I visited another church this morning. It was an old building in a residential area. I arrived about 10 minutes before the stated service start time, and when I went inside there were a only a handful of people and about the same number of small children. The space is typical of it’s era. Wood panel just over one meter up the side walls with painted plaster the rest of the way up. There were old oak pews, in a curved or semicircular arrangement, a wood floor which looked like it had been refinished, a raised stage with music equipment and mikes set up, and a fair bit of natural light. For some reason I never took a close look at the windows. The atmosphere at that point was very casual, people were chatting, wandering around, some were discussing a few final preparations. The church is quite active in the community, based on their phone answering recording which tells you what numbers you want to dial if you want to reach certain agencies. The bulletin handout as well had lots of such information. Someone met me at the door and handed me one. I sat near the back and looked around. A young father with a baby in hand came over to talk to me, and we had very a very relaxed “Hello, have you been here before… Where you from?” conversation. He was more relaxed than I, because I have not decided clearly what I will say in response to such questions.
Over time more and more people filtered in. They kept arriving, well into the start of the service, until by the end the building was more than half full. There were two or three clear themes to the group. One was that the vast majority were in their twenties, a lot of them couples. The second was that there were quite a few people of non Caucasion backgrounds. A third was their general ‘laid back-ness.’ It could have been the children of a hippy group-with a few of the hippies around as well. It was all refreshingly and promisingly young and casual. There was not a full suit in the place, though one person was wearing a suit jacket. There were also a few people who clearly were from the margins of society, and there was no one who had a deliberate appearance of being upper crust.
A group of youths led the worship. Several were vocalists, there was a tom-tom type drum, an amplified guitar and a piano. Instrumental skill was very evident. The words were projected from a transparency-sheet overhead projector. One person seemed to be in charge of the sequence of events and announcing what was next. I always admire the courage of a group of teens and youth getting up and leading and this group took their task seriously, overcoming what looked like stage awkwardness to deliver the goods – including the scripture reading. Another did the children’s story later. There was a bit of a feel in the songs of trying to recreate another worship event at another place and time. Somehow we just lacked vigor all together in the end. A feeling of going through the motions echoing another better time grew in me. It may be that the congregation did not know the songs, though I knew at least half of them. That lack of zing, of spark, of zest prevailed unfortunately. It was too bad.
The message was decent in its own right. It had a social justice/earth care/ heaven’s perspective theme to it. It had a good mix of personal story and scripture explanation and had a good point to make overall, but in my estimation it missed gospel, good news. I had a sense that I and some in the congregation were having a hard time staying engaged in the message.
I went home disappointed in the end, when the situation had looked very promising.