Mystery Worshipper: Man in AllBlack
Church: New Lynn Baptist
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 October 2006, 10:00am
It is an ochre painted structure, dating probably from the 1970s. Inside is spacious, with various meeting and activity rooms, although the service area (a period 1970s room) is surprisingly small and rather dark, with west-facing seats. A large cross-shaped window off to the right catches the morning sun and gazes rather disconcertingly down upon the gathered faithful.
They offer the usual playgroup, charity shop, childrens' and youth groups common to churches of its size. They also boast a hip hop dance group (who did not make an appearance at the service). The congregation was predominantly white with a grey tinge, with a healthy mix of people from different parts of the globe.
New Lynn is a fair-to-middling residential district west of Auckland city centre and is situated on one of the main routes into town. The church is located down a residential side-street of large bungalows.
Ron Larsen, preacher, keyboards and piano; Jason Neal, Bible reader; Glen and Andrea Duthie, outgoing pastor and wife; James Brown (not the Godfather of Soul), vocals; and others.
What was the name of the service?10.00am Service (including a farewell to the outgoing pastor)
How full was the building?
The service area could probably seat 130 people, and was just over half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I received one of the warmest welcomes I've had to a church. Two people on the door greeted me, and asked me if this was my first visit. Shortly after I found my seat, the preacher introduced himself, saying that I had chosen the best seat for the blessing. A lady in a wheelchair introduced herself, as did James Brown. The church clearly keeps a sharp eye out for newcomers.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, although not to the eye. The church is furnished with benches (complete with shot-glass holders) upholstered with dark gold flock fabric, so beloved of the decade that good taste forgot. Interestingly enough, the collection bags matched the pews, thus providing a perfect example of a 1970s ecclesiastical lounge suite. I only wished that someone in the congregation were sporting a moustache and a huge-lapelled tartan suit to match.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were meeting, having conversations and generally mingling.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning," followed by some general encouragement about taking God and putting him in his rightful place.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Some of the congregants had Bibles. Apart from that, nothing. Songs were displayed on an overhead projector, and the transparencies were decorated with a cross and some doves in pale blue. Some way through the service there was a reading from Colossians, but just as the words "earthly nature" were being read, I noticed that my neighbour was reading Song of Songs instead.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, keyboard, bass guitar and drums.
Did anything distract you?
After the opening prayers and the singing that followed, the service moved into an extended time of ex tempore prayer, during which a number of people had "visions" and "pictures." Naturally I was waiting for someone to say, "The Lord says: 'There is an interloper of mischievious intent.' The Lord says: 'Leave my temple or I will consume you with fire.'" However, it didn't happen, so I feel justified in filing this report. Apart from that, I have to confess that the length of the songs, prayers and the service in general did allow my mind to wander. It lasted over 90 minutes. However I was told that this was unusual.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Home made (in a good way) and from the heart. Indeed, we were called to do all sorts of things with our hearts during the service lift them up to God, let God in, let the Word burn in our hearts. And so on. The songs were part hymn and part chorus in tunes and lyrical content, and Ron Larsen dashed back and forth between keyboard and upright piano. The prayer time included the sharing of various problems, some of them quite intimate, but giving the impression of a community that cares about its own. During the farewell prayers for the pastor, the praying got more and more involved. He and his wife were obviously well liked, and clearly will be missed by the church.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Ron Larsen delivered his remarks very much with the outgoing pastor in mind. The pastor also spoke, quite touchingly, of his three years of service at the church.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The preacher took an excerpt from Pilgrims Progress ("almost as good as the Bible"), and used it to expound upon the Christian journey, the individual forging his or her way toward God, and the problems ("fire and water") we may face from time to time.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At communion, the pastor pointedly said that this was not "Baptist Communion" and invited all those "who love the Lord Jesus" to partake. And so I did.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It seemed as though every song was repeated at least twice. But worse than that, I started to worry that I had not switched the oven off at home, and visualised returning to a blackened ruin (the City of Destruction?) and wailing wife and child. The frequent references in the sermon to fire didn't help.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had no chance to look lost, as at least three people engaged me in conversation before I had even left my seat. In fact, I was not left alone until the time arrived for me to depart. I had a couple of interesting conversations, which included questions about who I was and whether I had enjoyed the service. I am used to church communities, but I wonder if someone who was not accustomed to so much attention would have felt a little uncomfortable.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The tea was standard tea-bag from an industrial sized teapot. Plunger coffee was also on offer, and I caught sight of some interesting cakes which may have been special for this particular service. But as the notice sheet mentioned preserves and syrups for sale, one suspects that the congregation may be blessed on a weekly basis with home made cake.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – Despite the friendly greeting and enthusiastic worship, I doubt that I would fit in there. I would miss Hymns Ancient and Modern and communion port.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was nice to encounter a group of people who obviously care deeply about one another. I got the impression that the close knit nature of the congregation would weather the lack of a pastor quite well. I hope things go well for them.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The uncomfortable knowledge that certain members of the congregation will know exactly who wrote this if they read it. Other than that, never will I look upon a Triumph 2000 motor car or listen to ABBA without being reminded of those remarkable upholstered benches.