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50: St Michael's, Aberystwyth, Wales
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St Michael's Aberystwyth
Mystery Worshipper: Andras.
The church: St Michael's, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales.
Denomination: Church in Wales.
The building: Victorian, but surprisingly plain for its period. It has an excellent bookshop and very attractive banners. The beautiful old graveyard outside was sadly turned into a rather dowdy play area and rose garden back in the 70s.
The neighbourhood: The ruins of Aberystwyth Castle are nearby.
The cast: The Vicar (who ran most of the service) is the Rev Stuart Bell; the service marked a high-point in a local mission headed by Canon Michael Green.
What was the name of the service?
Good Friday Family Service.

How full was the building?
Pretty full – I estimate about 250 people of all ages.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
They have this organised to the nth degree. Three separate people – all wearing name badges – clasped me by the hand, massaged my shoulder and wished me a friendly welcome. Impressive, but perhaps a little intimidating to those of a nervous disposition.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very good traditional pews, though the pitch between one row and the next is a little tight, leaving insufficient space for easy kneeling.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very chatty; the organ was playing, but was lost in the hubbub. Probably inevitable with so many children present, but a little more quiet reverence would have been good.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Good morning to everybody, and the warmest of welcomes to our special Good Friday service.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A home-produced copy of 'Songs of Fellowship', with a series of simple services bound at the front. There was also an order of service, with details of other Easter services on the back.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, synth, acoustic and electronic guitars, violin and tambourine. All played very well indeed, and with commendable reticence. There was no feeling that the music group were 'taking over'.

Did anything distract you?
Applause at various stages of the service. The children were mostly angelic.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Modified happy clappy. Obviously, it's hard to organise a family service for Good Friday, but someone should accept that children can understand that this day is – to put it mildly – a serious occasion, and that the repeated singing of happy choruses (in one case, complete with jolly actions) may not be the best way to get this across. There was virtually nothing in either the prayers or the singing to recall that this was a Good Friday service, though the crucifixion was mentioned in the one and only reading from the Bible.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There were three short talks: 'The Cross Through the Eyes of a Child' (8 minutes, and ending with a round of applause for the speaker); 'The Cross Through the Eyes of an Adult' (7 minutes); and a final word by Canon Green (also 7 minutes).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
The first speaker earns a 6 for his bravery in successfully involving a whole crew of children in his talk; the second only gets a 3 because of some rather disturbingly bad theology. Michael Green gets a 4 – the actual quality was very good, but he was too obviously doing a repeat of a talk that he must have given at dozens of mission services, and there was almost nothing about Good Friday in what he said.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God loves and forgives us and we should commit our lives to him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music. The songs aren't really to my taste, but they were performed quite wonderfully, and the whole congregation was caught up in them.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I suppose that they don't talk about Good Friday much in 'the other place' either.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most people joined in a 'March of Witness' through the town. It made an impressive show on local TV that evening.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None because of the march.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – a little more seriousness on this very solemn occasion would have been welcome. If I were looking for an active church with a lot going on, then it would be quite high on my list, but surely an active church should have made much more of Good Friday?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
On balance, yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The music, without a doubt.
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