From the outside Trinity looks like a fairly typical Anglican church: a 19th century stone building with a tower. However, inside the church has been refurbished with stacking chairs replacing pews, and in the gallery there is cinema style seating. The walls are covered in memorial plaques.
Where to start? This church has grown massively in the last 25 years, and is now believed to be one of the largest churches in the UK. There are church groups for every conceivable demographic group, and they are in partnership with a diocese in Kenya. They are part of the New Wine network, housing one of the hubs for their theological training initiative.
Cheltenham is a prosperous and historical town in the southwest of England, renowned for its racecourse, its regency buildings and its festivals. Trinity is situated a short distance from Cheltenham's main shopping district, opposite a convenient (though unattractive) large car park.
The service was led by one of the pastoral team, Tim Grew, and the preacher was another member of the team, Gareth Dickinson.
What was the name of the service?Evening Celebration.
How full was the building?
There were over 100 worshippers. The ground floor was comfortably full, while the balcony was less so, as far as I could tell.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was handed a notice sheet as I entered, and someone else said hello. Later on in the service I spoke briefly with the person next to me.
Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs were mostly pushed back, so for the first hour I was standing. Then as we moved from worship I managed to bag one of the few available chairs, which was not particularly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Confusing. As I entered there were groups of people standing around at the back of the worship space either chatting or looking a bit confused and uneasy. I learned that normally the seating is out for evening services, so I was not the only person who found it strange.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The service started with a worship song. Then passages from scripture were read out. It was some minutes down the line when we were greeted by Tim Grew with the words: "I welcome you to Trinity Church this evening."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no service books; we were advised to use a Bible during the sermon, and church Bibles were available. But many people used their own, and most of the relevant passages were displayed on the numerous monitors dotted around.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, guitars and drums.
Did anything distract you?
Just in front of me was a gentleman who, as the worship time started, began jerking occasionally. He was very distracting, and I spent a lot of time wondering if he had a disability or if he was manifesting the Spirit and responding to the atmosphere of worship. As he seemed all right during the sermon, I concluded it was the latter.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely happy clappy! We started with at least half an hour of full-on worship songs, with many people raising their hands and clapping. Some people sat or knelt at some points, but most stood throughout. I was exhausted!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Gareth Dickinson was a good speaker, amusing and organised. However, he did make one or two points a bit too forcibly. For example, he said that everyone who believes must be baptised, implying that he meant adult baptism. I would have liked to discuss this with him further, coming as I do from the Anglican tradition of infant baptism and confirmation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was entitled "Gifted with Power" and was about how as Christians we cannot live without the Holy Spirit to help us build God's kingdom. He made a distinction between being full of the Spirit, which is what all Christians are, and operating in the power of the Spirit, which happens when we surrender ourselves fully to God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I liked the atmosphere generated by the worship time, when you really did feel led into the presence of God.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The service just felt like it was going on and on and on. I suppose you might call it a taste of eternity, but not in a good way.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service didn't actually end as such. After the sermon, we were encouraged to be open to allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, and the service then moved into a time of ministry, with people being encouraged to come forward for healing. So we were told we could go (this is after two hours of the service), or stay on for ministry or worship. I did wonder if I should stay to the bitter end, but I didn't have the stamina. So I was entirely ignored, as there was too much else going on.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was served in Trinity House to musical accompaniment, or so I was told. I also heard that meals are available during the month of June. But I really didn't have the energy to seek all this out.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Trinity is a pretty amazing place, compared to your average Anglican church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it was good to worship God so freely, in the presence of so many other believers.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Looking at the interior of the church, with its walls covered in memorial plaques, then at the modern worshippers, some totally abandoned in worship.