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992: Thornbury Baptist, Thornbury, Gloucestershire, England
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Thornbury Baptist, Thornbury, Gloucestershire, England
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: Thornbury Baptist Church, Gillingstool, Thornbury, Gloucestershire, England.
Denomination: Independent Baptist Church.
The building: The church is situated next to the old meeting house of 1826, which has been lovingly restored externally. There has been a congregation here since 1747. The new building of the 1990s does have some uplifting feel to it – I like the fact that no two walls are the same and it doesn't have the usual "Protestant box" feel you sometimes get with new Baptist churches. I think it could do with a more interesting entrance, though, and maybe it would be good to have the occasional service in the old chapel.
The church: This is a very outgoing community. This is my second visit to see if things have changed (click here to see my first visit from 2004), and I was pleasantly suprised to find that they had. The church has lots of sports, social, Bible and music groups. A very busy church.
The neighbourhood: The chapel stands away from town next to a huge expanse of car park. However, the building and its predecessor try to give something back visually. It is also near the shopping centre of Thornbury.
The cast: Ken and Paul.
What was the name of the service?
Evening Service.

How full was the building?
The building was comfortably filled. There was plenty of space to move around, though.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was a huge difference in welcome this time! Half a dozen or so people introduced themselves and the church, as did the former minister, Ken Payne. People asked me where I was from and what church I attended. I really did feel welcome.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a comfortable, upholstered affair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Cheerful, with the band playing. I noticed that the people in the band tended to hide behind thir guitars or microphones to avoid eye contact with a stranger. Being a musician or a technician doesn't exempt one from being the friendly face of the church. However, the warm welcome from other people more than made up for that.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening. I was watching Comic Relief..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Everything was on PowerPoint, which is a good idea, as it lifts people's heads during the singing. However, it can be a bit rough if your eyes aren't too good.

What musical instruments were played?
Drums, piano, flute, mouth organ... all sorts!

Did anything distract you?
The complete turnaround from my last visit. People really did come and speak to me and made me feel welcome. There was even a lady posted on a reception desk in the foyer, who took my details. During the service, I was distracted by some singing in tongues and arm-raising, but I was reassured when the worship leader said that only those who are comfortable with these things should do them.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very charismatic! However, we were taught about the value of silence and listening to God, so there was some quiet, too. The former minister prayed for someone living locally who is seeking asylum in the UK.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The preacher gave us some excellent biblical exegesis, with pointers to Ignatius and other thinkers. Sometimes preachers have a tendancy to dumb down, but this one pitched it about right.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based around Psalm 46 and the verse, "Be still and know that I am God". He pointed out that we need to take time to know God, and that sometimes we can be so vigorous in our worship that we forget to listen and open ourselves to God. He told us that the verse "Be still and know ..." was a command for God's people to belt up! I got the impression on my previous visit that the church was all about worship "entertainment", but clearly I was wrong. It was good to see the church facing real issues and the world outside its four walls.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The quietness after some fervent singing, and also the friendly welcome from several church members.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
If you are used to more formal worship, then you can feel a bit odd when people have their arms in the air and are singing in tongues. I don't have a problem with it, and I think the idea of the worship leader saying, "don't do it unless you feel comfortable," was good.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Loads of people came over and chatted to me and I was introduced to the lady on the desk in the foyer. Like most evangelical churches, this is a church where you have to be outgoing to fit in. However, I was well impressed with the friendly welcome, and people did genuinely appear pleased to see me there.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was good to see some fair-traded stuff on display.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I'm not sure I could put up with having only one style of music for worship.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warm welcome. My previous experience here was very different.
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