The Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs may not score high in the statistical records of basketball and hockey respectively, but the teams make money and the ticket prices are astronomical, if you can find a ticket at all. So having never seen the inside of the just-under 20,000-seat Air Canada Centre, we decided our only chance to see the facility was to crash the Joyce Meyer crusade that has taken place there over the past three days.
Actually, our other goal was to see Darlene Zschech lead worship, since the chances of our ever seeing Hillsong are about as remote as getting tickets to a Leafs or Raptors game. (Which, as a guy who helped launch “Jesus Music” in Canada in the ’70s and ’80s, and who could once walk into any Christian concert anywhere without a ticket, shows how far my one-time status has fallen.)
A “pre show” video introduced us to an upcoming women’s conference in St. Louis, a promo for a youth curriculum Joyce has developed based on her Love Revolution book that must have had the budget for a Disney music video, and a video biography of Joyce and husband David. Instructions for audience decorum were then delivered by two mock airline stewards. Cute. Then came the t-shirt giveaway with shirts fired from the stage. It would be interesting to know how many of those shirts will be on the backs of the recipients a few weeks from now. Maybe. Especially given that 70-75% of the audience was female.
The auditorium continued to fill. The number of arena staff on duty (probably at least 400) gave a clue as to the incredible cost of staging a crusade like this. Several times my wife mentioned her amazement that this was a free admission evening. Of course, lineups for teaching tapes, books, Bibles and videos (and mugs) in the lobby were long, and sales were brisk. And at each entry point into the seating area there were the ubiquitous white buckets and stacks of offering envelopes.
Then the worship began.
Darlene Z. was joined by a 10-piece band. It was loud. Very loud. Not too loud for me, but loud for the demographic we perceived to be in attendance. Especially in a country that is much more conservative in worship. The sound — such as we’ve seen take place on the recent Hillsong album, A Beautiful Exchange — more resembled the youth band Hillsong United than anything the regular Hillsong albums have taught us to expect.
There was a rush en masse of younger people into what my wife terms “the mosh pit,” and the resultant video mix of band and audience shots on the giant screen certainly resembled a United concert. I’ll bet a few seniors in the audience will never again complain about the worship band in their local church.
Four songs in and then, as the band continued playing, Joyce Meyer walked out on the stage. A reverential hush came over the audience. The reverence one has for a rock star. The quiet that comes when someone is about to make a significant pronouncement. Joyce prayed for the audience and then the band finished the fourth song.
Mission accomplished, we sprinted for the exit. I told the volunteer usher he could give our seats to those still arriving. “You’re not coming back?” He seemed shocked. “No we’re not;” I replied. I’m not sure why anybody would want those seats however. My neck was already sore from turning sideways to see the stage, and our view of either Jumbotron was complete obstructed. This section of arena seating seemed to lend itself to a kind of detachment from what was taking place below.
If there were about 17,000 people there — I think my guess is accurate — I hope the other 16,998 enjoyed the rest of the night.
It’s just not our scene.