Mystery Worshipper: Harriet M. Welsch
Church: New Life Church
Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 January 2007, 9:00am
Warehouse sized, Best Buy meets Hobby Lobby decorations, numerous entrances. The adjacent World Prayer Center was flying one American flag at half mast (presumably for former President Gerald Ford).
This church of 13,000 members was rocked at the beginning of November 2006 with the dismissal of its senior pastor, Ted Haggard, for sex and drug allegations. The whole foundation of the church has been shaken, and they are picking up the pieces. Ted Haggard was the founder of the church (22 years ago today), and brought it from a church of 10 people meeting in his basement to one of the most influential churches for evangelicals in America.
We've had three blizzards in two weeks. It looks like a vast wasteland. Snow is piled up all over.
Ross Parsley, Interim Senior Pastor.
What was the name of the service?No special name.
How full was the building?
At 9.01, the "sanctuary" (I use that term loosely) was half full. Once a guitar was strummed, it filled up to almost full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A middle school boy at the front door said hello to me.
Was your pew comfortable?
Padded seats with no pews, no place to store books, hymnals, bulletins, etc.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Most people stayed in the lobby area until the service started. Those in the sanctuary were clustered in little groups, talking. Some were in circles, holding hands and praying.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everybody. Let's stand up, we're going to dedicate babies."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No hymn books or Bibles (unless you brought your own). The words to the songs were superimposed via PowerPoint onto large screens.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, two electric keyboards, two acoustic guitars, electric guitar, a bass guitar, drums, and six or seven singers planted at various points around the center stage. There was also a choir with well over 100 members.
Did anything distract you?
Compared to my last visit (six months ago, for Pastor Ted Haggard's birthday celebration), there were very few distractions. The fog machine was gone. The light show was mellowed. The walls still changed color; there were still spinning lights and veil-draped ladders. There was no kiddie mosh pit, and very, very few "pogo-ers" dancing in the front. In fact, I was kind of distracted by how subdued it felt compared to my last visit.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship team and musicians were top notch. Again, not a chord out of place, not a missed high note. The leader (I don't know who he was) encouraged hand-clapping and the music was beautiful, but it was not the upbeat, dancing-in-the-spirit type worship I saw in the summer. Actually, I was a little bored by it ... but I think boredom is better than being blown away by theatrics – and mosh pits. I found it interesting that one song had the lyrics: "Arise, O Lord, shine on us, until our generation sees your glory fall." It seems to have a double meaning. I was thinking of Ted Haggard being the glory that fell. Was anyone else thinking that?
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There were two sermons, really. The first was a "state of the church" address, which took 17 minutes. The second was on fasting, which took 30 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – I have to give Ross Parsley credit for what he is doing for New Life Church. In one day, when Ted Haggard came crashing down, Ross was made senior pastor (interim), his wife had their fifth child, and the news media from around the world was pressing him for interviews. I don't know if he aspires to senior pastor, but I hope he doesn't. He was the worship leader for years. In today's service, he had a nice, self-deprecating style. For example, he said, "This is new to me, I'm just getting used to it" while fumbling for a Bible verse; and later said, "We don't really have time for that" when the congregation clapped something he said. He came across as an honest man who understands servant leadership. For his sake, I'd like him to just get a break and get out of the spotlight.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
First, he spoke about the state of the church. Today was the 22nd anniversary of the founding of New Life Church. It was also the 60 day mark since the scandal that rocked the church. Ross has met face-to-face with Ted and Gail Haggard, and it is obvious the Lord is working in both of them. Restoration will begin and will take a long, long time. Overseers are meeting with the rest of the church staff and "rooting out sin" – Christopher Beard, a young adult leader, was fired recently for a "sexual indiscretion" from over three years ago. The overseers compare New Life Church to Noah going through the flood: they are stuck in an ark with a lot of smelly animals. Even though the actual rain stopped after 40 days and nights, it was still months before the people on the ark could set foot on land. Ross predicted that by Easter, five months after the scandal broke, New Life will "see land." Then he spoke about his second subject: fasting. He called for the congregation to start a 21 day fast today (this made the headlines in the local paper). He preached on varieties of fasting in the Bible, and pointed out that Isaiah 58 says the best thing to do while fasting is serve and help others. He also stated that fasting "changes your secrets" (Matthew 6:16-18). He put in some nice "social gospel" comments, about using the food you give up to feed the hungry.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Hmm ... this service was much more "even" than Ted's birthday bash last July. It was almost like New Life on Valium – ho hum. So if I have to pick something "heavenly," I'd say it was my impression that this church is very generous. The college/young adult group gave over $30,000 last week to help the needy in the community. We're talking poor 20-something kids. Impressive. Also, some of those musicians are hot.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Churches need to re-think their seat saving policy. I walked into an almost empty "sanctuary" (concert-hall) and most choice seats were already saved, with coats, Bibles, etc. These seat-savers came in to claim their territory after the service started. Also, it took 20 minutes to get out of the parking lot! Hell is sitting in a freezing cold car, on the plains of stark, snowy Colorado, staring at the Bush-Cheney bumper sticker on the Ford Expedition in front of you.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I wandered about the lobby, noticing people. The truth is: we all looked lost. Many of us had the same startled look in our eyes. I approached the information table and asked if I could have my free CD (promised to visitors). The women behind the counter acted freaked out that I was visiting. "Where are you from?" she asked. "Here." I said. "I live downtown." Perhaps there aren't as many new people since "the scandal" of 60 days ago. Or they are just used to gawkers.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I could have had a "free" beverage – the info counter lady gave me a coupon. But it was too packed and I was getting claustrophobic. Again, New Life has a full on restaurant, which I was surprised was actually open and serving food, since the church called for a 21 day fast, starting today.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 — I wouldn't want to look lost forever.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
More so than last time. Last time, I slinked out of the sanctuary, ashamed of American Christianity, and went home and showered. Today's service was not political at all, talked about serving the needy, did not have extravagant worship (as in the fog machine), the people were more subdued (don't know if that's good), but I felt the service was more genuine.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I'm going to wonder how hungry these people are after a week of fasting – then they've got two weeks left!