The leader of music and worship gees up the faithful. He jumps and claps and dances. As songs begin he calls out “1-2-1-2-3-4” as though we are at a rock concert. And the congregation respond. They sing songs to praise Jesus and the Lord (who, by the way, is Allah in Bahasa whether you are Muslim or Christian). For an hour the faithful stand and sing their lungs out at the encouragement of the Music and Worship Leader. Costumed dancers perform various liturgical dance routines on stage. There are three or four groups: purple, golden, cloth-winged and flag bearing. Unlike the droll songs in the Catholic and Anglican masses with which I am familiar, there is no missing this beat today. You would have to be very determined not to tap you toes or sway your body so it’s easy to see why the faithful are waving their hands in the air, clapping and singing with gusto. Their intent is genuine. Their song a massive huge prayer.
I’ve come to the Hillsong Holy Stadium in Semarang with one of my cousins and her family. They have been members here since 2008 and appear heavily involved in their church. The stadium can hold 12,000 people (no, that is not a typo). Today it is half full. So that means I am among about 6,000 people here today. That’s a huge number of people in church on a Sunday. And another 6,000 will come tonight, many of whom are not here this morning. I doubt the average Anglican or Catholic Church at home could even seat 200 people let alone 6,000 with room to spare.
God is definitely present in the Holy Stadium. Of this I have no doubt. I feel his presence throughout the service even though I am not a Hillsong follower. I can see why so many people are drawn to the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Personally, I am more a blue sky cathedral kinda guy (see this Adam Brand song for what I hear when I say this) but I can respect that others pray in churches with communities and appreciate the way the spirit fills spaces where such prayer takes place.
A pastor from America gives a teaching. He talks about the need to give money to feed and cloth the poor. Prayers alone are not enough he says. You must tithe and give money to buy the food and clothes. In a way he is right. We can’t solve world hunger merely through wishes. It takes money to buy food. And I do believe every working person should donate a portion of their income to charity. Interestingly it is only since reducing my income that I have found myself more committed to this. I used to donate sporadically and only less than 0.5% of my annual salary – quite abysmal really. But I have changed that during my Looking For 42 experience – without the need for a church to demand it of me. There is also a dark side to that call in that it could cause members of the congregation to give more than they actually can afford, leading to marital tension and other problems. Not to mention the issue of the way some churches spend money on material goods and high salaries. So there are definitely ying and yang issues here.
I feel grateful to my cousin for allowing us to attend her church. It was a positive and educational experience. It felt good to be in a place of worship. I probably needed it because it’s been a while. And I do leave feeling as strong in my faith as ever (I may not belong to any church but I definitely know myself to be a man of faith).