Mystery Worshipper: Motty
Church: Abundant Life
Location: Bradford, Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Saturday, 12 August 2006, 6:00pm
This is more a complex than an individual building. It seems to be a group of converted warehouses that are a fair size but aren't very pretty to look at. They're just a blank grey. At night, though, they do have an attractive purple lighting effect on them. Inside, one enters a foyer complete with shop and reception desk, and then into the main room. There is a stage at the front (complete with skate ramps!) and chairs set up facing the stage.
It seems to be an all-inclusive community that could easily look after you from birth to death, without your having to look anywhere else. They sponsor a series of conferences throughout the year, including conferences for the ministry, spiritual encouragement for young girls, men's fellowship, etc., as well as a full calendar of social events and concerts.
Bradford is an industrial city in the north of England. The original village dates back to Norman times, but it is during the Industrial Revolution that Bradford came into its own as a major textile and manufacturing centre. Today it bases its economy on engineering, chemicals, digital media and financial services. The Bronte sisters, of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre fame, lived and wrote here. The area surrounding Abundant Life Centre is industrial, without any housing to speak of.
The Revd Charlotte Scanlon-Gambil, senior associate pastor.
What was the name of the service?Evening Service.
How full was the building?
Practically full. More seats could have been put in the wings but weren't needed.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The car parking lady was dancing in the rain and told us about how it was the perfect weather for that sort of thing. As we entered, a couple of greeters said hello.
Was your pew comfortable?
Once I sat on it I didn't think of it again, so yes, it was comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Loud. Like at a rock concert, with people coming in and chatting to each other while musicians tuned up on stage.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The very first sentence was a song lyric, although I had trouble hearing the voices over the instruments. It sounded like "Are you ready to receive?" although I couldn't quite make it out.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
It was all on big screens at the front of the stage (maybe 15 feet square, and they're planning to get bigger ones too). The Bible translation was the New International Version, also on screen.
What musical instruments were played?
They seemed to have everything: keyboard, guitars, drums, and even a tambourine.
Did anything distract you?
Well, there were quite a few attractive young ladies around, some even on stage. That was distracting. Also, I know some people who attend Abundant Life and I kept looking around to see if I recognised anyone. The main distraction, though, was the way in which every other sentence was greeted with a whoop from the congregation.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy clappy to the nth degree. It was practically a rock concert! Very much a performance based worship style. Everyone seemed to be doing as they wished, and with great enthusiasm. There were some people dancing in the open spaces and others skateboarding up and down the half pipe onstage.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – Pastor Scanlon-Gambil walked around the stage quite a bit and spoke in a very chatty manner. I don't think she'd be much different in a face to face conversation. Her sermon raised some points of controversy among my companions and me, which I shall come to later.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The pastor spoke on identity and the direction we walk in. Many of us struggle with identity in and out of the church. Part of this has to do with falling into relationships or friendships without thinking about them. We end up walking alongside people who are going somewhere different from us, and this prevents us from being who God wants us to be.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The enthusiam. People were obviously happy to be there.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There seemed to be too much of a focus on the church rather than Jesus or helping the world. The emphasis seemed to be on building up the church for the church's sake. I may be wrong, as this was my only visit, but it seemed a very insular, inward looking faith. And my companions and I disagreed on whether the sermon implied that we should abandon our friends who happen not to be Christian, or merely distance ourselves from them if they act in a way that we disagree with. The pastor also seemed to say that we should have an agenda for our friendships (which appalled me). I think it all depends on how you were listening to it.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My companions didn't want to hang around, so off we went.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a coffee shop upstairs although I didn't get to try it.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – It would do my head in. The style of worship was too exuberant for me. I prefer more contemplative styles. Also, the way in which anything and everything could get a whoop and a clap was particularly annoying. It also seemed very gut oriented – don't think, just believe, which isn't my sort of mindset. But mind you, the abundance of attractive young ladies might bring me back another time!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No, it didn't. It made me sad to see so many people so on fire but who, it seemed, would never be going out into the world to show Jesus to others. It seemed all style with little substance. I felt uneasy thinking about how these goings-on could easily give a secular visitor the wrong impression.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
People skateboarding on stage during the worship session.