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2457: Ray of Hope, Decatur, Georgia, USA
Ray of Hope, Decatur, GA
Mystery Worshipper: Joliet Jane.
The church: Ray of Hope Christian Church, Decatur, Georgia, USA.
Denomination: Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
The building: A modern brick structure on a campus that includes a chapel, family life center and office building in addition to the sanctuary. All appear very well maintained. The sanctuary is somewhat semi-circular, with live plants bordering the slightly raised altar/pulpit. Lighting was bright in the front but dimmed as you moved further back. Huge banners framed the altar and banners were draped horizontally over each seating section extending beyond the balcony. The atmosphere was warm and inviting.
The church: The congregation was formed in 1985. They say that their purpose is "to transform this present world into the kingdom of God" and to pursue God with "reckless abandon." There are 51 ministries within the church, 26 of which are related directly to community life and outreach. Please see their website for a listing and description.
The neighborhood: Decatur, a suburb of Atlanta, is a city of about 20,000 in north central Georgia. Its proximity to Atlanta, coupled with good mass transit, make it a trendy place to live for college students and young professionals. The church is located in the deliciously named Snapfinger district – more suburban than urban, mixed residential and commercial, predominately African American and middle income. The church campus is the largest structure in the area.
The cast: The Revd Taft Quincey Heatley, executive pastor and minister to men. But it was Youth Sunday, so teenagers were in control.
The date & time: October 28, 2012, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship: Youth Sunday.

How full was the building?
Ten minutes before start time there were 36 people in a space for about 3000. When the doors were closed promptly at 10.00am, it was about 35 per cent full. By the time of the sermon it was just a bit over half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone going in at the same time as I was held the door for me. Inside, a deacon at the information table said hello and welcome. A lady named Gwen, who was the prayer ministry leader, gave me a hug. But there was no one sitting near me until mid-service.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were quite comfortable, with cushions on both the seat and back. Really good for taking a nap.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The pre-service was very social outside the sanctuary. But inside it was a desert isle. There was soft jazz playing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The Word tells us that everything that has breath, praise ye the Lord!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. The responsive reading was on the overhead screens, along with lyrics to the songs. Bibles in the pews (New International Version) were very sparse.

What musical instruments were played?
Several keyboards, guitars, drums. There were dancers who danced to pre-recorded music.

Did anything distract you?
Purple and blue banners framing the altar were more the focal point than was the cross. In fact, I had to search for the cross. Banners also blocked the view of the screens that the readings and lyrics were on. Babies began to cry toward the end of the service.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
High charged energy like at a rock concert. It was Youth Sunday, so the music and worship were geared towards the youth. Loud thumping music with teens moving to the beat. The dancers did their thing right before the sermon. The dance music was a bit slower than the rest of the music, and it seemed that the congregation welcomed the change of pace. The dancers were in full length robes and used flags extensively as batons. Later, during the peace, it was all bear hugs and "Good morning, God bless you!" and then on to the next person. There was an altar call.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
58 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Taft Quincey Heatley was funny yet dealt with topics of the day well. He was easy to listen to. It was more a conversation than a written speech. He connected well with every age group.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"Going Through" was the title that he gave it. As Christians we all have to go through trials, tribulations and such. He recalled Thanksgiving dinner at his parents' home, how his mom would be inside cooking while his father was in charge of the turkey. Just as his father seasoned the turkey, God seasons us with his Word. His father checked the cooking oil to see if it was hot enough. God tests us to see if we are strong enough to handle trials. His father removed the turkey from the hot oil when it was done. God pulls us out of our trials as soon as we are ready to be a blessing to others. We are in fact like a fried Thanksgiving turkey. (In fact, he made several comparison to food, but I had never before thought of life's trials as being like frying a turkey.)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The altar call. It was a powerful and moving prayer for physical and spiritual healing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sharing of the peace. There was no respect for personal space – just full frontal bear hugs from total strangers.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I felt like a goofball. No one said a word to me other than "Excuse me" when I was bumped into. Everyone was in a hurry to get to where they were going or to catch up with friends.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
If there was a coffee hour it was not mentioned.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – The distance is too far from my home. However, the ministries and social commitment of the church would make it appealing. This is a fun loving worship environment that is committed to changing the community – or at least they give that impression to a first time visitor.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Even though I did not like the hugs, it felt like a genuine gesture of the love Christ wants us to share with each other.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The fried turkey comparison. I have already retold it twice.
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