This was taken at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Welcome to Hillsong NYC, a Christian congregation and my fifth religious service out of ten (challenge no. 29), which occupies the Gramercy Theater (a concert venue) on Sunday mornings.
Upon arrival I was greeted with an enthusiastic "Welcome home!" Strong, consistent tagline. I'll tip my hat to that.
I arrived five minutes before the service and there were no seats left, which seemed unfortunate until I realized that sitting is not really something that Hillsong members do all that often.
The music began promptly at 10:00 and proceeded to give me flashbacks of being at the Roxy Theater in Atlanta circa 1999. I can see why it has been dubbed the Rock -n- Roll church. Hands in the air, dancing, singing, shouting out between songs. Not for Freebird but for Jesus.
Fresh off of Easter weekend during which the usual pastor lost his voice, the sermon was delivered by a guest pastor from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who I'm convinced has career in stand-up comedy if he ever decides to leave the church. He broke the ice by making some jokes about the south (always a NYC crowd pleaser) and followed that with a well-delivered sermon that revolved around Jesus taking a nap.
At this point I'm ankle deep in Kool-Aid.
But take away the comedy, the charming anecdotes and the attractive young band members, and the message was simple: Jesus helps you get to the other side.
According to pastor/comedian Dino, everything has a beginning (easy!) and an end (even easier!). But it's the middle that tests you, and in the case of a Christian, tests your faith. The takeaway: You have to learn to "deal with your middle." God takes people through middles. You may not know a lot about God, but he sure knows a lot about you. And he knows how to get you to the other side.
It's hard not to relate to a message like this, especially when I can see my middle (the six-month mark of my year of challenges) quickly approaching. So I appreciated the applicable nature of what I was hearing.
All in all, this was probably the one religious service so far in which I wasn't bored at some point. Their beliefs are heavy-handed, but that's church, right? They are fervent believers, which only earns them my respect for their passion. The people were friendly and the music was pretty damn good.
Hillsong has something quite unique, and it was a pleasure taking a peek into their world.