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28: Harvest Rock Church, Pasadena, California
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Harvest Rock Church
Mystery Worshipper: The Traveler.
The church: Harvest Rock Church, Pasadena, California.
Denomination: Pentecostal charismatic renewal movement. The church is part of a controversial Canadian congregation which has an ecstatic worship style known as the 'Toronto blessing'. Worshippers are encouraged to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that they will bark like dogs, swoon to the floor and laugh uncontrollably during services. The church recently split off from the Association of Vineyard Churches for philosophical and theological reasons. For more information on the split, go here.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: Services are held in Mott Auditorium on the campus of William Carey International University. The auditorium is a functional academic building: drab concrete and industrial casement windows. Over one entrance is chiselled: 'Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled'.
The neighbourhood: On this Sunday, the neighbourhood epitomized Southern California suburban life: a vast expanse of clear blue sky, sparkling sunshine, the palm trees overhead rustling in the gentle breeze, rows of tidy stucco houses, and the occasional oddball lawn ornament. The church must be on good terms with its neighbors – all the parking was taken for blocks, yet there were no signs restricting parking to residents only.
The cast: Pastor Jim Johnston.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday 10.00am worship service.

How full was the building?
Perhaps 300. The building looked like it could hold two or three thousand. During the service it was announced that the Senior Pastor, Che Ahn, was attending an Alpha Retreat with at least half the congregation.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I stopped at the Guest Table by the entrance to pick up a brochure. A woman handed me a construction paper angel with a red card stuck on the back.
'Here's your angel', she said.
'What's it for?' I asked.
'Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship Ministries', she replied.
'Ummmokay. But what am I supposed to do with it?'
'You fill out this card on the back.'
'And then what?'
'It's for a prisoner.'
'What is?'
We went on like this for several minutes. I started wondering if I had a serious brain disorder. We finally got to the point: the card on the back of the angel contained a gift request from a prisoner who could not afford a Christmas gift for his or her child. Members of the congregation could volunteer to take an angel, buy the requested present, and return it to the church for distribution by Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship Ministries.

Was your pew comfortable?
The majority of the seating was wooden stadium seats. At the front of the auditorium these had been removed and replaced by rows of comfortable chairs with thick blue cushions. I selected one of these upholstered chairs in a row placed on a wide aisle, so that I could move around.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
While still talking to the angel woman, I heard the service begin and thought: 'Dang, I'm missing the opening words of the service.'

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I asked my seat-mate, who said they started with a welcome, and then an invitation to praise Jesus.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Bible in several translations, including the King James. The words to hymns were projected on a giant screen at the front of the auditorium.

What musical instruments were played?
A seven-member rock band played for about 30 minutes at the beginning of the service. They performed a rock version of 'Jesus Loves Me', which I quite liked, then 'Amazing Grace' to the same tune as 'Jesus Loves Me', which I didn't like at all. A man sitting close by said that the regular band was away at the retreat, and he thought this was the youth band playing. I said: 'Someone should tell these kids that "Amazing Grace" needs no improvement!' He smiled politely at me.

Did anything distract you?
Numbers were periodically flashed on the screen, and at first I thought these might be Bible references. However, my seat-mate later informed me that every child attending is given a number, and if they misbehave, their number is flashed to notify their parents.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Woodstock with a cross around its neck.

Harvest Rock Church

Exactly how long was the sermon?
57 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5. Much like the paper angel's purpose, the sermon's message was good but it was hard work getting there. Several times Pastor Jim encouraged the congregation to give him some 'amen' feedback, but they were mostly quiet and attentive. I got the feeling they were struggling as much as I was to understand the sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Deuteronomy 19:14 – 'You must not move your neighbor's boundary marker, which your ancestors have set, in the property that has been given to you by the Lord in your inheritance.' This was construed to mean: God has put characteristics and traits (markers) in everyone. We should not enviously try to be like someone else, or try to steal another's grace or character which they have earned. Instead, we should look at the markers God has created inside of us, via the passing of our parents' genes to us (that which our ancestors have set), and let Jesus bring forth all that God means us to be.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Midway through the service we were asked to greet and give a blessing to the person in the next seat. This was a very personal and moving experience, and much less awkward than 'the peace of the Lord' can sometimes be.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
My confusion.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I took a picture of the church, wondered about that interpretation of Deuteronomy 19:14, and listened to my stomach growling hungrily.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The church brochure announced that coffee and pastries are served after the service each Sunday outside the entrance. However, when I exited I didn't see any coffee service, and assumed it had been cancelled because of the retreat. I was later told I left via the wrong doors, and that a great spread was served outside the other doors, the ones with the inscription, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst...'

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3. I prefer a more mainstream church and service.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. I appreciated the sincerity of the worshippers and the opportunity to praise God.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Before the service began, a car pulled up in front of the auditorium and disgorged an alarming number of people, including two or three who climbed out of the trunk when the driver unlocked it! They seemed startled to see me staring. 'Thank goodness you let those guys out!' I exclaimed, and they all laughed.

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