On my way to !Audacious (yes that is how you spell it, yes you can imagine the kind of annoying excitement they’re trying to expressed) John and I found two tickets to the Harlem Globetrotters outside the MEN Arena from some guy from Warrington who had bought them for £30 each. While neither of us knew anything about the Globetrotters, other than that Pope John Paul II was an honorary globetrotter and they appeared in Futurama, we figured £60 is a horrible amount of money to lose, even if in the form of tickets to fake basketball matches, and so gave it back to the Box Office.
My experience at !Audacious makes me wish we had gone to the Globetrotters. When I came through the door into the main room, (think school hall if you went to school in a garage) I heard the tones of one of the most instantly recognisable baselines in music. No, not the edited version of Handel’s messiah where it goes all slap-bassy, but Parklife by Blur.
Now there are a few things that you should know about the Charismatic movement, which !Audacious belongs to. They are remarkably casual, and so I thought this was just the introduction to the service that happened while people were still taking their seats. Charismatic comes from the Greek “charisma“, which means “gift”. It means they place emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing wrong with this in theory. The gifts of the Holy Spirit in the bible are described as; wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. I think we can all hope/pray/manifest (delete where applicable) that we receive and actualize these gifts. However, the charismatic movement is often so focused on the Spirit that it forgets the other pillars of the church: the bible and reason, sacrificing them for an intense religious experience that to the uninitiated looks like a mental illness or form of mass hysteria. A lot of charismatics are very moderate and just prefer lively worship services with hands in the air, but !Audacious does not fit into this category. !Audacious didn’t even have the kinds of charismatic behaviours like speaking in tongues or collapsing on the ground that I was expecting.
To summarise my experience, !Audacious is entertainment, not worship. It reminded me of a variety show: there were songs, comedy sketches, performances, cartoons on the TVs, and to top it all off, a Barney the Dinosaur kind of guy in a costume. (There were very few kids, but the adults all seemed to love the “Kid’s Croc.”) I got a feeling that all this was building towards something, but I’m not sure quite what. There was a bit of a theme of body dysmorphia, but this was so interspersed with adverts for the latest !Audacious CD (£10.99) and pledges for money (“we accept cash, card or cheque!”) that it took on a mildly sinister appearance in light of the service just an hour earlier decrying the perils of consumerism. I was waiting for theological content or scriptural reading, or spiritual contemplation, but it never came. In all fairness, I left after about forty-five minutes. But forty-five minutes is a long time in an atmosphere where you feel entirely alien, and forty-five minutes is a long time for neither God nor Jesus to be mentioned once in a church service. The bible was treated as a cursory text to explain why the pastor was so generous and giving. This kind of service isn’t designed for someone like me: I am educated and middle-class and already have a relationship to my faith that I have critically self-reflected upon. !Audacious is largely a missionary organisation that evangelises to people from poor backgrounds who do not feel part of traditional church communities. Things such as showing the BBC cartoon Creature Comforts will no doubt be conceptualized as “making church fun!” and the people dressed in bunny costumes bouncing on space-hoppers who entered the room would be “making church family friendly!” The Ghostbusters theme tune which was, no joke, played by the worship band, would probably be seen as a cultural reference point. But if all you are doing is copying popular culture while asking for donations, but without mentioning God, in what sense are you truly a church?