Mystery Worshipper: Lone Wolf
Church: The Kingdom Vineyard
Location: Cosmos Centre, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 February 2009, 10:30am
The service was held in the Cosmos Community Centre, which is decorated on the outside with what appeared to be the Huddersfield Town football strip (a series of blue and white vertical stripes) on one side and a dirty cream on the rest of the building. The colours inside were slightly more tasteful: a pale shade of green with colourful signs in the shape of balloons that gently warned us to "keep your hands and feet to yourself" and to "treat others as you wish to be treated." Presumably the room is home to a playgroup of some kind. At the back of the hall was a collection of tables with chairs for the caf that is also held in the centre.
The Kingdom Vineyard is relatively new to the town but has amassed quite a large congregation, of which students make up around 60 per cent. The church's ministry is varied and caters to the whole of Fife, with a number of groups meeting in the nearby towns of Strathkiness and Cupar as well as in St Andrews.
Not only is St Andrews famously the home of golf but was also the birthplace of the Scottish Reformation and has seen the burning of numerous Protestant martyrs. The town is rumoured to have both the highest number of churches and the highest number of pubs per person of any town in Britain. Most notably, St Andrews is a university town, meaning that churches have to deal with fluctuating numbers, with the streets awash with students during term time, as well as largely transient congregations and regular newcomers.
The service was led by the senior pastors, husband and wife team Toby and Carol Foster. Carol led the service while Toby took charge of the preaching.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Service.
How full was the building?
The building was perhaps half full, with around 60 people present. It was, however, the university holiday period, so this is unlikely to be representative of the congregation's usual size.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but there were tea, coffee and doughnuts available before the service started and I had a nice chat with the girls who were serving.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seats were those bog-standard plastic ones. I didn't really think about it, so I guess they were fairly comfortable. It's possible that I may have chosen the cheap seats as the ones on the other side of the aisle had cushions.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The pre-service atmosphere was pretty noisy. People stood chatting at the back over their tea and doughnuts and it all seemed very friendly. A worship CD was playing in the background and a welcome message was projected onto the screen.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to the Kingdom Vineyard. It's lovely to see you here this morning."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no books. The songs were projected onto a screen. Most people brought Bibles.
What musical instruments were played?
There were two guitars, one an acoustic guitar and the other a fairly snazzy piece of kit which I think was a bass which also made flying saucer type noises during one song. There were also some bongos.
Did anything distract you?
A number of things. Some of the children were quite noisy and I think one of them somewhere behind me was listening to a rather loud MP3 player. People also kept standing up and walking about during the service. I was especially distracted during the singing by worrying that, by keeping my hands in my pockets, I stood out a bit too much. And so I spent a lot of energy trying to see if anyone else had adopted a similar posture.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
While happy-clappy doesn't seem the way to describe the worship, it was far from stiff-upper-lip. There was one older hymn and a few modern worship songs. The band had an annoying habit of repeating the same lines over and over and a section of what can only be described as wailing was included in every song, causing me to draw comparisons with Middle Eastern funerals. Among the congregation there was lots of swaying and a little bit of interpretive dance. At one point a lady was bouncing backwards and forwards so vigorously that I feared she might knock herself out. I couldn't help wondering if the church had recently studied Exodus 17:11 ("As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight"), for almost everyone had their arms raised during most of the praise in blatant disregard of the request that we keep our hands and feet to ourselves.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
I'm afraid I was a bit distracted from checking the time, but I'd estimate about 25 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Toby Foster was very laid back, made a number of references to modern culture in order to illustrate his points, and included a very good impression of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, though he annoyingly referred to Philip and Steven as "Pip and Steve" at one point.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Acts 8:25-40 (Philip instructs and baptises a eunuch he encounters on the road to Gaza). The mission field constantly comes to the missionary. Although foreign mission is not a bad thing, are we sometimes tempted to it merely to "massage our own ego?" There are plenty of unreached people in Britain. Philip and Stephen did not need to travel far from Jerusalem to spread the gospel; opportunities came to them. Philip listened to God and was not put off when called to speak to a eunuch. Likewise, we today should not be discouraged from sharing the gospel with people from different sections of society. God wants a relationship with everyone. We should meet people where they are in order to communicate with them, just as Philip entered conversation with the eunuch through his difficulties in understand the scripture he was reading. Finally, we need to recognise and respond to success in mission without waiting for someone "qualified." Philip did not let his position as administrator stand in the way of his ministry.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The preaching was very good and the people were friendly. It was also great to get tea and doughnuts before the service handy for when you miss breakfast!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sermon immediately led into a time of "prayer ministry" in which the pastor called on the Holy Spirit to come. This was followed by numerous people fainting. I felt very uncomfortable at not really knowing how to react or what to think about it. It probably wouldn't be too bad for someone used to that sort of thing, but for a visitor it was quite scary. Apparently you get used to it, though one girl told me that the first time she came she prayed that God would stay well away from her and said that she still feels uncomfortable during that part of the service. The pastor's attempt at reassurance by casually saying that "the work of the Holy Spirit can be messy" did not help. That wailing during the praise was pretty horrific too.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A number of people came to talk to me, including an old acquaintance from years back.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Can't comment on the coffee because I can't stand the stuff, but one man said it required a lot of sugar! The tea was adequate and the doughnuts were amazing.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – Though the teaching was helpful and practical and the social time uplifting, the praise and the fainting really put me off.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. A number of people spotted my discomfort and chatted very openly about the "prayer ministry" and everyone was very friendly. I felt the teaching prepared me for going out into the world.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?