|31: Heath Evangelical Church, Cardiff, Wales|
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Mystery Worshipper: Nick O'Demus.
The church: Heath Evangelical Church, Cardiff.
Denomination: Independent evangelical. The church broke away from the Welsh Presbyterian Church in the 1970s, a move led by the pastor, the renowned Rev. Vernon Higham.
The building: Built in 1906, this is a preaching barn with a classic non-conformist interior. The angled pews and the balcony (which hugs three walls) all face an impressive wooden pulpit, which is the focal point of the building. The balcony is supported by metal pillars, painted deep red; otherwise, everything is in glowing, polished wood.
The neighbourhood: Next door is Maskrey's a small department store. The church suffered a major split in the 1980s over a disagreement within the congregation over whether or not to buy the store to house its expanding work. A significant number of the congregation walked out, never to return.
The cast: Rev. Vernon Higham was preaching away. In his place we had the silver-haired and kindly Rev. Derek Swan, a member of the church who has an itinerant ministry.
What was the name of the service?
11.00am morning service.
How full was the building?
Approx. 90 per cent full about 600 people. I sat high up in the balcony, marvelling at the large number of conservatively dressed young people sitting around me, looking alarmingly keen and committed and more than a little like clones.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I almost succeeded in sneaking past the man in the suit at the door who was talking to someone else. But he called me back as I was making for the stairs and said hello with a big, Welsh, welcoming smile.
Was your pew comfortable?
Desperately uncomfortable. My knees were jammed against the hymnbook shelf of the pew in front. After an hour, practically the whole of my lower body was numb. I noticed lots of people leaning forward during the sermon, as if in rapt attention, and realized that they were probably just trying to ease the torture.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly, with people chatting. In the final seconds before the start of the service, the organ played, sotto voce, the tune to the chorus, 'Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus', and a great hush descended.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Let us join together in singing hymn number 11.'
What books did the congregation use during the service?
'Christian Hymns', the hymnbook of the fearsomely conservative Evangelical Movement of Wales.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ only. I wonder if any other musical instrument has ever been heard in this church?
Did anything distract you?
The children's talk. Rev. Swan held up a medical thermometer and asked the children what it was. There was no response, as he was holding up the tiny object in the pulpit, 10 feet above the children's heads. 'Mummy makes you open your mouth and say "ahhhh",' he prompted. 'A thermometer?' ventured a child. Now Rev. Swan held up a smaller thermometer and asked: 'And where does this go?' The fixed smiles on the faces of the adults showed that they were thinking the same unthinkable answer as me... The correct answer (of course): 'In the aquarium!'
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff upper lip. Despite a sermon on revival and a rousing final hymn, there was no outbreak of spontaneity. We stood when we were told; sat, bowed our heads, sang, gave money. We were very well behaved.