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729: Thornbury Baptist, Gloucestershire, England
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Thornbury Baptist
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Church Crawler.
The church: Thornbury Baptist, Gloucestershire, England.
Denomination: Baptist.
The building: There are two chapels in Thornbury. The old chapel is a very pretty building of 1826, with a hipped roof, Y tracery and a small burial ground. I wish they would leave it open ocassionally. Next to it is the new church, built in the 1990s. Although it doesn't have a great streetscape value, the interior is bright and cheerful, with a large roof and an apse. Unlike most modern churches, it doesn't feel like a shoe box, which is impressive.
The church: The congregation of this old market town was founded in 1798.
The cast: The pastor, Ken Payne.
What was the name of the service?
Morning service.

How full was the building?
This church has a large membership, and has two separate services on a Sunday morning.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I had a very stressful morning. I was supposed to be doing the music in my own church in Bristol but my car wouldn't start. Luckily for me, my neighbour's brother is a mechanic and fixed it. While I couldn't get to my own service, I thought I would try and get to one nearby. So, looking flustered, I arrived at the church's second service. No one showed me the way into the main sanctuary; I guessed from the steady stream of people from the main service, who were obviously leaving. An elderly gentleman spoke to me and was friendly, but otherwise I was politely ignored.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a very comfortable chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chaotic but happy. People had obviously enjoyed the previous service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello and welcome to you all – the regulars and visitors, too."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
It was all on an overhead projector, placed high in the brick apse. I was a little bemused to think that that is usually where the cross is placed, which made it feel a little like a business conference. However I do like the use of overheads, as it stops people singing into their hymn books. Unfortunately, the projectionist occasionally put the wrong songs up.

What musical instruments were played?
A very good band. As a musician I thoroughly enjoyed the upbeat music which had strong rhythm. It was played on drums, guitars, keyboards, sax and flute (this could have done with being miked up a bit, however).

Did anything distract you?
I don't know why, but the raising of the hands always makes me smirk a little. Also, I spotted a rather elderly gent, who looked like he was having the time of his life gigging to the music!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Certainly happy clappy. It went with gusto and was very uplifting indeed. However, I often feel this type of worship misses out on the richness of variety. It seems that some think all Christians are stereotyped into liking watered-down country and western, or rock. The previous evening I had been to the New English Orchestra concert where a lot of Gospel and Jazz was played and I couldn't help thinking how staid and unimaginative a lot of choruses are by comparison. But to be fair to Thornbury Baptist, the players were young and good.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
40 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The talk was good. He used a lot of illustrations to make his point. However one thing I didn't like were a few in-jokes which made several people in the congregation laugh. As a visitor I found these a little embarrassing. Also, I didn't like the way he name-dropped. For example, he mentioned Nicky Gumbel (of the Alpha course) and how he would like to be as sophisticated as him. OK, I guess it was funny, but I feel that sort of thing gives people a prominence they don't deserve.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was based on Revelation 3:14-22, about the church of Laodicea being neither hot nor cold. He used some good illustrations and put the passage into the context of where and when it was written. He also gave a illustration of a couple and how they met and then got married. They became successful but the wife felt that she would trade in the home, car and material stuff, for what they had when they first met.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music certainly. Not a great deal of variety but well played and presented.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being an invisible person. It seems in a lot of churches that people find it hard to talk to single people. However, Thornbury, and indeed this part of Gloucestershire, is well known for being a little suspicious of outsiders, even those recently arrived in the town. It's the sort of place where if you walk in a local pub the locals stop talking – just like in a western.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Coffee was offered in the corner, but not a soul spoke to me. I felt like the invisible man. I wondered whether it had occurred to them why visitors wouldn't want to return. Clearly people stuck to their own social circles. Even the couple sitting next to me just brushed past afterwards. I thought it was a bit sad, seeing as their door-to-door literature seemed friendly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I never got that far; I just sat and then walked out. I would have liked a chat after the problems with my car that morning.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I may have been unfair. Maybe the congregation is very busy. However, as a neighbour, I would like to see the friendly face of Thornbury Baptist.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
A rather lonely one.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The cheerful music and also the fair trade talk.
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