A modern, purpose built meeting hall with all facilities, in central Cheltenham. ‘The Church is the people, not the building.’
Salvation Army are close-knit and very caring. They are also extremely welcoming to strangers. Their mission is ‘Reach up (to God), Reach in (to community), Reach out (to the world).’ They do all three with gusto.
Cheltenham is a Regency spa, famous for its wrought-iron work, which is sensational. Against this background, the Salvation Army find outcasts to love and spread the Christian gospel with dedication.
Several officers of the Salvation Army, in uniform, led the worship.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Celebration.
How full was the building?
Full. Extra seats were brought in. My neighbour told me that doing so made it over 100.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Everyone. Handshake and formal introduction.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Padded chair.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very welcoming. Children all over. Everyone happy to see everyone else.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Visitors are very, very welcome!’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. Words on screen.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard and guitar.
Did anything distract you?
Children crawling along our seats when we stood up. I didn't sit on one, but they would not have minded if I had.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed and cheerful, with groups of extremely boring hymns, prayers to musical background, sermon, and dedications. Two toddlers in arms were dedicated, with supporters making vows on their behalf, like a christening but without the water. The new members of the congregation were then carried all round the hall and introduced to everyone. Both seemed to enjoy this.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes, but hard to be exact because it started and ended in prayer.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 — Inspired preacher who has developed a natural talent into a spiritual gift.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
They are doing Ephesians and he read quite a bit of chapter 4 (Paul’s instruction manual for a Christian life), saying we would know which bits referred to us. Christians must look different, so that everyone can see our faith has changed us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon, which did make a connection with a different world.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The hymns, whose banal tunes were only made worse by their uninspired words.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had no time. My parking meter had run out. Owing to the dedications, the service took much longer than expected. But I would have had no chance to stand around. Everyone showed a friendly interest in me and wanted to talk.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I know it was fair trade and I was cordially invited to join them, but I had to go.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 — They are kind people and I warmed to them – but no brass band!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I felt they really did love one another.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The kids I almost sat on.