New Horizons Community Church, Spokane, Washington, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: New Horizons Community Church
Location: Spokane, Washington, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 July 2021, 9:00am

The building

A low, sprawling warehouse-like structure with pitched roof and plenty of empty space surrounding it. From the video I watched, I could not get a feel for what the interior looks like.

The church

They are affiliated with the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), which distinguishes itself from other Church of God bodies. Their Wikipedia entry is instructive. Although strongly rooted in Wesleyan holiness theology, the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) is somewhat more liberal than other Church of God groups that preach against mixed bathing, outward adornment, short hair on women, long hair on men, and the like; rather, they place more emphasis on internal manifestations of holiness. New Horizons Community Church sponsors an alpha course as well as groups for children, youth and adults. They maintain a community garden called the Garden of Eatin’, strictly organic, that supplies vegetables and fruits for local food banks. There is an in-person Sunday service as well as two on-line services, viewable both on their website and on their Facebook page. On the last Sunday of the month, the in-person service is held outdoors, with lunch to follow.

The neighborhood

Spokane is a city in eastern Washington near the border with Idaho. Founded in the late 1870s, the city was totally destroyed by fire in 1889, and was completely rebuilt in the years that followed. Today, downtown Spokane is a wonderland of old Romanesque Revival buildings coexisting with modern structures. Spokane claims to be the birthplace of Father’s Day: in 1909, a local resident, the daughter of a Civil War veteran, proposed a national day of recognition to complement Mother’s Day. However, Congress repeatedly declined to establish Father’s Day as a holiday, and observance of the day remained sporadic and spotty for most of the 20th century until trade groups began to realize its commercial possibilities. President Richard M. Nixon finally declared it a national holiday in 1972. New Horizons Community Church is located in the northwest precincts of the city, in what appears to be a middle class residential area.

The cast

The senior pastor and the ministry development pastor.

What was the name of the service?

Online Sunday Service.

How full was the building?

The on-line counter only showed 11 at its highest point.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The ministry development pastor spoke some words of welcome, but I wouldn’t call them personal.

Was your pew comfortable?

My desk chair was its usual comfortable self.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I busied myself arranging the necessary windows on my computer. A short video was displayed consisting of words of welcome by the ministry development pastor, accompanied by clips of children exercising, young adults playing some sort of lawn game, happy people streaming into the building, etc. When that finished, a countdown clock appeared along with the message ‘Stay right here. Service begins soon.’ Lite rock background music was playing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Well, good morning, New Horizons Community Church, and welcome.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None. Words to the songs were displayed on screen.

What musical instruments were played?

Not sure. The music was canned, not live, and consisted of lite rock Christian songs sung with a Country and Western twang. I really couldn’t pick out which instruments were being played or how many vocalists there were.

Did anything distract you?

The video feed kept pausing for buffering, which I found very distracting. But it was probably the fault of my Internet connection rather than any technical failing on their part. It was clear that the service had been pre-recorded; we were not actually viewing a live service. Some editing breaks were obvious.

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

It began with a welcome by the ministry development pastor, some announcements, and a prayer. There followed some songs accompanied by videos of crashing waves, mountains and canyons, and other scenes from nature. Then the senior pastor spoke some inspirational words, which as it turned out were the beginning of his sermon.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

40 minutes.

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

7 — The senior pastor spoke clearly and conversationally, glancing down at notes from time to time. As he went on, I began to get more and more into his message, but I did think he could have organized it more tightly.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

When I finally realized that the senior pastor was in fact preaching his sermon, I began to notice that he was speaking about Jesus’ baptism and the role of temptation. Jesus was preparing for his ministry, but that did not mean that God the Father was ready for him to begin his ministry. So after his baptism, Jesus fasted for 40 days – an ordeal that would have killed anyone else. But it was for his spiritual development. He must have been very, very hungry – and who shows up but Satan, to tempt him! Satan is not just a little guy in a red suit with pointed tail – his whole purpose is to lure, steal and destroy. But the Holy Spirit was also there, allowing Satan to tempt Jesus. God does not allow temptation for the purpose of destroying us, but rather to strengthen us. It is an opportunity for us to move forward in Christ and to increase our dependence on the Father. We always do much better when we lean completely on God. The whole point of Jesus’ temptation was to strengthen him, to develop him. Satan is always there, ready to tempt us, to snatch us away, when God does something great in our lives. Jesus could easily have done what Satan tempted him to do: turn stones into bread (he hadn’t eaten for 40 days, after all). But Jesus was learning more to lean on God’s provision than to satisfy his personal needs. He kept his focus on God. We have access to God even in the most extreme moments. But Satan is always challenging who we are. He even challenged Jesus: ‘If you are the Son of God …’ Of course Satan knew exactly who Jesus was. If he can make us forget that we are children of God, then he wins. Every temptation can be used to help us grow.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I enjoyed the senior pastor’s sermon after I began to get into it.

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

There was no reading from scripture and hardly any prayer. But the most upsetting thing of all – and this is very strange – at the end of the sermon, during the senior pastor’s concluding prayer, the video suddenly began to repeat itself from the beginning, and a prompt appeared asking me either to register or to log in. And so …

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

… I have no idea of how the service actually ended! There didn’t seem to be any way to pick up in the video where it had left off.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I didn’t have any mid-morning snacks in the house, but I was looking forward to going out at lunchtime for a bite of Mexican food, and I had a crock pot of spaghetti sauce going for dinner.

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

3 — I really don’t know how to rate this. The overall impression I took away this morning is that this is a young, vibrant, happy church, where people enjoy being with each other and growing spiritually. But I couldn’t get a feel for what their worship experience is like simply from watching the video – especially when it ended so abruptly.

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

Yes, even though it seemed to me that elements of Christianity were very thin in this service. But I am perfectly content to lean on Jesus and look to God for strength.

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

How abruptly it ended.

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