A Grade 1 listed building dating largely from the 15th-16th centuries, with renovations done in the 1890s. Beautiful little church with all the modern conveniences, very tastefully done with light coloured wood in keeping with the character: disabled toilet, kitchen area, two large long dining tables set up.
The parish includes three churches: St David’s; St Bride’s, Llansantffraid; and St John’s, Aberkenfig. Seems to be a close knit church community where people take a genuine interest in each other.
Bettws is a small village in the South Wales Valleys, once a major coal mining region but now a distressed area. Bryngarw Country Park, which calls itself ‘a mosaic of habitats, rich natural environments and historic formal gardens,’ is nearby. The church is only about five minutes from the M4 motorway, which runs from London to southwest Wales, but has a more remote feel.
The female vicar led the service and the intercessions, and preached. A man from the congregation did the readings. There was a young male chalice server.
What was the name of the service?Eucharist.
How full was the building?
About a third full. I counted 18 and there were roughly 60 chairs but it didn't feel empty.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Where to start! A couple who had parked up welcomed me as I approached the gate. They directed me to the main door, as there was a path that veered off to a different place. Once inside, they gave me the books I needed for the service (there didn't seem to be a dedicated sidesperson). When I sat down, I was then welcomed by the couple in front of me and others who came in after me. Top marks!! I was smiling inside and thought that the visit couldn't get off to a better start. As it was cold, I went back to the car to get my coat, and then two ladies who had parked up by my car (and who didn't know that I had come from the church) bade me a good morning and commented on the weather.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. The individual (and sponsored) lightly coloured wooden chairs were comfortable and roomy. Some had cushions on. Deep enough, and there was enough space between one row and the next so your knees weren't touching the chair in front and you didn't have to sit cross-legged in an uncomfortable pose. There were four or five chairs in a row.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was quiet chatter among members of the congregation. Some sat in silence. No babies or children. One lady inquired about the health of one elderly gentleman who had had a cold recently.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Is this mic working? Ah, there. Good morning, everyone! Happy New Year!’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The order of service was printed in a small parish booklet with comfortable reading font. There were Bibles available, blue in colour, I didn't open mine so don't know the version, sorry! The reader did announce the Bible readings by chapter and verse as well as page number. Very helpful for those that wanted to find the passages at speed! There was also a parish-wide leaflet containing the collect and psalm (which everyone said together). It also had details of weekly events, a daily devotional, contact info, prayer lists, and also the diocesan vision prayer. Mission Praise was the hymn book.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, played very well.
Did anything distract you?
Not really. The church was cold – I heard that the boiler hadn't come on as it should have and apologies were made. We were recommended to keep wrapped up, and I didn't take my coat off. However, this was not distracting and I didn't feel like it detracted from the service. It may have done if I hadn't dressed so warmly.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Neither happy clappy or stiff-upper-lip. Middle-of-the-road Anglican, I'd say. The hymns were known to the faithful who were there – I didn't know the last hymn but soon caught the gist as the verses went on. The pace was fine, not too fast or too slow. I'm used to singing a little faster but it definitely wasn't a dirge! I had a chat with the vicar at the end, who said that she enjoyed worship songs and that is what they play when the band is there.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 — Although the vicar did appear to have notes in front of her on the lectern, she didn't appear to read them. She often looked up, made eye contact, and slowed down at certain points to labour her point. She had obviously prepared but it didn't come across rehearsed; it sounded from the heart. She used pauses to effect and smiled.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
As it was Epiphany Sunday, the vicar spoke of the journey of the Magi, which tied in nicely with the diocesan year of pilgrimage. The birth of Jesus meant different things to the Magi than to Herod. The Magi themselves were gentiles, and Jesus came into the world for more than just the Jews. It is not surprising that they should visit a palace to find the new King, rather than some humble place. But Herod viewed the newborn King of the Jews with paranoia, as he was not a real Jew himself. The visit of the Magi took place some time after Jesus was born, and so Herod gave the order that all boys two years of age and under were to be killed. We are all on a journey – we all journey at different places.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Hmmm. Hard to choose. The welcome was the best I've ever received in a church as a visitor. I thought the heaven bit was when I saw the vicar giving the absolution, as she closed her eyes and said it with such sincerity. But then, at the very end we were encouraged to share the grace together. Everyone got up and we held hands. That felt very united. Everyone looked around when sharing the grace also. I felt a part of the church family, but then I am a touchy feely person myself.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I'm reluctant to say this, as it was a very minor point. The wine tasted very strong, and this is the only semi-negative thing I can think of, as everyone was so warm and lovely! Luckily, I had a sweet in my pocket, which I soon unwrapped upon returning to my seat. It may be that I'm just used to the wine served in my church.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There wasn't much time to look lost! The couple in front of me turned around again and chatted with me. They spoke about a Bible study that would be starting back up soon and that they have a band in the parish. I said I was interested, and they kindly asked for my contact details so that they could keep me informed. Then I was approached by a lady who asked if we had met before and what brought me here today. I stood up, trying to look lost, and within seconds a different lady approached me and invited me to come and warm myself up with a cuppa. Other people, when leaving, said it was nice to meet me. I was approached by a gentleman when I stood by the dining table with my cuppa and he introduced himself and we chatted. Another lady asked if I was new in the village. I was given a farewell when I left also.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea and coffee were served in good quality white (and deep) cups and saucers with a silver trim. A box of new biscuits was unpacked, and mince pies were on offer. Don't know if tea and coffee were fair trade, as the tea had already been made in the teapot when I got there. The coffee may have been from a popular coffee shop chain, but I can't fully remember. There was full-fat milk but they may have had different milk if I had asked. The coffee was strong enough with plenty of milk – just how I like it.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 — There was a joyfulness there and they cared for each other.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely. There was a joyfulness there and they cared for each other. One lady inquired about the health of one elderly gentleman who had had a cold recently.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
That we all held hands together in a circle (of sorts) and shared the grace together.