Mystery Worshipper: The Iceman
Church: Sketty Methodist
Location: Swansea, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 3 June 2007, 10:30am
Small-scale Victorian non-conformist. The interior, featuring light-coloured walls and warm-coloured wood, has a typical, almost domestic intimacy.
The minister is also the Methodist chaplain to Swansea University, and there were at least a couple of students in the congregation. They call their Sunday school The Adventurers. In addition to worship services that include an alternative service one evening each month, they sponsor house groups that meet in parishioners' homes for prayer, Bible study and socialising.
Swansea is located on the southern coast of Wales. Occupied even in prehistoric times, it was also the site of Roman and Viking settlements. Swansea served as a port city in late medieval times, and as the Industrial Revolution arrived in Wales it became an important coal exporting city as well as a processing point for arsenic, copper, tin and zinc. During World War II, these industries were still important enough to draw heavy German bombing that completely flattened the city centre. Today's high-tech and service industries have taken over a revitalised Swansea, and the city is also a popular holiday destination. Sketty is a suburb to the west of Swansea, with a mix of housing and levels of prosperity.
The celebrant and preacher was the Revd Pamela Cram, a minister from one of the other churches in the circuit. She was assisted by a worship leader from within the Sketty congregation.
What was the name of the service?Morning Worship with Holy Communion.
How full was the building?
I would guess there were about 50 to 60 people in the congregation, and that the church was about two-thirds full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted by two ladies at the door, who gave me the service booklet, notice sheet and newsletter.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was of the carpeted-pew variety, and comfortable enough.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite a few people behind me were talking during the pre-service organ music, but everyone fell silent when the Bible was carried in a few moments before the start of the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The steward said, "Please be seated" and gave a few notices. Then, the minister began with "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns and Psalms (the Methodist hymn book) and a folded A4 page with the liturgy for the eucharist.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The minister taking the service reminded me somewhat of a close colleague who happens to be a committed atheist, which unnerved me slightly. And one of the diamond-shaped stained-glass panels in the window above the pulpit seemed to depict the eyes of the Looney Tunes cartoon character Tweety Pie, looking down on us.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The format of the service was traditionally Methodist, with readings and prayers interspersed between the hymns, which were mostly traditional as well. Nevertheless, although the service was reasonably formal, the minister adopted quite an informal, chatty style, which put everyone at their ease without seeming forced.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The preacher was not especially passionate in her delivery, but she was engaging and interesting, and her sermon contained enough intellectual meat to be stimulating. Above all, it was thoughtful and well-crafted. However, in her children's address, she referred to the Trinity as a three-legged stool, which I found jarring.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Since it was Trinity Sunday, the preacher took the Trinity as her theme. The Trinity is best approached as a mystery, since all doctrine is an imperfect expression of the "as-ifness" of our experience of faith. Nevertheless it is very important to grasp that mystery. Focussing on one of the three persons of God above the other two (as sometimes seems to be the case in much of contemporary worship) diminishes our idea of God. Also, the Trinity provides us with a model for unity with difference, which is crucial in developing relationships with people of other faiths: the Trinity is fundamentally inclusive.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The thought-provoking and intelligent sermon. Also, singing from a decent hymn book (why do so many Anglican churches have hymn books with only 300 or so hymns in?).
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The notion of the Trinity as a three-legged stool.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were very friendly and welcoming, in a warm and non-threatening way.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had a cup of tea, which, compared to some church tea I've had, was pleasingly strong and warm. They advocate fair trade on their website, so I assume the tea conformed.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I liked this service, but would want to return to hear the regular minister preach before making up my mind.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was so nice to hear a decent sermon for once.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The idea of the Trinity as a model of unity and diversity.