It’s a church service, and it’s a party in the pews!

Some mainstream New Zealand churches are struggling to keep their heads above the communion wine but other religions are thriving, building new churches, mosques and temples and gathering devoted worshippers in their thousands.

Banks of lights pulsate in waves of colour, and cameras project images on to three monstrous screens. And there is plenty of noise from a seven-piece electric band, bolstered by a retinue of backing singers. A lead vocalist, blonde, lithe and liberal in the use of facial contortions, hammers out her stuff.

Not a rock concert, but a church service. It’s 10am on a Sunday and it’s show time at the City Impact Church on Auckland’s North Shore. The only thing missing in this 2000-seat auditorium is the dry ice.

It’s big and flash enough to film New Zealand’s Got Talent here. That was on Wednesdays and Thursdays – when Rachel, Jason and Ali sat in the bit down front that is now the Sabbath-day mosh pit.

Where once the NZGT judges passed judgment on the array of talent before them, now the voice of authority is coming from onstage.

“Hello, Church!” shrieks the blonde. Cue the first in a series of oft-repeated performances from the floor: a sea of arms waved above heads in jubilant salute.

Young arms are held high. Hesitant arms clearly belong to newer recruits. Arthritic arms challenge themselves to reach beyond their shoulders.

After 30 minutes of rousing decibels and volcanic anthems, senior Pastor Peter Mortlock appears on stage with the Bible in one hand, a giant microphone in the other. He’s smart in a green shirt and dark suit. If his followers had just one hand held high before, their efforts are doubled now.

“Not an hour goes in my day without thinking about Jesus!” he bellows. Mortlock and the blonde songstress work as a well-rehearsed pair: a soundbite from the pastor is followed by an affirmation from the singer.

“Who’s looking forward to the second coming of Jesus?’ he roars, to plenty of applause. This, after sharing with his devoted audience the story about how he gave his life to the Lord and how he’s just come back from a trip to Fiji – see, there are the holiday photos on the big screens showing him and wife Bev with a glass of wine. Continue reading


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