|879: Christian Growth Centre, Maldon, Essex, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Southerncustard.
The church: Christian Growth Centre, Maldon, Essex, England.
Denomination: Independent, free church. Part of Christian Growth International, this church was a plant from the Christian Growth Centre in Chelmsford three years ago.
The building: The church meets in the main area of the town hall in central Maldon, which is a modern and well equipped building with a stage, comfy but upright seats and is very light and airy. When you enter there is a vestibule the length of the building with the meeting room off to the left and a coffee area to the right.
The church: The church still has the excitement and buzz of being a new church and there was genuine excitement and pleasure about meeting together and welcoming new folk. Long may it last! The church seems to be busy within themselves and in connection with the mother church in Chelmsford, not too much evidence of outside activity, but that is often difficult without a permanent base.
The neighbourhood: This is a nice, middle class town centre, with a few early risers with newspapers and pints of milk wandering round it was a beautiful morning.
The cast: The worship leader was never introduced, but began the service from the stage at the front. Trevor Harrington, the pastor, welcomed everyone and gave the notices as well as formally ending the service. Pastor Daniel, a visiting preacher from India spoke later in the service. A lady called Penny "presided" over the communion with a few thoughts.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were enough spaces to choose our own row when we arrived. When the service started most rows had four or five people in them, but it wasn't bursting. The hall itself could probably hold 60, I would guess.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, we were welcomed three times, by the designated "huggers and kissers" (this description turned out to be in jest, thankfully!), and then by the pastor and his wife, and finally by the friend we were meeting in the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
Chairs were upright but padded the best combination. Because they were laid out by the church members, there was plenty of leg room.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Busy, with lots of chatting, plus the hugging and kissing, and music playing over the PA system. The music had been produced by the worship leaders in Chelmsford. It was excellent and was used again during the offering.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Let's worship God..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. People had brought their own Bibles, but other than that there was no paraphernalia. If you wished, you could pick up a notice sheet from the foyer to make notes on.
What musical instruments were played?
A keyboard used by the worship leader, two singers at the front, electric guitar and bass guitar at the back. We were informed this was not the usual band (there are two bands which alternate), as people were away on holiday, which explained the lack of drums. This was a shame, as drums would have fleshed out the sound much more.
Did anything distract you?
People spoke a lot during the sermonm with "amens", "mmms" and other associated noises. As the sermon began and the preacher prayed, the lady in front of me bent backwards until she was almost folded double, I was a little alarmed, but God seemed to be in control and she suffered no ill effects!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very happy clappy, charismatic, open and informal, but I also felt free to be quiet, to be the "frozen chosen", to sit or even to stand with arms folded. The songs flowed one into another and then went back to the original song, which suddenly took on new meaning when we had progressed through the words of all the songs. We were told afterwards that the songs are "censored" by the eldership, according to how they feel God is focusing them at that time. The music certainly seemed well chosen and followed a theme, although not too rigidly. There was also some spontaneous singing in tongues from the row behind us, with some harmony which was pleasant, although it was clear the worship leader could not hear the congregation through her foldback, so the beauty of one particular voice was cut short!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes, give or take. It was difficult to determine when the sermon began and ended as it was preceded and concluded with prayer for the congregation at very high volume. Once we realised he had started preaching, we all gradually took our seats!
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 It was difficult to get through the accent to follow his stories and examples. The obvious cultural difference between here and India were hightlighted for me by the fact that the entire sermon was yelled down a microphone in a hall which by this point had half emptied, because the children had departed for their own groups. This was not necessary and it was off-putting.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He focused on the prayer of Jabez in the book of Chronicles, while aligning it to his own testimony of being born with no hope and having to call on God to turn his life around.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The welcome which was so genuine and the beautiful harmonic singing behind me. Also the chocolate mini rolls with the refreshments!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The preacher's "dog whistle" screaming while praying for the congregation to be healed of "salt in the urine"... I jest not!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were spoken to by the pastor and his wife again and ushered to the refreshments where we were engaged in further conversations by a number of people. It helped that we knew one of the members, but we did feel that the welcome would have been the same if we had just walked in off the street with no warning.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Average tea and coffee in polystyrene cups, but the goodies offered were excellent fruit, including bananas, apples and grapes were on display as well as jammie dodgers, chocolate mini rolls and bakewell tarts. The only problem was getting in there before the children came out of their groups and stole them all!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 There was an intensity to the post service conversation which I couldn't handle every week and I certainly couldn't attend if the preaching was in the same vein. We were assured by our friend and another member of the church that he really was a one off and probably wouldn't be invited back again.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely, especially about having eternity with these people. Mini rolls and everything, great stuff!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The pastor's wife praying with us before we left and her sincerity and ability to speak into our lives, without really knowing us at all. It was humbling.