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Christian Fellowship, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England
Christian Fellowship, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England.
Independent. They are affiliated with Ministers Fellowship Europe,
the European branch of Ministers
They call their building Cathedral House. Brand new (it was
dedicated in May 2009) and costing £14m, it is a large
modern building with two massive stone monoliths flanking the
main entrance, each topped with a large satellite dish antenna.
Inside there are numerous teaching rooms, a bookshop, and a
café, the latter overlooking the auditorium where the service
took place. The auditorium itself consisted of a huge floor
space covered in carefully arranged seats looking onto a large
stage where the musical equipment was located. The rear of the
stage was decorated with small green lights set into a black
curtain, giving the unfortunate impression that this was, in
fact, a cheap Blackpool hotel in which a low budget cabaret
was about to take place.
The congregation has grown massively over the last ten years
and attracts a wide following of people of all ages from a variety
of nationalities. Aside from Sunday services, the church has
a range of groups in which the congregation can become involved,
including a variety of youth groups, men's breakfasts, and seminars
for married couples. The church also has a number of what its
website describes as "business interests," including
the aforementioned bookshop and café, a children's play gym,
and a charity shop (I can't be certain, but the charity in question
appears to be the church itself). Notably, only members are
allowed to serve the church in any way. Those wishing to become
part of the membership must complete a 26 week course.
Huddersfield, in West Yorkshire, has been settled since before
Roman times and was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It has been
a market town since Saxon times. During the Industrial Revolution,
the Luddites, textile artisans who feared the loss of their
livelihood, staged attacks against several Huddersfield mills.
Even so, the town was said to be the largest in all of Europe
whose economy was based primarily on textiles. Huddersfield
is noted for many fine examples of Victorian architecture –
the railway station, for example, having been described as "a
stately home with trains in it." The church's website includes
a link to several "fascinating facts" about the town.
There, one may learn that the local football stadium won the
Building of the Year award in 1995 and that employers in the
area include the university, the council, and the local National
Health Service trust. The church's immediate neighbourhood is
mainly industrial. There is a leisure park, including a large
casino, directly across the road from the building. The church
must therefore draw its congregation from across the town.
Surnames appear to be considered unimportant at this church,
nor is everyone identified by full name on their website. A
young woman named Michelle gave the opening greeting and led
the worship. Jonny, who I believe was Jonny Skinner, elder and
youth leader, read the notices. Andy Gibbons delivered the message.
The date & time:
Sunday, 6 September 2009, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The building was around 80 per cent full, which, considering
it reportedly holds 2,500 people, is pretty impressive.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman named John leapt on me as soon as I entered the
door, picking up on the fact that I was new. He handed me a
welcome CD and pen and led me into the auditorium, where he
introduced me to the care team. They, in turn, sat me beside
another young man wearing a name badge who chatted to me before
the service began and who helpfully told me what was happening
as it progressed. Somebody else came to introduce himself during
the half-time break.
Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on very comfortable, well-cushioned chairs into which I gratefully collapsed following the opening worship session, which must have lasted at least 45 minutes.
How would you describe the pre-service
The pre-service atmosphere was very noisy. People chatted and loud music played while church notices were projected onto the walls at the front.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning, everybody! Isn't it great to be in the house
of God?" To which the congregation responded with clapping
What books did the congregation use during the
There were no books. Most people brought Bibles and notebooks. The songs were projected onto the walls.
What musical instruments were played?
There was a large worship band and choir, who made use of a
grand piano, various types of guitars, a trumpet, a French horn,
a flute, and an extensive drum kit.
Did anything distract you?
I was mainly distracted by wondering why the complicated and
expensive-looking light rigging positioned above the stage was
deemed necessary for a church, and by my fear that cabaret singer
Jane MacDonald, of cruise line fame, was about to step from
behind the curtain to sing a few ill-chosen songs. There were
other lesser distractions, too: the young boy in front of me
reading the "cheatz" page of a computer game magazine;
another member of the congregation agreeing vocally with everything
the preacher said; the appalling ignorance of the rules of grammar
on the part of whoever made up the slides – one song,
for example, consisted almost entirely of interrogatives, with
nary a question mark in sight; and the incredible thirst which
I began to feel 90 minutes into the two-and-a-half hour service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
The best words I can think of to describe the worship are "loud"
and "energetic." Michelle, who led the singing, had
apparently consumed an extraordinary amount of coffee that morning
– nothing else could possibly explain the energy with which
she marched around the stage with her arms in the air singing
and shouting to the crowd in an annoyingly happy voice. The
congregation joined in the songs, all of which were modern and
some of which were written by the church's own musical director,
as they bounced up and down with their arms in the air like
Winnie the Pooh's friend Tigger on speed. Michelle thanked the
congregation when they clapped after the songs, making me wonder
whether this was a worship session or a concert. Were we clapping
God or the band? There were also two solo performances which
fitted perfectly with the cabaret-like backdrop and which caused
me to look around in the expectation that Simon Cowell, of the
TV amateur talent programme Britain's Got Talent, was
seated up in the balcony grimacing.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
7 Andy Gibbons appeared to be the cabaret's terrible
comedian, beginning his sermon with a series of mildly amusing
anecdotes that he clearly believed to be funnier than they were.
His sermon consisted of a series of points that failed to flow
into one another. One or two of the Bible references in his
accompanying PowerPoint were wrong. The message itself, however,
was carefully chosen, encouraging and thought-provoking. The
sermon was followed by an opportunity for response, during which
those who were aware of sin's hold over them were invited to
the front and those who wanted to become Christians were asked
to raise their hands.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The sermon was on the subject "Developing the Character
of Christ" and took as its starting point 1 Timothy 4:12
("Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young,
but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in
love, in faith and in purity"). We need to set an example
to others through our character, which should be notable for
its distinguishing qualities, its high moral strength and its
good reputation. God cares more about our character than our
competencies. Thus, we should be constantly seeking to develop
our hearts so that they become more like that of Christ. Such
development requires that we are filled with the Spirit, increasingly
holy, growing in our maturity, and ready to face sufferings,
trials and temptations positively. We should also be aware of
those things that can dim our character, including our relationships
with non-Christians, what we watch and listen to, and sin in
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The sermon made me think carefully about what my priorities
in life are and whether I am more concerned with being moulded
to fit Christ's example or with what people think about me.
It was a very thought-provoking message. I was also very impressed
that I was recognised as new by so many people despite the massive
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The church's self-obsession was incredibly concerning. During
the notices, newcomers were told repeatedly that the church
was a good one. The sermon noted a number of things which the
church did "with excellence." A report on a Texas
church given by a team which had visited it claimed that it
was a good fellowship because it was "like ours."
I left wondering why the church felt it needed God at all if
it did everything so well. The worship leader's apparent need
to prefix everybody's name with "the wonderful" was
also incredibly annoying and just seemed insincere, as did the
false enthusiasm displayed by the greeters and care team, who
appeared to have been trained by Walmart.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no chance to look lost. The companion to whom the
care team had assigned me took me upstairs for coffee and hardly
left my side.
How would you describe the after-service
I didn't get the opportunity to try it. Apparently there was
a mix-up over who was on coffee duty. The only means of getting
a drink was from the one functioning vending machine, which
had a queue a mile long. After standing in line with my aforementioned
companion for ten minutes, I was so overcome by thirst that
I had to go home before I passed out.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 Although the sermon was very good and made me think carefully about how I might become more like Christ, the message didn't seem to fit with the apparent insincerity and self-obsession of the church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Quite the opposite. All but the sermon made me feel embarrassed
to be there.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The church's failure to recognise that it has so much upon which
it could improve. Oh, yes, and the solo sung by "the wonderful
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