exclaim, "What a long view!" The rest, as they say, is history. In 1942 two petroleum pipelines known as Big Inch and Little Big Inch were constructed to carry oil from the Longview area to the refineries of New Jersey, thus making it unnecessary to transport crude oil by ships that might be attacked by enemy forces during World War II. At the time of their construction, Big Inch and Little Big Inch were the longest petroleum pipelines ever built. Today, Longview promotes itself as a laid-back yet culturally active town where one may experience the legendary friendliness of the east Texas lifestyle.
The cast: The pastor, Andy Allison, led the service, the band, and the singing. A member of the congregation opened the service and two others gave announcements.
The date & time: Sunday, December 7, 2014. Their website makes no mention of service times, but I went by a sign on the door that specified 10.10am.

What was the name of the service?
I have no idea.

How full was the building?
With maybe 50 people, the church appeared about one-third full. I was surprised to find that the congregation were neither overwhelmingly white nor black, but rather mixed. A local relation confirmed that this is unusual in east Texas. This middle-aged worshipper found himself much closer to the high end of the age spectrum, rather than his usual berth amongst the younger adults.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two men at the door shook my hand and welcomed me. The pastor, his wife, and several members of the congregation came up and introduced themselves to me before the service (eventually) started.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfortable, indeed. The linked conference-room chairs were of the deluxe kind: wide with firm, thick padding.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People filtered in and moved around the sanctuary, chatting and greeting one another – and me – warmly until about 10.20.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Good morning. Hallelujah!”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books or sheets provided. Words to most songs were displayed on two LCD panels. Many people brought their own Bibles.

What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ, electronic piano (the latter played with terpsichorean flair by the pastor), electric guitar, drums.

Did anything distract you?
I really should not have sat so far to the front. I found myself glancing around and back far too often as I tried to get my behavioral bearings in a not-quite familiar setting: should I be sitting or standing? Clapping or not clapping? Is everyone raising their hands, or is it optional? Do we pray upright or hunched forward? Do I, in general, look like a stick in the mud?

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
What’s a half-step up from “happy clappy”? It was pretty enthusiastic, from the perspective of this former pentecostal: clapping, applause, a swaying choir, broad smiles, and amen-shouts of encouragement. Not that anyone was rolling in the aisles or dancing at the altar, mind (well, the pastor was, a little bit – dancing, that is).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
I’ll say 30 minutes, though it’s hard to be precise: the announcements slid into a gospel reading (for which we stood – a traditional gesture of reverence that surprised me in this context), which was the beginning of the sermon, and then the sermon segued into prayer.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Pastor Andy’s style was engaging, his delivery dynamic, and his message clearly structured.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Taking his cue from the reading from Matthew 2 (the Magi arrive at the manger), Pastor Andy addressed the problem of how to be a wise man. I can’t boil the six specific points down to fit in a nutshell, but I can say that I came away with the message that wisdom must be sought and that God is always trying to tell us something.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Following the sermon and the altar call, there took place what I can only call a benediction and dismissal, no matter that one doesn’t have such a thing in these sorts of services. I recall that part of it went something like, "You are not God, but you are like God; be godly. You are holy; be holy. You are loved; love." But it was better than that.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Non-liturgical services usually offer me a respite from the passing of the peace; not so Life Church. For a good hour (or so it felt), everybody set off on a round of handshakes and hugs – somehow, all on the other side of the aisle – leaving me standing mostly alone and feeling doubly uncomfortable.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the unexpected benediction and dismissal, most people either headed for the door or began clearing the stage – as per the pastor’s request – to prepare for next week’s Christmas pageant. So I broke protocol and left pretty quickly. But I had barely reached the parking lot when the pastor leapt through the door to say good-bye, ask me a few questions, and thank me for coming.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn’t see that there was any such thing at Life Church.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – That number is not an indictment of the pastor or congregation. If I were still pentecostal/evangelical in practice and belief and lived nearby, I would certainly consider this church – but it’s not really my cup of communion wine any more.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Inasmuch as I feel that I am a Christian at all anymore – yes. No matter that the music and setting were not my own, I heard good news about Jesus while surrounded by people who really seemed to be happy to hear it.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
A pentecostal benediction.
 
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