By Keith Michael
On Good Friday, my wife and I decided to pay a visit to a church we had heard of, but never attended. I have been going to church for almost 40 years and my experiences at protestant congregations are rarely new.
We usually sing a few songs (which, for the most part, is like going to some secret meeting where everyone knows what’s going on, except for me). Then there’s the part I’m least comfortable with – greet the people around me, with the awkward smile and forced “hello, nice to meet you” spoken.
It is equally surprising to see any departure from the “same sermon, different day” that often follows. And don’t forget, in between all of this predictable modus operandi, there are the unwritten rules, which are sometimes communicated to you as if addressing a bad child: “Oh, you can’t bring coffee into the service” or “You know you’re late – the sermon’s starting.”
This year we had a refreshingly new Good Friday experience when we attended Real Life Church. The service started at 6 and we strolled up a little after the hour. The first thing we noticed was a huge screen in a courtyard area in front of the church featuring the service going on inside. People were seated at outdoor tables watching the screens, eating, drinking or just listening.
There was a coffee, water and light snack bar in the front, and the volunteers encouraged visitors to take something along as they walked. Our eyes were drawn off to the side where there was something you don’t normally see at church: a live giraffe. Yes, a live Giraffe (who appeared to have been raised by fairies, as it was the nicest animal you could imagine). Kids from the Sunday school classes (are they Sunday school on Friday?) were being brought in by groups and a slew of helpers to see the giraffe. On the other side of the church was a petting zoo for the preschoolers, and those kids appeared to be having a great time throwing the animal bedding into the air, on the goats, chickens and lambs and themselves.
We wanted a cup of coffee and the volunteers directed us into the Real Life coffee house. There were screens to watch the service from the coffee house as well.
At this point we actually went into the service. No one bugged us for taking the coffee with us, in fact the seats had cup holders. We sat at the top of the stadium style seating. Real Life had met in a movie theatre for years, so they kept the same feeling when they designed and built their sanctuary.
The sermon was low key and during the offering they had special music and the amazing work of a sand artist. I had never seen sand art before, and for those who have not, it involves an artist manipulating a bin of sand, while it is projected on an overhead screen. When the artist moved the sand, a picture came to the forefront, such as Jesus being scourged, on the cross, etc.Though we have no young kids, the children’s program appeared first rate. They had computer check-in to avoid disasters and confusion. There were a lot of young people as staff, also lots of volunteers who would answer questions about where to go and how things worked.
I think that the next time I get in the mood I will drop by there, have a coffee, sit in their beautiful garden and listen to a sermon. Maybe they will have some large animal for me to see then as well.