Mystery Worshipper: Nengscoz
Church: St Peter's in the City
Location: Tauranga, New Zealand
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 June 2011, 6:50pm
Basically a modern red brick building with narrow windows. A large cross outlined in blue is superimposed upon a white inlay. The church appears to be redeveloping at the moment, so the exterior is a confusion of scaffolding. Inside were white walls and grey carpeted partitions.
St Peter's describes its heritage as evangelical Presbyterian and offers a variety of services ranging from traditional to family to contemporary. The church offers outreach to the community through St Peter's House, a charity working to assist people in various ways. This can be through counselling, advocacy, or group parenting classes.
Tauranga is the sixth largest city in New Zealand and is experiencing a period of population growth. It is popular for its close proximity to beautiful beaches and the Pacific Ocean. The church is located near the centre of town, just off the main road.
Paul Archer, music ministry coordinator, opened with singing. Rob Williams, youth pastor, led the sermon.
What was the name of the service?Evening Service.
How full was the building?
Half full (the approximate capacity would have been 70). Tauranga is well known to be the place where people retire to. In reflection of this, about 60 per cent of the congregation were over 60. About 35 per cent, however, were teenagers, and I understand the youth group precedes the service.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I walked in looking lost, sat for 10 minutes looking lonely, got some tea, and sat somewhere else. It took 15 minutes for anyone to notice me.
Was your pew comfortable?
A padded bench seat, which was obviously comfortable as I noticed a few people had dozed off.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was nice background music. I spent most of the time confused, wondering if I was in the right place and whether there was going to be a service, as it took 20 minutes for anything more than teenagers gossiping really to happen.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Everybody wishing to worship tonight, stand and sing. Or stay seated." (Everyone stayed seated.)
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Copies of The Holy Bible, New International Version, were available for reference, and I saw a couple of people referring to them during the service.
What musical instruments were played?
Just a guitar.
Did anything distract you?
Trying to work out, based on breathing patterns, whether there were one or two people asleep in the pews behind me.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was billed as a contemporary service. It consisted of 25 minutes of singing contemporary songs, followed by a 30 minute sermon based around various parts of the Bible. The projector was used during the sermon as well as for song words. A few people sat with hands upturned during the songs.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 — The jokes were good, there was congregational participation, and there was a good run-down of the book of Ruth. Rob knew not only his Bible but also the relevant culture of the period he was talking about, and could make this accessible to the congregation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon anticipated Pentecost by looking at themes and symbols in the Bible. It looked at the Akedah (Genesis 22, the story of Abraham and Isaac) and the book of Ruth, and how these link to the story of Christ.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The pictures shown as a backdrop to the songs.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The awkward 15 minutes at the start wondering if I was in the right place, sitting next to teenagers who chose to come and sit next to me but ignored me, wondering when (if) the service was going to start.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was, on the whole, ignored. Someone, also new, asked me how to work the hot water. Then two people made eye contact but started conversations with other people. Oh, it was awkward!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A good range of teas were provided (herbal, fruit, as well as "normal"), and the pikelets (small pancakes customarily served with tea) were cute and tasty.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I felt out of place and in a hostile environment for 90 per cent of the time, plus I did not feel as if the congregation enjoyed being there: little interaction in the singing; people falling asleep during the sermon. The only redeeming factor was the interesting sermon.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not at all. I hope that visitors don't judge Christianity by this church, whose congregation ignore you, and where you are not welcomed until 20 minutes into the sermon.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The passion of Rob as he delivered his sermon.