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2165: Forest of Dean Community Church, Cinderford, Gloucestershire, England
Forest of Dean, Cinderford
Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda.
The church: Forest of Dean Community Church, Cinderford, Gloucestershire, England.
Denomination: Independent evangelical.
The building: The church holds Sunday services in Heywood Community School, Cinderford, in the school hall. It is a distillation of almost every school hall I've ever been in: box-shaped, big window down one side, display of pupils' work, a stage, and a lighting rig. They originated as a church plant from Glebe Chapel in nearby Newent and originally worshipped in the church building in Station Street. They have outgrown that building, although they still use it for meetings, etc.
The church: They recently celebrated their fifth birthday. They say that they minister to those who would not have attended any church five years ago. They run support groups and house groups, activities for young people and the over-60s, a Christianity Explored course, and various social events. They also support mission projects as far afield as Peru, Rwanda and the Philippines.
The neighbourhood: Heywood Community School is a secondary school and sports college on the northern edge of Cinderford, a small town in the Forest of Dean, an area in the west of England around an historic royal forest. It was formerly a coal mining and industrial area, but most industry has left the area now. However, the Forest of Dean has a reputation of being independent-minded and rather insular and, despite adverse economic circumstances, most residents are fiercely proud of the area.
The cast: The service was led by the pastor, the Revd Tim Cracknell. The preacher was Steve Cracknell.
The date & time: 10 April 2011, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Service.

How full was the building?
There were around 60 people there, and the rows of chairs were about three-quarters full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were a number of people greeting new arrivals at the door. I was also greeted and given a service leaflet once inside, plus the pastor (identified by his shirt with the church's logo printed on it) greeted me.

Was your pew comfortable?
I was seated on a standard plastic stacking chair. It was not particularly comfortable. Sadly, I'd arrived too late to get one of the more comfortable-looking padded chairs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quite lively, full of people exchanging church gossip.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Please stand up now." We then sang "Jesus, we celebrate your victory".

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used a service sheet, which was basically a sermon summary with gaps for you to put your own notes. Song words were displayed on a projector screen.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboards, guitars and drums.

Did anything distract you?
There were a number of small children in the service until they left at the start of the sermon. There were also a certain number of adults wandering around. I was also distracted by reading one of the school notices.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was no liturgy as such. The worship consisted of modern songs interspersed by times of prayer and a Bible reading. But it seemed a little subdued, bearing in mind the number of worshippers.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
40 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Steve Cracknell opened with a quiz on sacred books of other religions. This went on a bit, as once he got Islam, Hinduism and Judaism out of the way, no one had much of a clue. Also, I particularly admired his creative use of Google Earth to help prove point two of his sermon. However, I felt I was being lectured at, and I found some of his comments on Islam a little ill-judged.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was entitled "Is the Bible just another holy book?" Steve Cracknell based his claim for the uniqueness of the Bible on the following three facts: (1) Only the Bible claims to be the inspired view of God. (2) Only the Bible has supernatural predictive prophecy. (3) Only the Bible has been supernaturally confirmed.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
During the songs, a small girl dressed in pink sitting just in front of me danced. It was just so joyful it made me feel full of joy also.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Feeling I was being lectured at during the sermon. It did not help that my neuralgia chose to act up that morning.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As I moved slowly to the back of the hall, two people greeted me and offered to show me to the room where tea and coffee were served. One of them stayed and chatted with me, although I would have preferred to discuss the church's ministry in Cinderford rather than what we did discuss, namely lactose intolerance. But I suppose that's the kind of pointless conversation one has in social situations.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was fine, served in a paper cup, and there were also biscuits. I think the coffee was fairly traded, but am not sure about the tea.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I would have no major objections, but I also have some reservations.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
In parts. I enjoyed the worship and the welcome, but I wasn't sure about the teaching.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Having a long and occasionally argumentative conversation on unpasteurised milk and lactose intolerance.
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