For weeks its 'Say No to Drugs' campaign has been emblazoned on buses and billboards across Birmingham. And a top jazz band has played next to its mission in Winston Churchill House on the corner of Ethel Street and New Street. Publicly, at least, The Church of Scientology - accused in the past of warping minds and preying on the vulnerable - seems to be successfully shedding its cult-like image.
But inside the mission it was a very different story. And, after undergoing a 'personality test', I found it both disturbing and sinister. I had been greeted by Robbie, a smiling, grey-eyed and quiet- voiced woman who chatted pleasantly about the band outside, and commiserated with me about the everyday stresses of life. Scientology could help, she said. It was called a religion because it was spiritual. 'We treat you as a spiritual person,' she said. 'Not just a slab of meat.'
I was ushered through the panelled lobby with glossy adverts and organisation structures on the walls and was left to listen to a 30- minute audio tape. A bland American voice outlined the power of Dianetics - clearing the mind from upsetting or negative experiences.
Then I tackled the 289-question Oxford Capacity Test with three categories from which to choose, depending on how strongly you agreed or disagreed. Questions included:
Do you agree with the parole system?
Do you often worry about what people think about you?
Do you laugh and smile a lot?
Would you injure an animal to put it out of its suffering?
Afterwards, I waited for a minute while my answers were fed through the computer. With a serious expression, another woman called Emily - a long haired, pretty 20-something - took me into a booth and with a deadpan voice told me it was 'well, not very good.'
Apparently, I was depressed, unstable, overly-critical, argumentative and withdrawn. The computer print-out said I needed 'urgent attention'. Luckily, she said, there was an introductory course which could help everything - and it only cost pounds 39.
I said I didn't want L Ron Hubbard's Dianetics handbook and opted for one-to-one auditing instead. The exact procedure they would use seemed to me a little vague. Scientology, Emily explained, did not use psychology or psychiatry because spiritual counselling was employed.
When I pressed for an example, she turned to a page in the coursebook. She showed me diagrams of a dog biting a girl. The girl carried the memory of the moment with her - making her unable to go near dogs. But auditing would clear the memory of this trauma.
After I had paid pounds 21.37 for a five-week course, Emily said I needed to sign a contract before starting the course.
It also asked me to confirm that I was not attempting to investigate Scientology Organisation as a representative of any news media, government agency or entity, or any other organisation, entity or person. Robbie had already explained to me that there were 'evil people' in the world.
Suppressives who, she said, tried to repress any minority religion. I declined to sign the form.