St Mark's, Gabalfa, Cardiff, Wales

St Mark's, Gabalfa, Cardiff, Wales


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Mystery Worshipper: Plato
Church: St Mark's
Location: Gabalfa, Cardiff, Wales
Date of visit: Thursday, 24 April 2008, 7:30pm

The building

St Mark's is a modern building with a green copper roof and detached bell tower. It was built in 1967 on the site of the old church. The large interior includes a high ceiling with light octagon at the top, and a rather nice kitchen and hall.

The church

St Mark's is known in Cardiff for its more evangelical Anglican worship, and so ministers to a large population throughout Cardiff, not just within its own parish. They have a network of home fellowship and Bible study groups, and run regular Christianity Explored courses, plus many youth, student and other weekly activities. These include a lunch club for senior citizens and an adults, babies and toddlers’ group.

The neighborhood

Cardiff, on the southeast coast of Wales, is the capital of Wales as well as its centre for business, education, sport, tourism, culture and media. It is a relatively flat city, bounded by hills on the outskirts to the east, north and west. It has a temperate climate, relatively dry compared with most of Wales. Famous sons and daughters include the 17th century pirate Henry Morgan as well as the singer of three James Bond movie tunes (Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker), Shirley Bassey. The church is close to Llandaff Cathedral, on one of the main routes into Cardiff city centre.

The cast

The Rt Revd David Yeoman, Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Llandaff; the Revd Bob Capper, vicar.

What was the name of the service?

Baptism with Confirmation for Cardiff Area Deanery.

How full was the building?

The church was almost full. There were a number of rows reserved at the front for candidates and clergy.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A sidesperson said "Welcome" and smiled as he handed me an order of service. I spotted some friends I was meeting, and so went and sat with them.

Was your pew comfortable?

They have wooden pews that were quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The organ was playing as people were dashing about preparing things. There was quite a bit of talking. Amid all the hubbub, notices and a welcome message were projected via PowerPoint. The entrance procession started without announcement or fanfare, and the bishop was halfway down the aisle before the people, still chatting, realised that things had gotten underway.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"A warm welcome to St Mark's on behalf of Cardiff Deanery."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Specially prepared order of service. Hymns were projected onto a screen, but Complete Mission Praise was available in the pews for us to use if we so desired.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ for one hymn. Piano, flute and a small choir of four people.

Did anything distract you?

Outside one of the windows there was a security light going on and off momentarily, which distracted my attention.

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

Fairly low church. There were no servers and no candles on the altar. The confession, absolution and Gloria were omitted. Bread rolls were used instead of wafers for communion. Most of the songs were modern. There was little in the way of crossing or genuflection and so I felt a little out of place.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

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

6 – Bishop Yeoman spoke directly to the candidates and gave plenty of examples.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He began by describing how St Mark accompanied St Paul on his first missionary journey. We may have met people in our lives who have been an encouragement to our faith. Mission is not an easy task. We must not give up when it fails, but rather we must keep on trying. We must all try to bring the gospel to people by letting the Lord shine forth in our lives. There will be times when we fail, and even break our baptismal vows. But God loves us when we are wrong as well as when we carry on the work of our mission.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The singing of the opening hymn, "Thine be the Glory," was appropriately rousing and it was just wonderful. The order of confirmation is in my opinion a wonderful thing to witness.

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

One of the songs was "One more step along the world I go," which I cannot stand. To makes matters worse, I learned that the vicar had personally requested it. Tut tut! There was a moment before the offertory when the baptismal font was picked up and moved out of the way as if it were nothing more than a stage prop. Communion was a little boisterous, with people talking as the choir sang more worship songs that I didn't really care for. And there were quite a few consecrated bread rolls left over – I wondered what they were going to do with all of them.

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

Everyone was invited to a rather splendid buffet and drinks in the hall. I talked to various people and had a decent chat with the bishop as well. There was lots of literature scattered about to have a look at also.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was a wonderful finger buffet of various savouries and cakes, as well as tea and coffee and various soft drinks. Tea was in a mug. No idea if it was fair trade or not.

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

4 – The style of worship is a long way from the formal Anglo-Catholic worship I am used to. I don't think it would suit my spiritual needs. I do, however, think that the people were very friendly and a lot of love was evident in their worship.

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

Any service welcoming new people into the Church should make one glad to be a Christian. I think that the mix of people there and the unity of the service in worship made me feel very glad.

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

I think it would have to be the picking up and moving of the font. It was only a small wooden thing, but it was the last thing I was expecting to see happen.

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