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A Different Kind Of Church 


We went to Church last Sunday. But it was "church" with a difference. A lot of differences, in fact!   The crowd that attended was huge. Many people began arriving well over an hour before the service began. With such a huge congregation, traffic congestion and parking was a logistical challenge. But, give them their due credit, the leaders and organizers did a good job providing adequate directions and car parking.  


The facilities provided were quite good. Rest rooms were well signposted. The seating was set out in more a of a circular configuration so that everyone had a good view of the action. While I've sat in more comfortable seats, mine was OK but it was probably a good thing that there was plenty of opportunity to stand during the course of the service.  


We discovered that this church places a lot of emphasis upon food and it was available at any time during the service although most people didn't want to miss any of the main activity so they waited until there was a kind of "intermission" half through the proceedings. The main activity lasted a long time at least 3 hours so it was just as well there were a couple of breaks during that time.   There was only one hymn which everyone seemed to know and they sung it with gusto and a lot of repetition.


Then the main participants were introduced and were welcomed by the congregation with cheers and great applause. We are just not used to such displays of appreciation in our Church.   We noted that the whole service was televised so that everyone could avail themselves of the big screens in the auditorium. Apparently the service was also televised on one of the local TV stations. Impressive! This would explain why the service began right on time; something else that we are not used to happening!  


One aspect that stood out in stark contrast to other churches was their unashamed and unapologetic attitude to money. Whereas I am used to what we usually call a 'freewill offering', this church requires you to give if you want to participate in this religious experience. And give big time! None of this token offering attitude.  


The theme of the meeting had to do with conflict, opposition and final victory. To make the point they had even organized for others to come onto the platform who represented opposition; the 'enemy', if you like.   From the outset it was obvious that this gathering was going to be very different. Everyone was aware of opposition. It was like a battle being fought; first one way and then another. But there was great confidence that the victory would ultimately be won. We couldn't help but be caught up in the atmosphere of anticipation and participation. It was fascinating to see how the members of the congregation became involved.  


What struck me in a particular way was how the various participants in the service supported each other. When one made a really good point, the others were all quick to affirm him. But, more than that, if someone 'stuffed up', so to speak, the others were quick to encourage. There were no words of criticism or judgment just affirmation and support.   It was obvious to us that the team of participants out the front was well mentored. I couldn't help but think that somewhere in the background there must have been one or more men who coached this leadership team.  


We were glad to see that the children were not overlooked. About half way through the service, the focus shifted from the adults to the children. It was obvious to us that this church put a lot of emphasis upon children.   The training and equipping of children as the church of tomorrow showed that the church had a vision for and a commitment to the future of the Church.   The children were given opportunity to "do church" just as they had seen adults do it. Of course, they were not as capable or polished as the adults but it was exciting to see their enthusiasm. Who knows what kind of leaders will emerge from among those children?  


We had a sense that the leaders out the front struggled at different points during the service but as the service concluded the sense of victory was unmistakable. Mind you, it became obvious towards the close of the service that not everyone was in agreement with what was happening on the platform. We noticed a number of people who left their seats and walked out of the church before the service concluded. I got the distinct sense that they probably wouldn't bother coming again.  


The last hymn was the same as the first - a song of victory and the enthusiasm of the congregation was so evident that we couldn't help but share in the atmosphere of joy and gladness.   After the service we waited behind until many of the congregation had left at which point we went out the front just to stand on the platform where the key participants in the service had stood and served the people who had come that day. We were keen to soak up the atmosphere of victory.  


As we made our way home, we talked a lot about the service. It had been quite an experience. We tried to identify just what it was about that church that attracted such a large number of people; the kind of people that would never attend our church. Was it the music and the hymn? Was I the inspiration that came from the participants out front? Was it the facilities? Why didn't the requirement of money act as a turn-off ?   It was obvious to us that this particular church was in a "good place" and going through something of a boom time in its history. What would happen if and when it fell upon hard times? Would the people still flock to it and support it? Or would they leave and find another church that was having more success?  


I don't know that the lives of any people present that day were significantly changed as a result of attending. Probably not. Despite the tremendous effort and example given by those on the platform, the looks on the faces of the congregation as they made their way out of the Cathedral suggested satisfaction with the experience even delight but nothing to suggest any kind of commitment that their own lives would be different as a result of the experience.  


They say that Australian Rules Football is like a religion to those who support that particular "denomination" or code. Well, it certainly seemed to be the case that day as we watched people worship in the AFL Cathedral (also known as the Sydney Cricket Ground).

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