Mystery Worshipper: Ken T. Poste
Church: Emmanuel Evangelical
Location: Westminster, London
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 March 2017, 10:30am
The Emmanuel Centre was built in 1928 to a design by the architect Sir Herbert Baker, designer of some of New Delhi's most notable government structures as well as the Anglican cathedral in Salisbury, Rhodesia, and numerous private homes and public buildings in South Africa. From the outside it looks fairly plain in comparison to some of the grand architecture elsewhere in Westminster. However, as you step inside, it is every bit as grand and impressive as many a public building. There is a grand marble foyer with a small staircase leading up the entrance to the auditorium. The auditorium itself is a huge circular structure, with rows of curved pews gently sloping down towards the front. As you look up, you are struck by a number of inscriptions, some of panels, one of which encircles the entire ceiling. In the centre of this is a large glass dome. As well as being the home of the church, the building also doubles up as a conference centre.
Emmanuel Evangelical Church was founded in 1989 with a congregation of 70 who met at St Peter's, Vere Street, now home to the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity. They moved around a little in the 1990s before settling at their current location in 1997. Emmanuel is a cell church, which meet in various locations across the city and at different times. They state on their website: "Cells are not optional - they are vital." The church meets for prayer on a Sunday before the main service and they also hold a half night of prayer (11.00pm-1.30am) on a Friday night/Saturday morning.
Westminster is a hub of activity, whether it be as the seat of the UK government, the focus of subsequent protest, or as an area for tourists to come and take selfies in front of grand buildings. The area is also rich in ecclesiastical heritage, dominated by the Anglican Abbey, the Catholic Cathedral and the Methodist Central Hall. Emmanuel Church itself sits midway between the government Home Office and the Church of England's Church House.
The service was led by Peter Loo, senior pastor. The sermon was given by Rick Ridings, pastor of Succat Hallel (Tabernacle of Praise), Jerusalem.
What was the name of the service?Main Sunday Service.
How full was the building?
I estimated about 180 present, but the large auditorium can seat up to 1,000.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. A few people were on the door, but all ignored me as I came in. A young girl (I estimate about four or five years old) handed me a notice sheet, but nobody spoke to me as I went to find a seat or after I had sat down.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was. The pews had a back that leant back ever so slightly, and there was a foot rest. The lack of cushions in no way made it an unpleasant experience.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As I came in, the worship band were finishing their practice. Once they'd finished, there was a gentle hum of multiple conversations happening in small groups as friends greeted one another and caught up on the news of the last week.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. OK, could you all please settle down. No more talking at the back."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. The words to the songs were projected on a main screen at the front of the church, with some smaller screens nearer the sides. There were no scripture readings, so I could not tell what translation of the Bible is preferred. There was also a newsletter printed on A4 paper.
What musical instruments were played?
They had a keyboard, a semi-acoustic guitar and a five-string bass. There was also a set of drums that were played from inside a perspex box.
Did anything distract you?
Near the start of the service, a young child dropped a bottle of fizzy drink, which rolled under several of the rows of pews. The child then spent some time looking for it, though I was anticipating an explosion of fizzy drink when the bottle was later opened, but it never came.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was fairly middle of the road for an evangelical church. There were a few songs, all fairly contemporary. A couple of people waved flags and there was some clapping after the end of one or two songs. Communion was ministered very early in the service, before the sermon; we had dry crackers instead of either bread or wafers, and grape juice in individual plastic cups. We all ate and drank at the same time, after the elements had been distributed.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was a 20 minute prophetic word, followed by another message. Between them, Pastor Rick spoke for 55 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
1 – Pastor Rick didn't really need a microphone. He shouted through most of the sermon in a broad American accent, which, combined with the poor acoustics, made him quite difficult to hear. He is evidently well practiced in public speaking, but his score reflects the content, not the style of his message. There were lots of vague statements about mantles of anointing and clouds of witnesses that were barely coherent. All the while, Patty, Rick's wife, was playing keyboards behind him as a kind of mood music.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was about Israel's role in the world, with particular reference to its relation to the United States. One of the slides read: "USA plays a very important role in Israel as her supporter and in the Middle East. Pray for Donald Trump that God uses him as His instrument." However, Israel [he said] is not wholly godly; most of them are socialists. God is positioning the UK for a new move of his. Emmanuel church is strategically poised for a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit through prayer. World War II was won more by prayer than on the ground. All nations (by this he meant ethnic groups) have a gift and calling from God. Our membership of the kingdom of God does not erase our ethnicity. To know God fully, we must know his heart for all the descendants of Abraham. If you ever want to know why there is so much oil in the Middle East, it's because God blessed Ishmael. In thinking through the roles of Abraham's offspring, our thinking must be formed by God's Word, not by humanistic media, the latter of which was formed in atheistic universities with an anti-God agenda. The Temple Mount is still the home of God on earth; it is the throne of the world. The "Isaiah 19 highway" (seemingly a specific reference to Isaiah 19:23-25) is the key to restoring worship of the true God on his Holy Hill. Both Asia and Africa will play an important role in building this highway.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Throughout the service, I could see, in the far corner, a deaf interpreter translating the whole service. Yet they seemed to be doing so for the benefit of only one person. It reminded me of the parable of the sheep and the goats: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. It was a lovely example of a ministry of inclusion.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Undoubtedly, the sermon. It was awash with platitudes, shoddy exegesis and bizarre assertions.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much. Only one person spoke to me for a few seconds. One very enthusiastic man who was trying to shake hands with everyone momentarily caught my hand in his grasp. Other than that, I came and went without anyone speaking to me for more than a minute.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
If there was any, it was a well-kept secret. There was no public notice about any refreshments, nor was there a personal invitation.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – Zionism is not my cup of tea.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The feeling of how uncomfortable I was being in the presence of a shouty American Zionist.