Mystery Worshipper: Arphaxad
Church: Parkdale Baptist
Location: Belleville, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 August 2012, 10:00am
From the outside, Parkdale Baptist looks like a well-maintained 1970s brick building, slightly on the funky side. Inside, it has a labyrinthine horror of a floor plan. The sanctuary is much wider than it is long, and the platform/stage area is also very wide. The two blank walls on either side of the podium area were thus very large. Never fear! The blankness was filled by gigantic, symmetrical projections from the digital projectors.
According to the website, they run a variety of ministries to different groups, from Bible study to summer camp, from toddlers to youth to seniors, for women, for men. As evidenced by today's service, they also run an active mission to the First Nations community.
The city of Belleville is located about 200km east of Toronto on the scenic (but somewhat polluted) Bay of Quinte. Its economy is largely based on light industry, small and medium business, and transportation, with some agriculture mixed in. The population is predominantly blue-collar and overwhelmingly hockey-crazed. Although Parkdale Baptist is in a residential area, it is on a super busy thoroughfare. Much of the congregation aren't actually from the nearby residential area; rather, they drive in from a one-hour radius.
This morning's service was led by a mission team who had just spent a week on an aboriginal reserve.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Worship/Worshipping Together. This service was a celebration of what God has done through his team from Parkdale who ministered in Sagamok (a First Nations reserve) for a week.
How full was the building?
Mostly full. The parking lot was bulging. Probably a little over 200 were in attendance. Pretty good for a summer Sunday during Ribfest (an annual summer barbecue festival on the waterfront). Demographically, it was what one would expect: about half seniors and the rest a fair mix of all ages.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Entering the church via the back door, as most others seemed to be doing, we ran a short gauntlet of greeters at various points. They were ready with smiles and handshakes and undoubtedly would have given directions if we had gotten lost in the unusual floorplan.
Was your pew comfortable?
We had lovely, comfortable, well-padded chairs. There was ample room between rows, so we didn't need to elbow our way to a seat.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was cheerful and somewhat chatty. At least half the congregation were late.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Morning! I'm not Pastor John or Mark, as you may have noticed." I would say not a powerful way to begin; let's call it casual humility.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. All songs were projected onto the screens. The songs were all modern praise choruses or children's Bible songs.
What musical instruments were played?
One piano, three acoustic guitars, and two vocalists. Apparently this wasn't a typical service. I did see an electronic drumkit prominently placed, and have heard rumours that at least one person left the congregation on account of hearing loss. I'll have to go back on a more typical Sunday armed with earplugs for my own personal health and safety.
Did anything distract you?
A lady sitting a few seats away from us had her cup of Tim Horton's coffee (it's a Canadian thing), and the smell was causing me to covet.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
On the clappy-happy side for sure. The first few songs were children's songs like what would have been shared with kids on the mission field with actions and all! The majority of the congregation participated with glee.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The message was delivered by a high school teacher who frequently leads devotions with teenagers. His sense of humour was a bit stilted, but funny nonetheless. The worst joke, however, was a reference to baseball: "In the big inning."
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The theme for the Sagamok mission team was "promises" a hard-sell considering aboriginal history in Canada. They are accustomed to broken promises, and have sometimes a complete lack of trust in white people, especially authority figures. The sermon talked about God's promises, from the big ones (Abraham's offspring, the coming Messiah), to the smaller daily promises (sustaining us, giving us strength, providing a way out of temptation).
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I appreciated one particular part of the preacher's prayer (in the Sagamok reserve): "May you move in your way and your time, and may we be a part of that." Most evangelical churches in North America tend to make demands of the Holy Spirit, like selfish children wanting instant gratification. This revealed the spirit of "less of me, more of you" that is so absent in our culture.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
During the first few worship songs, there were three people dressed as animals (a penguin and two crocodiles, if you must know) on stage with the worship team. Apparently they had something to do with the mission team to the Sagamok reserve. Cute but weird.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most people exited fairly quickly and didn't seem inclined to talk. The website for the church mentions a coffee/fellowship/Sunday school time after church, but either it was not on during the summer or people were just eager to get to Ribfest. In any case, the fellowship hall was harder to find than the washrooms.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None available. We will have to go back on a typical Sunday and try again.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – Again, we will have to see what a normal worship service is like.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
In parts. That a congregation are so dedicated to outreach to the aboriginal community is really inspirational. Songs with actions not so much.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Sadly, probably the costumes on stage! I hope to cling to the one item of prayer: "In your time, and in your way, Lord!"