Five Points Community, Auburn Hills, Michigan, USA

Five Points Community, Auburn Hills, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Angel Unaware
Church: Five Points Community
Location: Auburn Hills, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 15 June 2008, 10:45am

The building

The congregation first met in 1940 in the home of a Michigan farmer whose land stood at the intersection of five dirt roads. Later a small chapel was built, and over the years several additions were appended to the original chapel so that the building complex today is a potpourri of rooms and hallways. The campus comprises a very large plot of ground that includes a softball field and an undeveloped wooded area. The worship building itself appears to be a conglomeration of three structures: the original chapel, a white clapboard church in the American prairie style; a larger chapel of tan-colored brick with dull-colored stained glass windows typical of the 1960s; and finally a modern gymnasium. All three sections of the building are connected by dimly-lit interior passages. What's more, there isn't one main entrance but three. Surrounding the buildings is a large asphalt parking lot, with little landscaping, dotted with many light poles strung together with overhead wires. Worship now occurs in the gymnasium, which is outfitted for worship on Sundays – a "sanctanasium," as this Mystery Worshipper calls it. The sanctanasium is accessed through a labyrinth of interior passageways.

The church

The worship folder asked us to "pray and fast on Wednesdays for the purpose of taking our church before the Lord as we are walking through this valley of suffering." But the "valley of suffering" was never explained during the service nor mentioned in the prayers. In addition to the Wednesday fast, the church serves up a wide menu of ministry and education opportunities for all under the supervision of the male-only church council. There is a Bible study every Sunday as well as a morning and evening worship service. They are a member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and as such subscribe to the Cambridge Declaration of 1996. They also espouse the Calvinistic doctrine of monergism, which teaches that the Holy Spirit brings about the spiritual regeneration of people without the need for involvement of the human will. In addition, they subscribe to the London Confession of 1689 and the New Hampshire Confession of 1833, giving their beliefs a decidedly Baptist leaning.

The neighborhood

The church is located in the Detroit suburb of Auburn Hills, Michigan, near the intersection of five major thoroughfares, successors to the five dirt roads on the farmer's land. Hence the name "Five Points Community Church" – not a reference, as I had assumed, to the church's adherence to the five points of Calvinistic doctrine, but nevertheless a providential double-entendre. Auburn Hills is home to many automobile plants, including Chrysler and, until this past year, Volkswagen-Audi. The Oakland University campus is across the street from the church and occupies the former estate of the Dodge family of automobile fame. To the northwest is the Palace of Auburn Hills, home court venue of the Detroit Pistons basketball team.

The cast

Neither the song leader, worship leaders nor preacher introduced themselves.

What was the name of the service?

Lord's Day Morning Worship.

How full was the building?

Loosely three-quarters full, about 200 worshippers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No one greeted me in the sanctanasium or in the maze leading to it, even though the close quarters caused me literally to brush shoulders with fellow pilgrims on the way in. I was hopeful for a greeting when one gentleman approached me after I was seated, but he merely asked how many seats I would be needing. Curiously, when I responded, "One only," he sat down four seats over. I guess he had need for lots of personal space – at least three chairs worth – and I tried not to take the move personally.

Was your pew comfortable?

Individual padded chairs. Economically firm but not plump.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Busy and buzzy. Most congregants were conversing with their friends. The high ceilings and gym floor of the sanctanasium amplified the pre-service chatter even more.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. A few announcements to get us started."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There were no books. A huge screen, which covered the cross, displayed texts to songs (but no music). It appeared as though there is a practice that congregants bring their own Bibles with them.

What musical instruments were played?

A small bevy of instruments supported a well-dressed and manicured praise team, members of which held individual, sponge-muffed microphones.

Did anything distract you?

What intrigued me was how the gymnasium was turned into a worship space for the morning. While no attempt was made to hide an electronic scoreboard or the basketball hoops, most curious was the addition of four Corinthian columns on the front stage. This congregation purports to be thoroughly Calvinistic in their theology and life; so the columns – a reminder of the most pagan and humanistic temples ever of Corinth – were incongruous to me. In another irony, the Roman cross placed on the wall behind the stage for the occasion was covered by an even larger projection screen. The screen was recoiled for the sermon with the push of a button – the low hum of its engine and its electrical surge that dimmed the lights drew our attention to this mechanical marvel. I must confess that it was rather entertaining to watch the big screen go up and down, down and up, and then up and down again.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It is very difficult to label the style here. The structure seemed free-form Baptist. The songs, apparently known only to the praise team, were a warm-up for the 43-minute sermon (see below). So it was more as though we "went to sermon" than that we "went to church." No one seemed really to get into the music anyway, and things really didn't settle down until the sermon. One of the musical selections was "A mighty fortress," a Lutheran hymn that had no connection to the theme of the service, surely used only because it was a "churchy" piece known to most that counter-balanced the other unknown songs.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

43 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

5 – The minister had a very intense, laborious and somber delivery. His language was heady and his theology fundamentalist. He sat upon a stool behind the acrylic pulpit, and wiped his brow often with a white handkerchief. His illustrations were mostly of father-martyrs; so either consciously or subconsciously his delivery certainly matched his content on this day. I felt for those otherwise young, single, or married but childless men in the congregation – to say nothing of the women present.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Fathers Day. The preacher instructed us how to be good biblical fathers. He held up as an example the distinguished and well known television journalist Tim Russert, who had died just a few days before. He said how much he mourned Russert's passing, but I couldn't help but wonder what there was about Russert, who admitted to being a devout Roman Catholic but with some misgivings, and whose favorite beverage was Rolling Rock beer (indeed, fellow anchorman Tom Brokaw had toasted Russert with a Rolling Rock at his funeral), that so captivated this Calvinistic/Baptist preacher.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The commitment of a congregation to gather in a gym on a hot, Sunday morning.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Because I didn't know the songs flashed on the screen, it was frustrating not being able to participate. Also, I was struck by the disconnect between their Calvinistic theology and verbiage and their actual worship practice. It was as though a group of Baptists had "discovered" predestination and then re-badged themselves with the Calvinist descriptor, believing that predestination only is the beginning and end-all of Calvinism.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I meandered about a bit through those endless, dimly-lit passageways in search of an exit. The pre-service friendship circles reassembled instantly and no one spoke to me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Weak and nondescript coffee-flavored water served in non-biodegradable styrofoam cups with plastic stir sticks.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

1 – I would not put this congregation on any of my short-list of churches to re-visit. The community seemed very closed, and the style and content of worship is limited to a very special niche of Baptist/Calvinist Christians, despite the tag "community church" in its name. Further, I think the direction, ministry and aesthetics of the church suffer from male-only leadership; I'd want a church that affirms the gifts of all members regardless of gender.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Frankly, the overly-laborious style of the minister left me depleted and dry. (Would someone please place a glass of ice water in the pulpit for him?) The shame-based tone of the sermon matched the heavy feel of the service. Worshippers received the message as old hat, and not as fresh food.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

That this Protestant church felt a gymnasium was "made holy" by flanking the minister with faux Corinthian columns.

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