Mystery Worshipper: Jacobsen
Church: The Vineyard
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Date of visit: Sunday, 16 August 2009, 3:00pm
The Copenhagen Vineyard meets in a modern building that was already used as a church before they acquired it, and thus needed relatively little alteration to suit the Vineyard's requirements. The new community replaced the old fixed seating with stackable chairs and created a caft area in the spacious lobby. The area used for worship has a low stage, soundproof cabin for the drum kit, and a glassed-in area for children's activities during the service. As with many Scandinavian buildings, there is a basement area equal to that of the ground floor above. This is bright and clean, with offices, a restaurant area, kitchen, toilet facilities and meeting rooms.
The Vineyard has no official membership list as such; members are defined purely by coming to the services and taking part in the activities of the church, and it has only recently put in place a defined set of tenets. The information on its external notice board says that the Vineyard aims to be a church for non-churchgoers and the doubtful, and one where all are included, inspired and involved. The church community has many subsidiary groups for Bible study, prayer and children's activities, and is active in social care, e.g. helping the poor, befriending victims of sex trafficking, etc.
Situated in Nyvej, the Vineyard is off one of the main Copenhagen thoroughfares and close to the Frederiksberg shopping complex and metro. No section of Copenhagen is completely devoid of residents, and this area is no exception. The church is on a quiet residential street consisting of apartment blocks and some old-fashioned mansion-style houses. The main street, Gamlekongevej, was pretty peaceful, it being Sunday. The only places open were the flower shops and cafes. Most of the pedestrians were youngsters hanging out together, plus a few people going visiting and carrying the obligatory flowers.
The Revd Flemming Mølhede, head pastor; the Revd Helle Rønne Samuelsen, assistant head pastor; and a third person whose given name was Øle, no surname provided. In fact, none of the cast mentioned their surnames in their introductions.
What was the name of the service?Worship.
How full was the building?
I estimate about 100, mostly aged 30-ish, with lots of children, and a few older types like me.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived a good half hour early. There were a couple of young people sitting on the steps chatting, but the door was open so I went in. The cafe is the first thing a visitor sees, and there were several people there already. One young man shook my hand, introduced himself, and told me about the church. He gave me a fair slice of the Vineyard's history and a description of the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were stackable plastic chairs. They were not uncomfortable at first, but induced a slumped posture which in time became decidedly so!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty and friendly, but reasonably quiet.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Well, now, we're going to begin, so if you would all take your seats" (This in Danish.)
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Prayer was ex tempore, and the words to the worship songs were projected onto the wall on either side of the stage area.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, two electric guitars, electrified acoustic guitar, and drums. One of band members, the only woman, did not play an instrument but provided vocals (as did all the members, so far as I could tell).
Did anything distract you?
The semi-circular layout of the chairs meant that I had to turn slightly away from the band in order to see the projected text. I found this divided attention distracting.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Charismatic, with some raised arms but very little clapping. Worship songs rather than traditional hymns. The order of service was half an hour or so of worship songs, many of which were in English. This was followed by announcements and a five minute sermonette. There was then a 15 minute break for refreshments, which were served in the worship area. After that, there was a long sermon, followed by joint or private prayer. The service closed with more worship songs.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I thought the sermon overlong, but that could just be the style of the church. The translator was obviously not a professional, so I was given the gist of what was being said, which, together with what I could understand of the original, amounted to a precis with additional detail. On the plus side, the preacher was lively and engaged and the congregation stayed awake.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The theme was inclusiveness, and that the Vineyard didn't exclude anyone. The preacher cited an occasion where he was giving witness in the street and had come upon a lady who was wearing a skirt but no knickers (a fact that the wind, always blowing in windy Copenhagen, made obvious). He was faced with the dilemma of whether to include her in his witness! He then went on to give a dramatic account of how Mary Magdalene, a public sinner, had bathed Jesus' feet with her tears and had poured precious oil over them – a duty which his host, Simon, had ignored! He said that the excluded can have better instincts than the socially acceptable. Finally, he spoke about the church's work in rehabilitating victims of sex trafficking and made a call for more volunteers and support.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This really was a welcoming church, and people went to great lengths to make me comfortable. I also, and somewhat to my surprise, enjoyed the singing. It had the visceral appeal of good pop. Brit pop influenced, as I was told.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The chairs. If the sermon is going to last for 35 minutes, we need chairs that will support us. These didn't. I also found the whole service too long (two hours, to be precise). There are good reasons for having a coffee break in the middle of it, such as it coinciding with the usual coffee hour in Denmark, but I found my concentration flagging after an hour and a half.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We drifted off. I said hello to two of the leaders (the third was praying with one of the congregation) and good-bye to my guide.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was available both before and during the service. Who needed after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I prefer the structure of the mass, and doubt if my stamina would carry me through a two hour service on a regular basis. But as an occasional visitor, I could enjoy it.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. This was a fine example of unity in diversity. It's great that such a variety of worship exists. While it's not my style, it does have an appeal, and offers an alternative to the more traditional churches.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The lady with no knickers!