Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda
Church: Victory Church
Location: Cwmbran, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 August 2011, 11:00am
The building is a disused industrial building that was converted into a church about 18 months ago. It is part brick, part steel, with the addition of the Victory Church logo above the entrance. Inside the worship area, it is the most basic, unadorned church I have ever seen. Grey walls, with a stage and overhead screen at one end. The one element of decoration was a wooden cross draped with a purple stole on the stage.
The founding pastor, the Revd Richard Taylor, is a director of Victory Outreach UK, which provides Christian homes for recovering addicts and people released from prison. The church does have a heart for working with young adults, and runs a group called Engage for the 17-30 age group.
Cwmbran is a new town (a planned community constructed in a previously undeveloped area). It was established in 1949 to provide employment opportunities for the South Wales valleys. As a result there is a typical 1960s style shopping centre, with a particularly ugly tower block nearby. The church is situated out of the town centre, behind the (relatively) new retail park in a confusing maze of roads and roundabouts that nearly made me late for the service.
The Revd Kenny Brandie, lead pastor, led the opening part of the service. The Revd Richard Taylor, preaching pastor, preached.
What was the name of the service?Bible Teaching and Communion
How full was the building?
Comfortably full, i.e. there was room to raise your hands during worship without putting anyone's eye out! I would estimate there were 150 people attending (I do wish churches would announce the attendance during the service; it would make a Mystery Worshipper's life much easier).
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered, I was greeted by a number of young men who shook my hand, wished me a good morning, and asked if I was all right. The latter comment slightly worried me, making me concerned I was looking ill. That's not to mention the young man who came and asked my name and home town, so that later other first time attendees and I were made to put our hands up so the whole church could welcome us. There were other church members who greeted me at various points in the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard plastic stacking chair. Not uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly noisy lots of people chatting with their friends.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to Victory Church. I'm Pastor Kenny."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books, though most of the congregation brought their own Bibles.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, electric guitars, drums, plus I think I glimpsed a saxophone tucked away at the back.
Did anything distract you?
The one advantage of the industrial aesthetic of the worship area was that there were few distractions. However, at one point I noticed something shining at the front of the church. Sadly it was not a vision, but the sparkly top adorning one of the singers in the worship team.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I think happy clappy is an adequate description here. The worship band were very good and well rehearsed, and the congregation joined in the singing with enthusiasm, clapping and raising their hands. There was about 20 minutes of singing, followed by the sermon, which was followed by a very pared back communion, with the opportunity to ask for prayer for healing, followed by some final songs.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Pastor Taylor probably gets an extra point for being Welsh, and it was a pleasure to hear a good old-fashioned pulpit-thumping Pentecostal sermon after so many years. Also it was good to hear the response from the congregation at various points.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Richard Taylor was in the middle of a series "Discovering Christ Through John" and preached on Jesus healing the blind (John 9). He used the various events in the Bible story to bring out teaching points on how to live our lives. For example, the blind man refusing to alter his testimony about his healing was a reminder to us never to change our testimony about Jesus.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The worship was great, but the main thing was a feeling that people were really open to God working in their lives, which was quite infectious.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Somehow I've never thought of heaven as being grey! The dark grey walls, chairs and carpet allied with the black and red backdrop on the stage did bring "the other place" to mind for me.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service although I stood in a very prominent position at the back of church, no one seemed to notice me. In the end I moved into the foyer, where a pleasant woman spoke to me briefly. Then I got chatting to another woman in the queue for tea and coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Big disappointment! There was a tea and coffee bar, which also served some delicious-looking cakes. But you had to pay! In the interests of research I paid my 1.20 and received a very indifferent paper cup of tea, and rather wished I hadn't bothered.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – There's an amazing buzz about Victory church at the moment, and I'd like to be around to see what happens next, but I'd bring my own flask of tea if I did!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Richard Taylor's a pretty charismatic guy. I won't forget him in a hurry.