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1980: CGC Chelmsford, Chelmsford, Essex, England
CGC Chelmsford, Chelmsford, Essex, England
Mystery Worshipper: Ironted.
The church: CGC Chelmsford, Widford Industrial Estate, Chelmsford, Essex.
Denomination: Christian Growth International.
The building: CGC is on an industrial estate, and so the building is quite industrial. It has a main auditorium as well as upstairs and downstairs rooms where youth and other activities happen. There are a few houses in the immediate area, but most of the neighbouring buildings are big warehouses, garages and offices. As you can see from the picture, it is not a pretty building.
The church: Christian Growth Centre first came about after two Australians (Rick and Bev Murrill) took over the leadership of Bethel Chapel, a relatively small church in the north of Chelmsford, in 1996. It was renamed Christian Growth Centre and Rick and Bev have now gone on to plant a number of Christian Growth congregations around the UK and beyond. The church offers people in the local area many activities, catering for all ages.
The neighbourhood: Chelmsford has been described as one of the most boring places in the UK. It has long had a cathedral, been the "capital" of Essex and has a football team called City, but it is still officially a town, despite its continued and consistent growth over the past 30 years. Chelmsford is only 30 minutes from the City of London by train. The church building is in an easily accessible place for people arriving from out of town, particularly from the south-west. Since it is on an industrial estate, the vast majority of the congregation arrive by car.
The cast: Paul Gutteridge (the main pastor) preached, Andy Robb led the service and gave the notices, while Nicki Sims and a large band led the sung worship. There were two other people who spoke into the mic: one lady had a picture she was allowed to share, while another read out a passage from Isaiah chapter 53, in connection with Jesus.
The date & time: Sunday 23 May 2010, 9.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Service: Vision.

How full was the building?
Mostly full. There were probably around 300 people present, with a variety of ages, including quite a few young children and teenagers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were welcomed at the door by a lady offering us a church newssheet, with the question, "Have you got one of these yet, itís May?" We were then left to our own devices and found ourselves in a large auditorium with three banks of chairs facing a stage. During the notices, anybody new to the church was invited to put up their hands to receive a free CD (with a recent sermon on it), an info booklet about the church and a pen.

Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs were cushioned and comfortable, wider than your average conference chair, and not positioned too close together. This made the fidgeting movement of our children potentially easier than it might have been in some churches.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of chatting. People were catching up with each other and so there was a lot of happy noise. There were a few individuals and families sitting quietly on their own, including us. No one came to talk to us as we sat waiting for the start.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, church. Hello. Sorry we've been having some technical issues."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. The words of the songs and those read from the Bible were projected onto screens. The New International Version of the Bible was used.

What musical instruments were played?
Two guitarists (switching between electric and acoustic), a drum kit, keyboard, bass. Only the worship leader had a microphone, along with the three backing singers.

Did anything distract you?
The technical issues were evident to the congregation before the service began. There were flickering screens with technical computer text on them to the left and right of the stage. I did not understand why the projectors were not blanked at this point. During the worship, the words of songs did not appear on the screen until at least half way through the first line of the verse, if not later. As half the songs seemed to be written by the resident worship leader, this made sung worship for the visitor quite hard work, as we didnít know the words.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
In theory it was happy-clappy, but in practice it was more like jazz club. There were a lot of musical intros, finishes and sections within songs. There were a number of times where people had space to sing in their own words while the musicians jammed. The sung part of the service was quite long at around 35-40 minutes, but it was excellent to see such a diverse group of people in age (from 12-62) and hair quantity on the stage in the worship group.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
28 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Paul Gutteridge was very funny and engaging as a speaker. He showed he cared about the advancement of Godís kingdom in the congregation, the town and the world. He interspersed relevant and often amusing stories with teaching from the Bible and personal experience. He also got emotional and cried when talking about children with HIV in Africa.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke about not limiting God. Often the church and the world puts limits on what we can do through God, and puts limits on God himself. In the same way, the devil is sometimes given too much respect, as he is simply "someone with a big gob, like a lion, but with no legs and no teeth". He talked about how CGC is just part of the body of the Christ, and that all congregations in Chelmsford (and the world) are important and vital co-parts of the body. We came away liking him and his theology.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Hearing the preacher in a charismatic service asking people who had problems with their personal finances not to give – he did this more than once. He said those people could give in other ways, and talked about how God understood the problems of escalating debt. Hearing the preacher say that often the only spiritual warfare that is required is just a smile. Laughing out loud in church more than once. I think there will be a lot of laughing and smiling in heaven.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not knowing what words to sing, because the person putting them on the screen didnít seem to be concentrating and following the lead of the worship leader.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I looked at the noticeboard for a short while and David came up to speak to me. He recognised me as being one of the people who put their hands up during the service as a new person. Dave talked about the church and why he joined, and he told me about Cherish, their scheme for HIV/AIDS children in Uganda, for which he has some responsibility. I was enjoying the conversation, but he was called away to talk to someone else about Cherish. I was then rather talked at by another church member around the new people desk. Apparently, new people do not have to queue for drinks at the end of the service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Twinings tea was on evidence, as was a display about fair-trade. The coffee and tea was served from flasks and so it was not clear what actual brand was used. It was served in cardboard cups with cardboard heat-holder sleeves. The colourful plastic cups for the squash ran out, so Mrs Ironted pilfered a cardboard cup from the coffee/tea table in order to have a drink on this rather hot day.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If we lived 410 miles further south-south-east, it would definitely be a serious consideration. The impression we received was that the senior pastor (and the rest of the church) were practical Christians, not worrying too much about theology, but knowing, loving and wanting to share Jesus. On the other side, the worship style was slightly different to what we are used to and I already know of a number of other good churches in the Chelmsford area that we might be more suited to.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. Particularly during the preach I felt part of the body of Christ, and a child of a fantastic God, glad that this church was on the doorstop of the area where I grew up as a child.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The preacher talking more than once about not giving financially when you are not in control of your finances. Having been a Christian debt advisor, I think this advice is vital and shows more faith than blindly giving money which actually belongs to the bank.
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