A city-centre building on the Rue Verdaine, in between fancy shops in the Old Town. Inside, the furnishings seem pretty new and well-maintained, with the plainness and functionality you would expect.
There seemed to be a significant Spanish contingent at the Salvation Army Church (l'Armée du Salut à Genève). One of the officers (ministers) was Spanish – although he spoke fluent French throughout – and the hymns were sung in both French and Spanish. A woman provided live translation through headphones for those who only spoke Spanish, which struck me as very UN-esque.
This is the third church I’ve visited in the neighbourhood of the Old Town of Geneva. It is very beautiful and very expensive, and given that it was raining heavily, a lot less crowded than usual.
Two male officers led the service. Two female officers gave the sermon. Music was provided by a brass band (made up of officers and laity), and by a worship band (all laity).
What was the name of the service?Sunday service.
How full was the building?
Mostly full in a building that seated about 150.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A few people said hello as I sat down.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a wooden chair. Not the heights of luxury, but my bum remained un-numb for an hour and a quarter.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of people exchanging friendly greetings and chatting.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The start of the service was signalled by the brass band playing a short song (I didn’t recognise the tune). One of the officers came up to the lectern and read Isaiah 55:1-7, and then said, Je vous souhaite la bienvenue ce matin (‘I welcome you this morning’).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The hymn lyrics were projected on a screen above the stage. There were hymnals at the back, but these weren’t used. Some people had their own copies of the Bible.
What musical instruments were played?
There were two bands: a brass band to one side of the stage – I counted a trumpet, a trombone, a French horn and possibly two tubas. Onstage was a worship band: a very talented guitarist, a bassist, a keyboard player, a bassist and a vocalist.
Did anything distract you?
Two ladies in front of me did not stop talking for the entire service. The lady providing on-the-fly translation was sitting behind me. She was very impressive, but distracting.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Typically happy-clappy Salvationist fare. Lots of hands were raised during the hymns. I was amused to see one of the officers hand their toddler off to her husband, also an officer, so she could put her hands up. There were three or four songs in a row from the worship band, followed by a consecration of a congregation member’s baby, and finally the sermon.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 — She was very passionate and sweet. There was a little audience participation, although nothing excruciating. The sermon was very well-structured.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
After one of the officers read a short story from the point of view of the Samaritan woman at the well, another came up and gave the sermon on the story: Jesus wants to form a deeper relationship with us. He understood the Samaritan woman’s complex life and loved her nonetheless. We can open ourselves up to him in the same way and find salvation.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I was very very moved by the consecration of the baby of a family in the congregation. As one of the officers and the baby’s grandfather prayed for her and her parents, a slideshow of pictures of her as a newborn was displayed. Her parents were clearly smitten and it was a privilege to be present as a baby was welcomed into the wider family.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The music from the worship band wasn’t entirely to my taste, although I will admit to being quite taken by a French and Spanish translation of ‘Waymaker’.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After a few minutes, a man came up to me and gave me a very firm handshake. We chatted for a bit – about my degree, mostly – and he told me he’d been a devout Salvationist in the past but was in a period of doubt. We promised to pray for each other.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We were promised a ‘collation’ from the family of the dedicated baby, but it was threatening rain, so I skedaddled.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 — I’m not a Salvationist, and I would miss my usual fare of incense and silver cutlery were I to make this my permanent home, but I have a lot of respect for the Salvation Army in general and this warm community in Geneva in particular.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely. The young guitarist’s solos alone were enough to make one believe in God.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Probably the very cute baby, who was the highlight of the whole morning.
Image: Radio Lac