Mystery Worshipper: Wes Charles
Church: Capel y Traeth
Location: Criccieth, Gwynedd, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 15 April 2018, 11:15am
I've been coming to Criccieth on holiday for 42 years and often wondered about this impressive-looking building, without ever having been inside, but this year we made it to an English-language service. From outside, the building is really unusual and flamboyant-looking, and inside it looks like a traditional Presbyterian church. The church, as a congregation, was founded in 1889 and they shared a building with the English Methodist chapel until 1895, when this building was constructed.The church was called Seion until 1994 when two congregations merged and it was re-named Capel Y Traeth, or Beach Chapel.The church became a Grade II listed building in 1994 due to its striking and unusual design. Two particular features to note are the beautiful ceiling and the fine organ.
This morning, we arrived 10 minutes early for the English-language service. The Welsh-language service had just ended, and people flooded out. It seems to be a really busy church, with plenty of families and children. They tie up with the nearby Anglican church, St Catherine's, for a Taizé service from time-to-time as well. There were some notices given out, but I was trying to keep Little Miss Charles quiet with some stickers at the time, and I missed some. They have a Facebook page and appear to have a Sunday school as well.
Criccieth is a medium-sized seaside town in the beautiful Snowdonia region of North Wales. It appears to be a bit of a hotbed of Christianity, with two services at this church, three at the local parish church, and two different evangelical churches, as well as a Catholic church, a Christian cafe (with another in the next town along) and a Christian bookshop. This is quite impressive for a small town!
The Revd Tony Tagg, a semi-retired minister who was visiting from Macclesfield to see friends. I gather he preaches there fairly regularly.
What was the name of the service?The sign outside said something like Service in English and the Facebook page says Worship with Communion.
How full was the building?
About 30 for this service, so reasonable but a little small for the building. However, see my comment earlier about the earlier Welsh language service, which people were pouring out from. And this is Wales, after all!
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes - as we entered, against the flow of the crowd from the previous service, a lady said a friendly hello and handed us a service book. A few minutes later, we had the hymn book delivered to our seats!
Was your pew comfortable?
I didn't notice much about them. Mine felt quite uncomfortable because the apparently-comfortable cushion on each pew didn't reach my end, so I was half-on and half-off. However, Mrs Charles said it was comfortable. She also noted that the front few pews were made in a curved shape to make people in those more comfortable looking at the pulpit. I didn't notice those.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pleasantly chatty. Not noisy, but relaxed and friendly. Apparently the English congregation tend to arrive last-minute, because the Welsh congregation at 10 o'clock take all the parking spaces.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, I see there are one or two visitors here." The minister then asked any visitors to raise their hands and got into a dialogue with my father (who was with us) about our Welsh ancestry. He then mentioned that he'd studied in Bristol, our home town, and that the town clearly has a lot to answer for!
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A Methodist service book, which I'm afraid I have forgotten the name of, and a copy of Mission Praise.
What musical instruments were played?
The fabulous organ, which the organist plated very well. I found the position interesting the pipes were on the wall behind the preacher, and the console was in front of the congregation, facing the preacher, with a blue curtain behind it. Mrs Charles, who is an organist herself, doubted the pipes were connected due to the huge sound they produced she thought it was a modern electric instrument. The organist explained that it's called an extended organ or something, which makes more efficient use of the pipes, making it sound bigger than it is. I didn't quite understand what he was saying, but it made a very impressive sound indeed.
Did anything distract you?
To be honest, nothing. However, Mrs Charles was distracted by the curved pews in the front three rows, and spent much of the service wishing she'd sat there. I, on the other hand, decided to concentrate on the service instead.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Quite entertaining, actually! The service followed a fairly traditional structure. However the minister was a bit of a comedian, which made for a very enjoyable yet worshipful experience.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 — The Revd Tagg had a very relaxed and informal yet sincere style. He was very conversational in his speaking, and had a nice questioning style of preaching.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The passage was Luke 24, when Jesus appeared to his disciples. He likened believing in resurrection to Alice being asked to believe six impossible things before breakfast. The disciples got to see Jesus in the flesh, touch his wounds, see him eat, and so on. We are more like Paul, who believed due to a spiritual experience on the road to Damascus, never having seen Jesus in the flesh at all.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The wonderful organ playing was very impressive, as was my first visit inside a church I'd often wondered about. However, I guess the best bit was just before the service when I saw such a large crowd exiting the building from the previous service in such a small town.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Microphone issues towards the end of the service, the minister's mic started whistling, but only when he spoke. That was irritating.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didnt get much chance to look lost - the minister's wife was sat behind us and had a chat. One of the other ladies from the church came straight over to speak to us as well and invite us to the hall for coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I wasn’t sure if it was fair trade or not, as this was quite unusual – it was already brewed, and already mixed with milk in the pot! It was very nice, and the lady pouring offered to add hot water if it was too strong for me. In fact, it was pretty perfect, but still odd to find it pre-mixed.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 — It was a great experience in a beautiful building with a very friendly congregation.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much so it was a very uplifting morning.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
When the preacher told us, "You all sang very well... for English people!"