Register Monday | September 24 | 2018

At Your Service

A mystery worshipper visits churches from coast to coast

Ken Moyle is an atheist who loves to go to church. Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Baptist-Moyle doesn't discriminate, he just sits quietly and observes. How long is the sermon? Does he feel inspired? Are those liturgical colours from last season? He scribbles notes. When the collection plate comes his way, Moyle surreptitiously slips in his business card, which reads "Mystery Worshipper."

It's a title Moyle's proud of. It was given to him four years ago by his employer-the irreverent British religion website Ship of Fools: The Magazine of Christian Unrest-when he was asked to review church services. In that time, Moyle has rated ceremonies from St. John's to Vancouver.

Reviewing a church service is a multi-faceted task. In addition to measuring the piety levels, Moyle must tackle temporal subjects such as the softness of the pews, the quality of the after-service coffee and the friendliness of the congregation. There are also free-form questions such as "What part of the experience was closest to heaven?" and "Was anything in the church distracting?"

Dancing, Moyle has found, can be very distracting. He's also discovered that sermons come in a wide variety of lengths and styles (a Pentecostal preacher/televangelist once pontificated for an hour and a half), and that he blends in easiest at Pentecostal churches because, like him, the congregation members take notes. "Sermons are treated more like a lecture," he says, adding that if the minister is "worth his salt," he'll say something worth recording and pondering.

Moyle was raised as an Anglican until his teenage years; his family then converted to Pentecostalism. An adult now, he acknowledges that, in frequenting churches, he's "desperately wishing" to regain the faith he lost somewhere along the way. "Sometimes I feel like maybe I'm not an atheist afterwards. I suppose if I was really settled in my faith, I wouldn't be hopping around to different churches."