Tab Tries: Evangelical church
Will Roberts went to the Evangelical church on Tottenham Court Road – it was an experience he won’t soon be repeating…
My experience of church has been limited to fuzzy, vague Anglican school services, within which the extended metaphor of comparing God to a jam donut was attempted more than once. It would be fair to say that religion, in my mind, did not equal fun.
Sunday church, when our family used to go, was frankly tedious but maybe the reason I thought this was because I hadn’t been going to the right church.
So I decided to go to an Evangelical church service, held just off Tottenham Court Road which (you probably didn’t know) has a small UCL following.
To date, I’ve avoided these types of church services like genital herpes so I decided to jump in at the deep end and sample their 6 o’clock Sunday service. Compared to their tamer morning services, their website promised the six o’clock slot would “raise the volume and take Church to a ‘whole notha level’”.
I was wetting myself with excitement. Perhaps this would be the experience that would reverse years of non-belief and I would be the latest conscript to the Pentecostal movement.
And so I entered the same venue which Monday to Saturday hosted “We Will Rock You” with a sense of nervous trepidation.
I immediately felt like an imposter. What would I do when everyone started clapping and singing? Would someone call me out if I just stood in the corner looking morose?
What struck me most were the people that were filing in. Christians are probably the least cool people you could think of but the congregation I saw were for the most part young, attractive and well dressed.
I genuinely thought these places only existed in the American deep south and on obscure TV channels, late at night yet here I was in central London, in a 2,200 seat theatre, full to the brim with enthusiastic worshippers.
And it began – the music thumped from beneath forcing your body to vibrate. Multi-coloured lights flashed wildly in front of you. You couldn’t deny the sense of excitement in the ‘Church’. The energy was more akin to Brixton academy on a Friday night, than a Church Service on a cold, Sunday afternoon.
The music performed by the overly energetic band was bubble gum sweet pop, the lyrics plastered upon a large screen above the stage, encouraging you to sing the praises of Jesus along with them.
I felt extremely awkward, standing still with my arms folded while everyone bounced around hands levitating in the air.
By the third song, the music had become unbearably overpowering for some. The woman in front of me started crying, others were talking incomprehensibly in tongues. The front row had formed an energetic, albeit mild-mannered mosh-pit. From the outsider’s perspective, this was bizarre.
Then, ‘Pastor Garry’ came on stage to tell us that he didn’t want ‘stealers’ or ‘planters’ (people trying to recruit from other churches) in his church. Finally, I thought to myself, 50 minutes into the service, we were going to get to the nitty gritty of what this was all about.
Except – we didn’t. The message of the sermon was so frustratingly broad that anything could have been drawn out of it. On a more positive note, it was friendly, upbeat and well received. I was back in familiar fuzzy, Anglican territory.
When it suddenly dawned on me – this was a performance, a show more than it was a worship. Performances however, require funding as we were repeatedly reminded by Garry.
Conveniently, there were donation slips placed under each chair which the congregation were encouraged to fill out. “Trust God with your finances” we were told as the money-box was passed around.
Though it was vaguely put, it seemed that the money would go towards speaker equipment for their new church in Oxford. I could think of better ways to spend my money, yet there was no shortage of others willing to give.
After this, the only contestable bits of Garry’s sermon was his mocking of those idiots that believe we came from monkeys, much to the audience’s delight. “We are not a cult!” was another phrase that Garry seemed to enjoy saying; apparently we could leave when we wanted.
Overall however, the service was well intended and uncontroversial, apart from the insistence upon donations. Who the hell was I to stand there cynically in the corner, demeaning other people’s belief. Still however, it was an experience that I would not soon be repeating.