|748: Christian Assembly, Eagle Rock, California, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Bubba.
The church: Christian Assembly, Eagle Rock, California (15 min. north of downtown Los Angeles).
Denomination: Foursquare Gospel.
The building: It's a smallish, Brady Bunch-esque church-in-the-round, with chairs added wherever they would fit. An overflow alcove has been created by knocking out a wall, in what looked like an old classroom.
The church: This is an absolutely typical southern Californian evangelical church. In the sunshine was a visitor's table, while outside the sanctuary were four tables for signing up for various things. Inside, lyrics were projected on screens, and announcements made by slides on the screens before the service. All the men seemed to have facial hair, and everyone was dressed very casually, with the main fashion accessory being a rather large Bible. Finally, their junior and senior high groups had catchy names like Power Pack and Vertical Reality.
The cast: Mike Pickerell, pastor; Tom Walker, worship leader; worship band and singers.
What was the name of the service?
Worship service (Saturday, 6.30pm).
How full was the building?
Almost overflowing, with people using folding chairs to create a new back row.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I received a smile with the bulletin as I entered. At one point in the service, we were requested to exchange handshakes and names.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Though, when a larger man a few people down would shift in his seat, the entire back of the pew would shake. I worried less for me, than the knees of the people behind us should it give way.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Slap-on-the-back jovial, with contemporary worship music piped through the speakers.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Let's worship God."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None at all.
What musical instruments were played?
The worship band was one of the best I've ever heard. it contained two lead electric guitars, an electric bass, drummer, percussionist playing bongos and various gadgets that go shooka-shooka or tinkle-tinkle, as well as a keyboard player and seven back-up singers. Walker has a Garth Brooks hands-free mike and plays electric guitar as he leads. No wonder he and the band have recorded CDs and are in demand to teach other worship teams around the country how they do it.
Did anything distract you?
Firstly, a board flashed a cryptic number at one point during the service: 777. I figured it must be for summoning parents of young children to come to the nursery. Also, during one particularly moving slower song, the percussionist kept pulling one strange object off a tray, shaking it once or twice into his mike and then grabbing another.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy clappy for sure, which is why I went. If you like contemporary praise, then these folks do it very, very well.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 His humorous illustrations were told with great comic timing. The sermon was well-thought and well-organized. And, to my tastes, grounded in sound doctrine.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Human love will let you down; God's love won't. He used Romans 5:7-8 to make a simple point: God's love is given to undeserving people. Human love says to only love those who deserve it. Human love (he also called it "brand X" love or "generic" love) can't work because the only people that exist in this world are undeserving. We need to love as God does: give ourselves to undeserving people expecting nothing in return.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music. From the very first happy clap, I felt at home. I imagine that they don't consider their long-outgrown sanctuary a benefit, but both the fact that the room was stuffed and also that everyone faced each other, due to the church-in-the-round arrangement, made for a much more energetic, intimate, connected experience than if they were in a convention-center size auditorium.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The atrocious parking mainly. Also, the urinals in the men's room were uncomfortably close together.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I bought a CD of their music for $17 at one of the many tables outside the sanctuary.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 Besides the good preaching and the phenomenal music, they have a lot going on, including a very ambitious, personnel-intensive children's church that draws observers from around the country.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The rocking version of "Hallelujah, what a savior".