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2746: Forest Gate, Mitcheldean, England
Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda.
The church: Forest Gate, Mitcheldean, Gloucestershire, England.
Denomination: Independent.
The building: It is a very plain former Congregational chapel that was bought by the church and refurbished some years ago. It is now mainly used as church offices and a youth and community building. Normally, the Sunday services are held at the local secondary school, but they had moved for the summer.
The church: They grew from a small house church in the 1970s. They pride themselves on their outreach into the local community, with midweek groups that cater for all ages. They give away 10 per cent of their income regularly to a variety of charities.
The neighbourhood: Mitcheldean is a small village in the Forest of Dean in rural Gloucestershire. It is not particularly attractive, though its prosperous past has bequeathed it one or two interesting buildings. Formerly an industrial centre, it has been in decline for many years.
The cast: The service was led by the pastor, Steve Jones. The worship was led by Jonathan Layzell, and the preacher was the Revd Geoffrey Crees.
The date & time: Sunday, 24 August 2014, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Celebration.

How full was the building?
Pretty much full. There were about 50-60 people of all age groups, from babies and children to pensioners.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted on the door with "hello" and a handshake. Later the pastor's wife, Louise, came up and introduced herself and chatted briefly. Several other people also said hello. I felt very welcome.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard stacking chair and it was reasonable, though I wouldn't have minded having a quick break halfway through the sermon!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quite noisy; most people were chatting to their neighbours.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and how are you? Is there anyone who hasn't been on their holidays yet?"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used. Song words were projected, and so were relevant Bible passages, though some people also used their own Bibles.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboards, guitar, saxophone and drums.

Did anything distract you?
To start with, the doors were open and the noise from the nearby main road was very distracting, as was the odd blast of cold air. But things improved when the doors were closed.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service opened with 15 minutes of quite lively worship songs. These were sung with gusto, but there was not a lot of clapping or hands in the air. This was followed by notices, then with a time of free prayer and then another song, after which the sermon was delivered.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
34 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I was very impressed with the preacher's style and delivery (which was as it should be, as he is a former Anglican clergyman). However, at one point I completely lost the thread of what he was saying.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was John 6:22-37 (Jesus calls himself the bread of life). People are looking for Jesus, but they are sometimes doing so with selfish motives. We need to take Jesus, the bread of life, to the world.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I thought the worship band were extremely good, as was the choice of songs and the way in which they were delivered. I want this band in my church!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
People kept asking me personal questions! As a Mystery Worshipper, I like to keep a certain amount of privacy, especially as I do not live that far away. I don't want them turning up on the doorstep!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I waited awhile in my seat, but as I seemed to have become invisible I got up to leave. At this point Louise reappeared (do churches have some sort of a trap door where they hide a really good welcomer?) and said she hoped I had enjoyed the service. She invited me to have a coffee, which I did. As I was queuing, one or two others spoke to me. As I drank my coffee, the pastor engaged me in conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had an instant coffee, served in a mug. There was also a selection of cookie-style biscuits and cake. I thought this just about ticked all the boxes.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Lovely church, friendly welcome, my style of worship, just a bit far from home.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. This is a church that genuinely reaches out to the community it is based in, and to the world at large.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warmth of the welcome.
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