Sunday, October 17, 2010

Day 58: The Worship

Photo of the Day: Hands Held High

Today, I attended the launch of a new church in New York City planted by a Christian powerhouse called Hillsong. The well-known Sydney-based institution has branches throughout the world, but this is their first congregation in the United States. The Hillsong NYC event, called simply the "encounter," was an evening of intense praise and worship, followed by a short and inspiring message by Hillsong senior pastor Brian Houston. In addition, the leaders of the newly-planted New York congregation, Joel Houston and Carl Luntz, shared their ambitions for the church as a community that authentically welcomes the lost and broken. "We don't want this to be a place you feel comfortable leaving your purse on the bench," Luntz said at one point. "If you leave your purse, it should be gone when you get back. That's the kind of people we want in this church."

While I am not one to get caught up in excessively theatrical worship services, coupling the spectacle with well-grounded and Biblical vision made for a compelling night. The music, Hillsong's claim to fame, was predictably incredible, even though I sometimes felt the lyrics were a tad repetitive and schmaltzy. However, I must admit it was a very well-produced concert, and the call to action was direct and powerful. You could sense the new pastors were extremely passionate about this opportunity to reach one of the world's largest and most influential cities with the support of one of the world's largest and most influential churches, but I was most struck by their commitment to very intimate and personal methods. "People come to New York City, and they think 'lights, camera, action.' For us it kind of is the opposite. We're thinking no lights, no camera, different type of action," Lentz says in a promotional Hillsong NYC YouTube video. "We're not going to impress people with our big production of church because people have seen it all; they have done it all. So when you come here, it's literally the guts of the gospel." This grassroots approach is definitely not one I'd have expected a mega-church, especially one as flashy as Hillsong, to embrace, but I'm excited to see how they carve their niche here in New York.

After the launch event, a huge group of us went to Havana Central for a delicious Cuban-style dinner. It was a good mix of people who were connected through a complex web of friendships; though we were introduced as strangers, many of us found we were separated by only a degree or two. I have to thank the apparently very popular Ms. Sulisa for being my primary connection to nearly everyone in the group! I am, as she puts it, "infiltrating her network." It turns out even in bustling New York City, it's a pretty small world after all.

I was hungry after church this morning, so I stopped by a sidewalk market in Flushing to buy these yummy persimmons and plums, along with a scallion pancake and steamed pork buns, which were devoured way before I got around to taking this picture.
Joel Houston leads the band in opening worship at the launch of Hillsong NYC.
Cue the fog machines and laser lights.
Joel Houston, one of the Hillsong NYC church leaders, is the son of Hillsong senior pastor Brian Houston.
One of the backup worship singers belts out the lyrics with passion.
As an Assembly of God church, Hillsong services are very energetic and charismatic.
My camera just so happened to catch another camera's flash at the perfect moment.
Hands constantly held high in worship throughout the entire set.
More worship.
The guitarist rocks on.
The backup singer and keyboardist.
Joel Houston, one of the pastors of Hillsong NYC, offers up a welcome to the congregation.
Hook 'em for Jesus.
Praising God.
Even the shadows on the wall join in singing praise.
Is it just me, or does Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz look like a hipster Jesus?
Introducing the crowd to Hillsong NYC's vision to help the lost and broken.
The band listens attentively to the pastors.
A warm welcome to New York City from Hillsong.
Hillsong Senior Pastor Brian Houston gives a message on the 3G connection: God's grace, glory, and goodness.
Hands go up in praise yet again during the closing prayer.
My ensalada de churrasco, or skirt steak salad, from Havana Central with avocado, tomatoes, onion, and Manchego cheese.
Angela unsuccessfully attempts to escape the photograph stage right, while Mei Ling reluctantly throws up a deuce for my picture.
Scenes from Queens: A bright moon over my street tonight.


  1. oh he does look like a wanna be hipster jesus... i bet he gets that a lot.

  2. If you're a pastor and decide to grow out your hair and beard like that, it's got to be somewhat conscious choice.

  3. Yoshie, I love all your photos. You are really good!

  4. Thank you! How funny that you seem to be impressed with my least thoughtful photos: first the laundromat, now the street scene. I spent so much time photographing the concert, and your favorite is the one I happened to snap on the street while walking home, haha.

  5. No lights, No camera... That's all i see here!

    So here's my question, was there an applause after the songs? All i'm saying is, "Wherever applause breaks out in the worship because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of worship has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment."

    -P. Benedict

  6. I know, right? I'm guessing (hoping?) that the elaborate production was just for the launch event. We'll see how the church actually operates once things settle down. I agree with your quote: I do not like applause after worship music, but I don't believe there was any. Although people were clapping the whole time, so I may have missed it.

    I visited the St. Patrick's Cathedral today! I have a couple pictures going up tonight, but I'm planning on revisiting again soon in the daytime and doing a whole post on it.

  7. Hmm... my first reaction to their vision was also that it seems at odds with the the way they executed their launch. maybe when they say production, they mean religious habits or customs that a lot of people associate with church? anyway, like you say, we'll just have to see what the church is like down the road. i like hillsong's music, though!

  8. right, i completely agree, but i'm waiting to see if they actually carry out their vision. it seems like before the launch, a lot of the planning was done in small groups meeting in people's houses, so i feel like it could have the close family feel they are aiming for if they continue in that vein.

    i actually was not a huge fan of the hillsong music...too repetitive, and a lot of it seemed like a lot of cliche Christian-ese strung together.

  9. Hmm, now I want to check out the service at Hillsong myself sometime.

  10. You definitely should, but I don't think they're holding services regularly yet. They have another couple introductory-type events before taking up a normal schedule next year. Check their Web site for more info and dates.