St Giles, Wrexham, Wales

St Giles, Wrexham, Wales


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Mystery Worshipper: Tartuffe
Church: St Giles
Location: Wrexham, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 28 January 2007, 11:00am

The building

St Giles is considered to be one of the finest medieval churches in Wales. The tower dominates the Wrexham skyline and is, according to an anonymous poet of the 18th century, one of the seven wonders of Wales. There is known to have been a church on the site since the 13th century, but the original church was destroyed by fire in 1463 and was rebuilt by 1472. A fine example of the Perpendicular style, it is constructed of a dirty, sandy coloured stone which looks like it was the victim of decades of mining pollution in the area. Inside, I was struck by the beauty of the ceiling adorned with 16 colourful angels playing instruments and singing. The high altar and altar gates are quite fancy.

The church

The church is part of the Open Network of churches in the area and its congregation volunteers to keep it open, meaning that there is often someone to welcome you. St Giles is also the resting place of Elijah Yale, the founder of Yale University in America, on the campus of which stands a copy of the tower.

The neighborhood

There is evidence of prehistoric activity in the Wrexham area as well as occupation during Roman times. Wrexham was once heavily industrialised and was especially known for its breweries, one of which produced the first lager beer anywhere in the United Kingdom. Following a period of economic decline and crisis, today Wrexham is undergoing a massive investment programme, with new housing in the town centre and a new shopping and entertainment venue in the shadow of the church.

The cast

The service was led by the rector, the Rev. Canon Geoffrey Marshall, who presided at the eucharist. He was assisted by the Rev. Matthew Wilkinson, curate, who preached the sermon.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Eucharist

How full was the building?

There were about 90 people in the congregation, making the main body of the church about two-thirds full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I walked up the hill to St Giles, the bells rang out across a sunny but chilly Wrexham, making me feel very pleased to be going to church. The tower boasts a peal of ten bells cast in 1726. If only this greeting could have continued when I reached the church. As I entered, a couple serving as welcomers exchanged a "hello" but otherwise ignored me, continuing their conversation on church finances. I then went forward to where three women were sorting out the hymn books. They looked astonished when I asked if I could please have one. Not the most auspicious of starts, and no one actually made me feel personally welcome until the end of the service.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was of the traditional sort. Long. Hard. Wooden. But since significant chunks of the service were spent kneeling on very fine blue hassocks or standing, my bottom never went fully numb.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was a general air of chatter and friendship in the church, though no one spoke to me despite my efforts. About five minutes before the start, the organ played a little calming music which people talked over until the notices were read out.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you," to which we replied, "And also with you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Hymns Ancient and Modern and a home-grown publication entitled The Parish Church of St Giles Sung Eucharist during Epiphany. We were also handed a news sheet that contained the collect and psalm. It was an ordeal at times to juggle amongst the three.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ was used throughout. There was a small choir which was sometimes inaudible. The vicar apologised for the lack of singers, explaining that many had been struck down by colds. Apparently things are normally better.

Did anything distract you?

An elderly lady in the pew opposite fainted, sparking a little bit of a concern and a tad of a distraction. I was touched, though, by the amount of care and love offered her by the congregation. There was a genuine concern for her which seemed so appropriate in a service that talked about Christian love. Other distractions included the Christmas decorations (confused this worshipper) and the chatter that started whilst waiting to take communion (irritated this worshipper).

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The worship was fairly high in a traditional Welsh way, based on the modern setting for communion used in Wales. This was a full eucharistic setting with sung gloria, sanctus and Agnus Dei but no smells or bells.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 – The curate seemed a little nervous but could easily be heard. I thought the sermon lacked anything particularly new or revelatory, but it was a good, solid exploration of the passage in question.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The curate looked at St Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians to have "faith, hope and charity." He examined the idea of sacrificial love amongst Christians. Christianity is useless without love. The Bible uses several different words to signify love. Sacrificial love (or charity) is said to be the most important, as this is what Christ showed us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The reading from 1 Corinthians seemed to bring fresh light to a famous passage. The care shown by members of the congregation was also a true sign of love among Christians, not only in the case of the lady who fainted, but also at communion, when people helped others to move forward, and later as people asked after each others' families, etc.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The tunes for the service music were not announced. There was no clue given as to what we should be singing, which meant that I felt I could not join in praising God. If I had known what the tunes would be, I could have joined in, but instead I felt "outside." Also, the chattering during the eucharist was a little sad, as this is meant to be the most important part of the service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I was approached by the curate, the rector and a member of the choir. They all made me feel welcome and seemed interested in getting to know me. I felt personally welcome at last.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was no tea or coffee, sadly.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – I think I would want to visit a couple more times before making it my own, as the initial welcome was a letdown. However, what I witnessed during the service was moving, and the friendliness at the end would make me want to come back.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

I did feel glad to be a Christian and to share in the love I saw there.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

I will remember the love spoken of in the sermon and demonstrated in the actions of the church members. I also hope the lady recovers.

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