It looks like a massive warehouse from outside. Driving into the car park, one is impressed by the sheer size of it. Inside is quite plush: nice carpets and polished brass in abundance. The auditorium itself is very impressive. There's a large stage that runs almost the length of the room, upon which are three large screens, the central one being larger than the outer two. The floor slopes gently toward the front. The false ceilings are quite high, lending a spacious, airy feel to the place. It reminded me a bit of being in the cinema.
They say they have around 350 families in membership, and have an impressive host of services on offer to the community. These include English classes for immigrants and social action teams directed toward the bereaved and juvenile delinquents, etc. The church has grown considerably over the years; this building is an upgrade on their previous one, which I remember visiting many years ago. I learned tonight that they are seeking to upgrade the present tenement to almost double their seating capacity, which will mean almost 1000 pews!
Not pretty. Bangor is a lovely seaside town where people regularly come for fish'n chips and ice-cream, but Bangor Elim is slightly out of town in an industrial area just off a very busy road. It's surrounded by large franchise stores and warehouses.
The Revd Davy Beckett, senior pastor, preached, but the service was led by another man whose name I didn't get.
What was the name of the service?Evening Service.
How full was the building?
I would estimate around 400 people in the house altogether, with room for at least another 100 or so.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I reached the door, a man opened it for me. He called me "buddy"! I was also handed an announcement sheet as I entered the auditorium.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, it was very nice indeed. Folding cinema type seats, very well upholstered, with armrests that were just the right height.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a fair amount of hubbub: a steady stream of people flowing in right up to the start. The chat volume remained around the same – slightly above reverent-hush level – throughout. There was a timer on the screen that counted down the final three minutes till the service began and, sure enough, it started bang on time. Just before the start, a side stage door opened and the musicians trooped in – all 20 or so of them – and took their places. A very impressive looking squad, I must say.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening and hello. Welcome to Bangor Elim."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None, although there was a rack of Bibles at the back with a sign inviting anyone who forgot their Bible to borrow one of these.
What musical instruments were played?
There was a keyboard, at least three guitars, two saxophones, a flute, a drum kit, and also some African type bongo drums – as well as around 13 vocalists.
Did anything distract you?
The folding seats were very creaky. In fact, when at several points during the service the congregation were asked to stand, all the seats sprang back simultaneously and made a lot of noise (I found this amusing). During the opening song, a message flashed on the screen announcing that "Kidzone is now open" and all the kids dutifully began to file out. While I thought this was quite ingenious, it was nevertheless quite distracting. I wondered if it might take away from the worship experience for everyone when the children literally walked out in the middle of a song.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The music was very good – not very many raised hands, however. The tempo was definitely upbeat. The atmosphere was not quite ecstatic, although the flautist began jumping up and down on stage at one point. The opening song was a solo rendition of "There's a hole in my heart that can only be filled by you", which was a 90s chart hit for the pop group Extreme. As this was sung, the screens flashed up a picture of a massive red heart with a big hole in it! Afterwards the soloist received generous applause.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Pastor Davy is a very good communicator. He spoke very clearly and his manner allowed the message to come over without any distractions. He is very engaging and easy to listen to, but I thought his handling of the text lacked depth. He spent too much time talking about subjective feelings and not enough effort expounding on God's character.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Idols. His text: Exodus 32; the story of the golden calf. "What is your golden calf?" he asked. Is there anything coming between you and God? There is a hole in the heart of "every single person in this room", which can only be filled by God. And God wants to fill it, for he is a jealous God. He is also an angry God, and when people try to elbow him out he doesn't like it. Don't lean on idols, in whatever form they take, because even if they look nice and shiny on the outside they are really rotten underneath and will finally let you down when you lean on them too heavily.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I didn't know many of the songs, but when one came up that I did know, it had a wonderful effect on me and drew me quickly into a state of pure worship. Also, and very surprisingly, the whole service was over in exactly 53 minutes! Incredible for a charismatic service and totally fine by me.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the end of the sermon there was an appeal for raised hands (which I just don't get). Sure enough, somebody's mobile phone broke the silence and was allowed to keep ringing! Thankfully the appeal didn't last very long, however, and was wrapped up after a measly three hands.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I hovered around in the guest welcome area for at least five minutes waiting to be picked up and whisked away to coffee, but as person after person streamed by and ignored me I realized I was destined to be stood up. When I gave up and walked out, someone held the door open for me but didn't say good-bye!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Everyone had been encouraged to stay and visit their state-of-the-art coffee shop, but I couldn't find it and didn't really know where to go. Perhaps it's just as well, because I'm not sure how I would have felt about being asked to pay!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – It's a lovely building, at least on the inside, and has a palpable and wholesome family atmosphere. The music is quite good, and the sermons aren't too long. So yes, definitely a potential for regular worshipping, but they would need to ratchet up the welcome a bit!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The incredible clattering of the folding chairs as everyone stood up together.