Mystery Worshipper: CVP
Church: Holy Trinity
Location: Aberystwyth, Wales
Date of visit: Monday, 22 January 2007, 6:00pm
Beautiful! Dating from the late 19th century, Holy Trinity is a splendid example of the Perpendicular Gothic style. Behind the high altar is a reredos of carved wood, painted with burnished gold, depicting the Annuniciation, Nativity, and Pietà. An octagonal wooden pulpit and stone baptismal font complement the interior quite nicely.
They hold a morning and evening service each Sunday, alternating among morning prayer, the eucharist, and evening prayer. They extend a special welcome to the elderly by offering assisted listening devices, large print prayer books and hymnals, and disabled access. Today's service was a special united service so the congregation was not Trinity's usual, but rather was made up from many different churches.
Aberystwyth, sometimes referred to simply as Aber, is an historic market town about halfway down Cardigan Bay. It is a favourite tourist destination and a major centre of education, being the seat of the University of Wales (whose older buildings bear a striking resemblance to Hogwarts Castle of Harry Potter fame). The church's immediate neighbourhood is residential, with a mixture of local people who own and students who rent. Some of the university halls are also located nearby.
The service was led by several people, but the only one specifically named was the Revd Charles Stallard, honorary assistant priest, who gave the sermon. Another priest, who led most of the prayers, was referred to several times as Ian, so I took him to be the Revd Ian Aveson, vicar. There were others who led the music and readings but I was not able to get their names.
What was the name of the service?United Service, Prayer for Christian Unity (Gwasanaeth Unedig, Gweddi Am Undod Cristnogol).
How full was the building?
The main seating area was full, holding I'd guess around 300 or so. Seating was also available in the two side areas and the choir, but no one seemed particularly willing to walk past everyone else to get there.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady at the door handed me a booklet produced for the service. A few people I recognised from my church said hello, along with a few others, but that was about it.
Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable enough bare wood with no cushioning, but for someone who grew up in a church with the same, not unpleasant.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lively, full of people talking and greeting each other. But it had a real sense of a community who were happy to be with each other quite a refreshing change from ecumenical services where people from each church tend to keep to themselves and seem interested primarily in spying out the local competition.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, everybody. Welcome to the service to mark the week of prayer for Christian unity." This was said in English and Welsh.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially produced booklet containing all the hymns, the gospel reading, and prayers (English and Welsh). Some people had brought Bibles with them.
What musical instruments were played?
There was an organ to accompany some of the hymns. There was also a small worship band at the front comprised of two vocalists, one of whom played a guitar, and two other musicians, one a violinist. The other was partially hidden by flowers so I couldn't see her instrument. It may have been a violin or viola.
Did anything distract you?
Ecumenical events always are an interesting balance between the style of the host church and visiting congregations. For example, the instruction "Please sit or kneel for prayer." (Why not just have everybody do what the host church does? When in Rome...) Another distraction was the habit some people had of holding one arm up in the air during every hymn. Not objectionable in moderation, but I thought they overdid it. And there was one woman who was shaking so badly I thought she may be having a seizure. I had to suppress the urge to make sure she was worshipping the Lord rather than on her way to meet him.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A good, modern, yet refined, service. Lots of prayers and readings in both languages, led by various members of the congregation, but no muttering or shouting "Amen," "Yes, Jesus" or "Alleluia" in an orgasmic manner that you often find. The hymns were a good combination of traditional and modern, with some of the modern, including "My Jesus, My Saviour" and "Light of the World," being done partly in Welsh, which was very good to hear.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – An interesting sermon but not the easiest to follow. The preacher, who would be leaving shortly, started by thanking people for how kind they had been during his time there. I felt that perhaps an ecumenical service was not the best place for this, as visitors would have no idea who he was. There were also a few jokes about language and "Gog Welsh" which were probably lost on those who didn't speak the language.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
In recent times the Church has been able to unite against many social problems, such as apartheid in South Africa, AIDS and poverty. We must always be ready to question what we are told rather than accept what we hear as fact. This is illustrated by the recent scandal over the popular Channel 4 programme Big Brother, which has had charges of racism leveled against it. And finally we must always be open to God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
On the whole the service was very enjoyable. The music from both worship band and organ was excellent. The bilingualism of the service was very well handled I have been to services where the phrase "We'll say both versions together" has led to garbled and confused prayer. Here, very sensibly, we went first in one language and then the other. A simple solution but very effective.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The collection plates. I tried my best to fold the Mystery Worshipper calling card up as small as possible and to hide it under a load of coins, but I feared all the while that the rather stern looking woman taking the collection, or those on either side and behind me, would notice that I had slipped something in other than money. I also felt very uncomfortable when we prayed in Welsh, fearing that my pronunciation was so bad that the Welsh speakers around me might take it as an insult.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It's not really easy to hang around after the service when everyone else is heading out and there isn't much room to wait. Both the vicar and preacher were at the door saying good-bye, and I chatted briefly with some friends I had spotted earlier.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any as far as I could tell, so a few of us went to a local pub. My pint was lovely!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – This was an ecumenical service and so I couldn't get an accurate feel for what regular congregational life was like. But at this particular service the atmosphere was great and everyone seemed friendly. Also, I'm not Church of Wales, but if I were, I would probably conclude that this would be a good church to make my regular.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. There was a real feeling of community at the church. Everyone joined in and sang with enthusiasm, even when we switched into Welsh, not the easiest language to use if you don't know it.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Probably the preacher saying that we need to get a sense of perspective on the world. What is said inside the Big Brother house should not be what we worry about whilst there are much more serious evils to tackle.