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2818: Grace Family Church, Aigburth, Liverpool, England
Grace Family Church, Aigburth (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Torold.
The church: Grace Family Church, Aigburth, Liverpool, England.
Denomination: Evangelical Alliance.
The building: The photo on the website bears no resemblance to it – the building I thought it was turned out to be the local health centre. When I finally found the church, I saw it was a former cinema, dating from 1889, a textbook example of the picture house/dream palace architecture of the time: red brick with blank façade and steps up to the entrance. Interesting Dutch gables. The former ticket office is now the reception area. Swing doors lead into a lilac painted foyer where there is a coffee machine. More swing doors lead into a dark blue painted auditorium carpeted in blue throughout. There is no natural light, the windows having been blanked out. Rows of small chairs, the sort found in marquees for wedding receptions, face the stage. Three overhead screens are suspended in mid-air. A black backdrop behind stage is illuminated with white fairy lights and theatre stage lights. Migraine-inducing coloured strobes played throughout. Giant loudspeakers loom on either side of the stage.
The church: Their website proclaims that they are "a place for all the family." However, I formed the impression that Grace Family Church is not particularly well known in the locality. “Never heard of it!” “Sorry!” was all I got when I asked for directions. Their website lists about a dozen "partners" with whom they claim affiliation, plus several youth ministries aimed at youngsters of all impressionable ages. They also have an adult group that (quoting from their website) looks for opportunities "to help in practical projects around the Aigburth area."
The neighbourhood: Aigburth, whose name derives from Old Norse and Old English words meaning "the hill where oak trees grow," is one of the more affluent suburbs to the south of Liverpool. Aigburth Road is one of the main thoroughfares that lead out of town. It is lined with Victorian villas on one side and shops on the other. Commuters in cars and on buses pass swiftly through on their way to and from Liverpool city centre.
The cast: Pastor Diana Stacey (Pastor Di, as she is known), who was dressed in fawn knee boots and skin-tight leggings, fawn sweater with glittery cowl neckline, red lipstick and matching nails. She was joined by groupies on stage, similarly attired, swinging their hips and singing into the microphones. “Aha,” I thought, “it’s Top of the Pops for Jesus!” Howard Morgan, of Howard Morgan Ministries based in Duluth, Georgia, USA (with a branch in Birkenhead, Wirral), whose website describes him as "an internationally renowned prophetic teacher," was the guest preacher.
The date & time: Sunday, 8 February 2015, 10.30am.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Service.

How full was the building?
By the time everyone had drifted in, it was nearly full (seating for 126).

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Various people said hello. A few gave the local greeting “All right then”.

Was your pew comfortable?
The seats were blue padded chairs with gold frames. At first they were all right, but as time wore on they became very uncomfortable and dug in.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Upon my arrival, I was greeted with very loud beat music belting out over the PA system. It was deafening. No chance of quiet contemplation here! Bedlam. Black as your hat and really dark, with strobe lighting and coloured filtered lights projected onto the stage. A lady sidesperson slid a box of boutique tissues under the chair in front of me. She proceeded to dot similar boxes of tissues around the room.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The groupies, four, arrived and got on the stage, pulled out the mikes and launched into the first song. The noise was deafening. The words were projected onto the three screens above the stage. The lyrics went something like: “You’re clever, forever, you’ll never fade away." This went on for about 20 minutes. People applauded and punched the air. When the rumpus finally died down, we heard, “Good morning everyone. And welcome to Grace Family Church.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used.

What musical instruments were played?
Electronic keyboard, three electric guitars, electric drums. Recorded music so loud it distorted over the sound system. An awful racket, so loud it was deafening. It hurt your ears; I stuffed a bit of boutique tissue in them.

Did anything distract you?
I was driven to distraction by the whole service: the noise, strange lighting effects, manic! It was cringe-making! I wanted to be anywhere else but here. I spotted a fire exit (stage left) and wanted to disappear through it.

Grace Family Church, Aigburth (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Couldn't say. There was nothing I was able to recognise. There was no structure whatsoever to the service – no prayers, not even the Lord’s Prayer. The evangelist shot questions at us, and people in the audience would fling back answers: “Yeah!” “That’s right!” “Amen!” “Praise Jesus!”

Exactly how long was the sermon?
43 tortuous minutes of verbal diarrhoea. I was chewing my hand in desperation.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
0 – The internationally renowned prophetic teacher's style was: “I’m going to say this to you and you’re going to listen whether you want to or not. And then I'm going to say it again. And if you’re not enjoying it, why are you here?” Oh, I was enjoying it, all right – at least I would enjoy reporting on it, but the prophetic teacher hadn't prophesied that.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He quoted Proverbs 24:3 – “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established." But what he said next seemed to have no relation to that at all: "What do you want from life? The Lord wants to fill your life with good things. Whatever you want in life, ask the Holy Spirit and you’ll get it. Expose yourself. If you want money, cars, wardrobes full of clothes... But there are demons running around – there [he pointed to the stage] and there [he leapt into the air] and there. You need to buy my DVDs to learn how to protect yourself against them." Ah, I thought, that's what he’s really after.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When I left to go home.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
All of it. Look up "Hell on earth" in the phone book and you'll find the address of Grace Family Church.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Actually, I was still sitting in a daze. A woman in her 40s came over and said, “Are you coming for a coffee?” It wasn’t coffee I needed; more like a big stiff G and T. We descended into hell, into what was probably once the old theatre dressing rooms, now outfitted with red upholstered easy chairs and groups of café-style tables and chairs. My companion was very chatty and gave me her life history: on the third day she rose again from hospital following a bout of pancreatitis. There was a menu of drinks and snacks to purchase. I was given a goody bag with vouchers for free tea and coffee; a letter from the pastor; a book saying "What’s on at GFC" (nothing, by the look of it: the prayer meetings were all cancelled); a DVD that wouldn’t play; two bubble gums and a lollipop.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea and coffee, freshly brewed. Decaf too. Green tea. Home made cakes. Fruit squashes. Red pottery mugs.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – I would run a mile from here. This is disco/night club church – glam rock comes to Aigburth. The regulars obviously enjoy it. But I needed a solemn high mass with all the works after this little lot.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I ran screaming from the building and sought sanctuary in the RC church next door. But they’d already packed up and gone home and Father had gone in for his dinner.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The appalling racket. And I can still see the effects of the strobe lighting when I close my eyes.
 
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