They meet in the hall of North Lakes School, located in the middle of a fairly modern housing estate. It looks to have been built within the last 30 years. The school hall wasn't very big. It had a wooden floor and was decorated with some of the children's work. The most distinctive thing was the large screen at the front it took up most of the wall. The room was comfortably warm and well lit. There were tables set up across the back ready for the break, including plates of cakes and biscuits.
The church news sheet doesn't give much information about their activities, although there was an advert for the 25th anniversary party of the Eden Mencap Society, a charity that works with people with learning disabilities. Mention was made of North 2011, a gathering put on by Newfrontiers of over 50 churches at Coulbeck Farm in the North Yorkshire countryside over the August bank holiday weekend. There was also mention of a course called Exploring Leadership. They hold a Gather to Pray meeting twice each week. They must also have house groups, as there was a notice that there would be no small groups that week.
Penrith is in the Eden Valley between the Pennines and the Lake District, three miles outside the Lake District National Park and just off the M6 motorway. Nearby are the ruins of a 14th century castle. It is a fairly busy market town and is home to Fylde Guitars, makers of high quality handmade acoustic guitars, mandolins and other stringed instruments. The noted English guitarist Gordon Giltrap plays a Fylde.
Jon Cook, church leader. "Ando" (no surname given) was the preacher.
What was the name of the service?There was no specific name to the service.
How full was the building?
About three-quarters full; about 50 people including some children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There were two people at a desk at the main entrance who gave us a newsletter and explained that it was now a monthly newsletter rather than a weekly one. During the break, several people spoke to us and asked us if we were visiting and where we were from.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seating was folding plastic chairs, which weren't uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The atmosphere was quite busy: people greeting each other and catching up with one another. There didn't seem to be any feeling of the service about to start.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The first thing I heard from the front was: "Let's honour the man!" This was in reference to someone who had cycled to church! Jon went on to say that it was wonderful to have everyone there that day, and that there were a number of guests.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no hymn books. All the songs were projected onto a screen at the front of the hall.
What musical instruments were played?
Acoustic and electric guitars whether or not Fylde I don't know.
Did anything distract you?
There was a bit too much light for the screen to be easily read; the projector lamp wasn't powerful enough. There was also quite a lot of moving about for the first few minutes as people settled down.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service started with some fairly exuberant worship songs, most of which I knew (to my pleasant surprise). There was some singing in tongues. After the children left for their activities, people were encouraged to lay hands on those who needed healing. Some testimony followed. After the readings, we took a short break for refreshments, and when we returned an offering was taken. We were encouraged to place our offerings into two large plastic flower pots on a table at the front of the hall. It was explained that our donations would be used to plant new churches. Finally, the sermon was delivered.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
48 minutes, which surprised me as it certainly didn't seem that long. The rest of my party were also surprised.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The preacher, Ando, continued a series that the church had been concentrating on. He had some notes, but he mainly spoke ex tempore. He moved about a little bit, but not so much as to be distracting. He made an interesting remark about there being two kinds of people: "Jesus and..." (people who add to the words of Jesus) and "Jesus but..." (people who interpret Jesus' teachings as they wish).
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Who are you listening to when it comes to the Bible? We sometimes add to the Bible and so introduce deception. The origin of scripture is God. We should learn what the Bible says and not what other people say the Bible says. We don't always see the truth easily, but the Bible can correct our vision and raise our expectations. The Bible also trains us in righteouseness; we can know the right action in any circumstance. We need to get the word of God into us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The fellowship. People seemed genuinely interested in us and wanted to chat and find out who we were.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
This service was marginally outside my comfort zone. I come from a more traditional church background where few if any of the services include testimony and healing prayer. I was also a bit concerned that they seemed to be asking for money just for the church rather than for the church's outreach.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no opportunity to look lost. People came up to us and started chatting to us. In fact, it was quite hard to get our group out to go to lunch!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The refreshments were served at the break. Drinks were in polystyrene cups in plastic holders. There were plates of various cakes and nice biscuits. Most of the cakes looked home made, and the one I had was very nice.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I have said that the service was a bit outside my comfort zone, but it wasn't sufficiently extreme that I wouldn't consider attending it regularly if I lived in the area.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The warmth of the welcome, the preaching, and the excellent refreshments!