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52: ‘Love Over Cardiff’, Cardiff, Wales
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Love Over Cardiff
Mystery Worshipper: Nick O'Demus.
The church: 'Love Over Cardiff', an outdoor Easter sunrise service.
Denomination: Multi-denominational.
The building: An open, grassy field at the top of Thornhill, to the north of Cardiff, with panoramic views over the city and out across the Bristol Channel.
The neighbourhood: In front of us, the city, sprinkled with lights in the darkness just before dawn, and at the foot of the hill, the buzz of the M4 motorway. Behind us, a giant telecomms pylon, looking like a space rocket. And all around us, the beautiful fields, dark woods and narrow lanes of the Wenallt, a popular walking area. The dawn chorus was in full spate.
The cast: Rev James Morgan, of Llanishen Baptist, led the service in a bright blue anorak.
What was the name of the service?
'Love Over Cardiff.'

How full was the building?
Approximately 120 people, plus four dogs (mine included), stood close together in the field.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A cold-looking teeneager handed me a service sheet at the turnoff from the hilltop lane. 'Turn right at the gate and walk across the field,' he told me. Ahead of me in the semi-darkness were several young people lugging a large, rough wooden cross across the grass, making rather drunken-sounding whooping noises. I followed them.

Was your pew comfortable?
The ground was soft and the grass wet from the rain. All of us (except the dogs) stood on our hind legs for worship.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty, people clearly enjoying the shared experience of having got themselves out of bed for a special event. Sadly, I didn't pick up any great feeling of connecting with the awe and mystery of the Resurrection, which this uncanny hour of the morning can quite easily evoke.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Hallelujah! Our God reigns!'

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed sheet which included all the hymns and songs, plus the two readings.

What musical instruments were played?
A small worship group led us with a battery-powered keyboard, soprano saxophone and two trumpets. Two or three people had brought tambourines.

Did anything distract you?
To the right of the worship group, a young man stood facing us, holding up the large cross. When Rev Morgan started talking about how the empty cross symbolised the resurrection of Christ, I noticed that a large black and white dog had found a comfortable spot at the foot of the cross and was lying there watching the other dogs. Or maybe it was an act of repentance...

Love Over Cardiff

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There were extemporary prayers spoken with triumph and warmth. There was clapping along to the music, and a small amount of jigging about as we sang, 'the river of God sets our feet a dancing...' (see photo above). And there was Linda, firmly in control at the keyboard, her fingers pounding the tinny keys and orchestrating a big flourish at the end of each song. There was a very good trumpet player, and the sound of brass gave me a thrill as I thought of Gabriel giving it some with that trumpet of the final resurrection.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon. Instead, Rev Morgan shooed away the black and white dog for a small ceremony at the cross. Two men in raincoats pulled apart a couple of large, flat loaves of bread and laid the large pieces on the grass beside the cross. Then Rev Morgan took a half-bottle of red wine, unscrewed the top and poured it over the upright of the cross, so that it trickled down into the grass. After this, we broke up into small groups to pray together. I couldn't help feeling that the bread and wine symbolism was more appropriate to Good Friday than Easter Sunday – and I wondered why we weren't sharing the bread and wine together, instead of leaving them lying on the damp grass.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing the song 'Shine Jesus Shine', with our angel's-eye view of the city. Watching the grey dawn coming up, revealing a distant view of the sea. Standing in a large circle holding hands, saying the Grace, and seeing something of genuine Easter joy in the eyes of people. Best of all, giving and receiving the Easter greeting to my niece, who was also there.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
In the strange light between night and day, I thought of the thousands of people also standing in open fields in another part of Europe. I wondered how it would be if we didn't have cars waiting nearby, or warm homes to go back to, but if, like the lost people of Kosovo, we had to spend all day and all night in this cold, wet field. How would it feel? And how would we relate to each other then? Maybe it was a good thing after all to have such a strong reminder of the crucifixion on Easter morning.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were busily chatting with friends and then walking back across the field. I know this was a special occasion, but it was disappointing that no one initiated any conversation with me, as the stranger in their midst, even in the prayer group I joined.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Excellent. I had it with toast and marmalade as soon as I got back home.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and glad to be alive and living in freedom, too.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The feeling of standing in a Macedonian field with the Kosovan refugees.

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