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2351: Christchurch, Newport, Wales
Christchurch, Newport
Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda.
The church: Christchurch, Newport, Wales.
Denomination: Sovereign Grace Ministries.
The building: Outside, the building resembles a rather grim, off-white bunker, with a porch and a few windows added for good measure, and the church name and logo prominently displayed. Inside, things are a little more civilised, with a foyer with kitchen facilities leading to a designated children's room and the auditorium. This was quite simple, with white walls, rows of chairs, and the stage from which worship was led in one corner.
The church: They have an extremely wide ministry. They run groups for children and young people, courses for those seeking to learn about Christianity, a ministry with the university population in Newport, sports clubs, craft clubs, plus programs in partnership with other churches and charities for those in need in the local community. They have also, since their founding in 1995, planted two churches nearby.
The neighbourhood: I first noticed this church while driving along the M4, as it stands in a very prominent position next to the motorway on the outskirts of Newport, in a mixed commercial and residential district. I can't recommend Newport, I'm afraid. It is a former industrial city, now somewhat decayed. Some efforts have been made in urban regeneration, but some areas are quite squalid and not somewhere you would want to linger.
The cast: The service was led by the senior pastor, Pete Greasley.
The date & time: 18 March 2012, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Meeting.

How full was the building?
About two thirds full, with around 200 worshippers in total.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I kept thinking someone would come up to me and greet me, but I was completely ignored. The nearest thing I got to a greeting was being waved into a car parking place by a steward in the car park.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, very nice indeed. It was an upholstered beige stacking chair, and I thought it was almost too comfortable. I wondered if I would drop off during the sermon.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Noisy. Lots of people chatting in the foyer (where coffee was served – I grabbed a cup in case I didn't get an opportunity later on) and also in the auditorium.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Shall we stand together? We're going to start our worship here."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. The song words were projected on the large screen over the stage, and folk brought their own Bibles.

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

Did anything distract you?
On either side of the stage were digital displays, with the figure 0 on both of them. What were they for, I wondered as the service began. About halfway through the sermon the number 206 suddenly flashed up, and they then reverted to zero. After some thought I decided they were displaying the total number of those present, which was confirmed when after the sermon the children joined the congregation and the number 238 was briefly flashed up.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was no set order of service. Basically there was a worship song, notices, sermon, then more worship songs. The worship songs were enthusiastically sung, with hands raised. The worship band were very competent.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
44 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – There was nothing particularly bad about the preacher's style, but I did not find his preaching particularly challenging or enlightening.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon title was "Better than the Grand Slam," a reference to Wales winning the Grand Slam in the Rugby Union Six Nations Championship the previous day. The sermon was based on Psalm 100 ("Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth") and was about how we need to come to God to worship with a sense of joy – a sense of expectancy that is greater than the joy and expectancy displayed by the Welsh supporters before Saturday's game.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a really good worship session after the sermon (the idea being that we practised what he preached) which I really enjoyed.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I found the room decidedly hot and stuffy and during the sermon was very grateful for my pre-service coffee, as I needed it to keep awake.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one spoke to me. Everyone walked past me when I stood at the back of church, even the pastor. In the end, I went for a cup of tea and introduced myself to the person on the welcome desk in the corner of the foyer.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Both tea and coffee were served in paper cups with plastic lids. The coffee was served from a large flask and appeared to be ground. It was very good, and the tea was acceptable also.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I felt very lonely without one person welcoming me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It was good to see a church that included a wide age range of believers, but not otherwise. For my taste it was a little too impersonal.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
It was the only Mothers' Day service I've ever been to that did not celebrate the occasion at all (apart from a brief comment right at the end).
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