Mystery Worshipper: Arphaxad
Church: Quinte Alliance
Location: Belleville, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 15 August 2010, 10:00am
Nondescript 1980s brick number – not extravagant by any means. The interior is likewise plain, with upholstered pews and a stage area framed by a classical-looking proscenium. I'll have more to say about the decor in a moment. In addition to the fellowship hall, this church has a charming café near the entrance, with stylish tables.
They sponsor a number of prayer and study groups along with the occasional social. Their Sunday service includes a children's program and nursery care.
Belleville is a quaint little city about 110 miles east of Toronto on the Bay of Quinte, which opens into Lake Ontario. The church is located on the outskirts of town, in a somewhat depressed neighbourhood of slightly run-down homes and apartments. It is also a stone's throw from nearby agricultural land.
The ministers were the entire congregation! The Revd Ernie Klassen, senior pastor, preached. The Revd Terry Dorey, assistant pastor, went through a rather large list of "news, weather and sports" as he so bashfully put it.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Service.
How full was the building?
Full to capacity, but not bursting to the point of causing grief to the fire marshal. This is not a neighbourhood church – most of the congregation drive in and fill the expansive parking lots.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The people were very welcoming. I had several handshakes and good mornings. They seemed genuinely interested in the visitor. The senior pastor introduced himself and his wife.
Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfy. Padded front and back, the kind that are good for your backside but not so good for resonance. The pews are a little close together, so no one had a lot of personal space. Someone with claustrophobia would have been a teensy bit uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Warm and relaxed. Groups of people chatted both in the fellowship hall and in the sanctuary. Coffee was available in the café. I was surprised to see a digital read-out on the screen of the time remaining before the start of service. Correspondingly, chit-chat didn't continue too much beyond the start of proceedings.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"A good Sunday morning to you. Welcome to Quinte Alliance Church."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We didn't use any. Everything was supplied on screen, from the songs (copyright information was included) to verses from The Holy Bible, New International Version, to maps, etc. Nonetheless, Bibles and hymnals (Hymns of the Christian Faith) were available in the pews.
What musical instruments were played?
Christian contemporary typical: piano, electric guitar, bass, drums, and one of those Korg synthesizer thingies. Apparently this was a visiting group; normally a variety of worship teams take turns leading, and I'm told their styles are all different.
Did anything distract you?
One noisy child was mildly distracting – her enthusiastic singing caused a few smiles from neighbours. The minister wore one of those hands-free microphones so he could wander around and gesticulate freely. The distracting part is that the "skin-coloured" microphone stuck out against his swarthy complexion. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised at how few distractions there were. Normally I am distracted by how glitzy and slick some of the "progressive" churches try to be. Quinte Alliance seemed very real.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Enthusiastic and sincere. Yes, there were raised hands during some of the singing, and the occasional "Amen!". On a scale of 0 = tomb and 10 = Black Southern Baptist, QAC would be a 6 or 6.5. Not too expressive on the outside, but I think very luminous on the inside.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
4 minutes for the historical background and 30 minutes for the sermon.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Pastor Klassen smiled the entire time! I think that this was genuine warmth and joy, rather than the fake cheesy grin of TV evangelists who have fabulous dental plans and recently whitened teeth.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon's title as flashed on the PowerPoint screen was "Spiritual Nostalgia: Coming Back to God". He linked Psalm 137 ("By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept") to the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal son recognised his folly; he knew he had gone astray. So, too, do we experience spiritual depression, despair, defeat, dejectedness, when we know we have done wrong. Our first step to coming back to God is to feel nostalgia for God's ways. Like the prodigal son, our way back is really quite simple: confess!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Pre-service coffee! Brilliant! The congregation seemed really cohesive, enthusiastic, and genuine. Solid sermon content.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The persimmon colour of the pew upholstery. Fake trimwork to look like Doric columns behind the screen. Ugh. And the individual putting the song lyrics on screen was often a few steps behind.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The church emptied out fairly quickly, as coffee time had already taken place before the service. And frankly, people have things to do! A few people did stop to chat with the newcomer, but it seemed somewhat less enthusiastic than it had been earlier.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Regular or decaf, quite passable coffee, probably not fair trade. Evil styrofoam cups. Choice of real cream or milk – much better than that nasty powdered chemical coffee whitener. No cookies or juice, though.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Belleville, like other places, seems to be in a bit of a crisis church-wise. Many churches are really under-capacity, for a variety of reasons. But Quinte Alliance Church was a pleasing exception to this. It seems healthy and happy. In a sea of "seeker friendly" (and somewhat fake) churches, this one appears very down-to-earth.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Coffee with real cream – available before the service!