Mystery Worshipper: Ironted
Church: Cheddar Valley Community Church
Location: Cheddar, Somerset, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 May 2010, 10:30am
They meet in the main hall of the Kings of Wessex School, a Church of England Foundation upper school. The building is a nondescript contemporary structure in the middle of a conservation area. A bog standard school with lots of windows. The hall has a bright and airy feel to it. There are some school-type pictures on the walls.
They run an outreach cafe during the week and a flat for Christian ministers on retreat. They also have a church centre in the town with a number of different activities during the week. They are heavily involved in mission work around the world and in the local area, and work extensively with other local churches.
Cheddar is a village in southwest England that is very much a tourist town, with its spectacular gorge and caves just a short walk away from the town centre. The village gave its name to the famous cheese that is now produced worldwide, with only one producer remaining in Cheddar itself. The village is also noted for its strawberries and its local beer. There is a very popular car boot sale on Sundays, which we were told draws hundreds of people from many miles away. The school grounds and the immediate surrounding area contain some very old ruins, undamaged by graffiti and untouched by boundary fences between the main gate and the main entrance. They were very useful for a game of hide and seek before we noticed the "Please keep off the grass" signs.
John Reynard, the lead minister, conducted the worship and preached. There were also contributions from Colin and Heather (no surnames or indication of their positions at the church) and some others whose names we didn't get.
What was the name of the service?Family Celebration.
How full was the building?
The hall was quite large, so the 50 people or so didn't exactly fill it. As the chairs were placed only in one half of the room, the room felt spacious without feeling like a barn. Most people were middle aged or older but we were told that most of the younger age groups were in Wales or France.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes indeed! Three people took it in turns to welcome us as we entered the reception area. We received news sheets from two of them, and the third led us into the hall and showed us where to get coffee and where to find the conveniences should we need them. Once we were seated, a very smiley lady named Kat came over to say hello to us. She explained the situation regarding children's work and asked what would be best for us and our children.
Was your pew comfortable?
Orange plastic chairs, no cushion but not uncomfortable. Unlike some school chairs, there was enough room for those with slightly larger bottoms. There was also a lot of space between the rows.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty. People were engaging with each other and looking around to talk to others who were on their own. The worship group were playing a song that was clearly new to the congregation, but one that everyone there would definitely know by the end of the morning! (I'll have more to say about this directly.)
What were the exact opening words of the service?
There wasn't really a specific opening to the service. It seemed to start with the singing of a few worship songs.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. All lyrics were on the screen. Various Bible texts were used depending on which Bible they brought to the front.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, 12 string guitar and violin. There was also a lady singing.
Did anything distract you?
In the top corner of the room was a projector running information about activities in Uganda, Turkey and France as well as the UK. It ran during the sung worship and was quite interesting, although I couldn't make everything out as the font was quite small. It did not help people sing, though. I was also interested in (distracted by) the big board in front of us that listed the names of all the head boys and girls of the school. I was particularly looking for names of people I might recognise (but I didn't find anyone).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was happy-clappy in theory, but the congregation really didn't seem to engage with the music as they might have done. We were told that the music group were put together at the last minute. The singing certainly missed someone actually leading it. But otherwise, the church really felt like a community. I have not been to a church with that same feel for quite some time. Many of the congregation felt comfortable to come to the front during the meeting with a prayer request or notice, or just to share what God had been saying to them. One spoke about a conference he had attended; another about climbing a hill and looking down at the town. One man named John brought with him half a dead bird mounted on a card. He explained that he had found it in the church garden and that it reminded him of Malachi 4:2, which speaks of healing.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes, although we were told that it was going to last only five.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – I liked what John Reynard was saying, but he didn't mention any practical ways to carry his message forward into our lives. He spoke for some time about his recent trip to Turkey and his encouragement to the small church out there. He was quite apologetic, saying he was still rather tired from his trip and not quite ready to lead the meeting and the worship and to manage all those coming forward to say something.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents, although the whole text was not read out. Rather, it was referred to often. His message was that the Kingdom is in our hands. He did not really share any specific stories but did mention someone called Bill Johnson from California quite a lot. He might have been referring to the Bill Johnson Ministries, a charismatic California-based group.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
We really felt welcomed and loved without being swamped. Also, I liked the fact that the congregation seemed eager to stand up and talk to one another. Coming from a church where it is often hard to get anyone not in leadership to say anything, we felt that this was refreshing and heaven-like. We are all part of the body, after all, and God has given us all a unique something!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The new song that the worship group had earlier played over and over was played again as the meeting was gradually closing. We had heard quite enough of it by then! The people in front of us apparently thought so too, as they left just as the band began to play it. We wondered if they may have been visitors also.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People came and talked to us. The people next to us, the people from the other side of the room, the main leader and his wife – it felt like everybody! A lady offered to bring us a drink, but she then got distracted so it took a while coming.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea, fresh coffee and squash, with a selection of biscuits. It felt quite haphazard but homely. I'm sorry, I have no idea whether it was fairly traded or not, although the tea was rather strong.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – If we lived in the area we would certainly go back to this church. It would be good to experience a meeting when the members of the church who were in Wales and France were back. The church feels like a church where the whole body of Christ is welcomed to minister to each other, and I like that.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Many people were genuinely pleased to meet us and have us there, even when they realised we were only in the area on holiday.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?