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1903: St Paul's Methodist Centre, Aberystwyth, Wales
St Paul's Methodist Centre, Aberystwyth, Wales
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: St Paul's Methodist Centre, Aberystwyth, Wales.
Denomination: Methodist Church of Great Britain, Wales Synod and Synod Cymru, Ceredigion Circuit.
The building: This is a new building designed by the firm of Cornfield, Crook & Walsh, West Bromwich, Staffordshire. It was opened in 1992, replacing the Victorian Gothic church of the 1860s. It is a large brick box typical of its date, but with a distinctive octagonal entrance block. There is an upper chapel in the octagon used by the Welsh language congregation; the English speaking congregation meets downstairs.
The church: The church serves a large seaside town as well as a university and has some very healthy sized congregations. It is one of several churches in the circuit, several of which have been rebuilt. The church is unusual in having two congregations combined in one building. They sponsor friendship groups, Bible study, and a special group for families with twins. They also run a coffee bar that is open during the week and has a large following of regulars. There are four services each Sunday in Welsh and English, with crèche and junior church available. The evening service is traditional Methodist.
The neighbourhood: Aberystwyth is a wonderful seafront town that in winter catches huge fine waves. There are some good shops, although the town is being hit by the could-be-anywhere brands and coffee shops. Some Welsh speaking could be heard, which was good.
The cast: The Revd David Easton, superintendent minister, and the Revd Ian Girlingand, vicar of Holy Trinity Church nearby, who preached the sermon. They have a shared service with Holy Trinity in either venue on alternate months. Mr Easton is, of course, one of the moderators of the British television documentary An Island Parish, the third series of which examins the work of the Methodist Church in the British Isles. I pretended not to recognise him.
The date & time: 24 January 2010, 6.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Traditional Service. The person on the door seemed to think I wanted the contemporary service that was taking place downstairs at the same time.

How full was the building?
Only about 12 people, although the contemporary service going on downstairs sounded very full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The greeters downstairs told me to go upstairs after I convinced them I wanted the traditional service. The elderly organist made conversation and seemed very friendly.

Was your pew comfortable?
A modern padded chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite reflective, although everybody else turned up with a minute to spare. The organist played some rather scary music before the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, all of you who made it up the stairs this evening and still have breath!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The usual Hymns and Psalms found in every Methodist church.

What musical instruments were played?
An electronic computerised organ made by Wyvern Organ Builders Ltd of Surrey. They are OK in my opinion as an organist, but to be honest they don't sound much like a pipe organ and always have something of the crematorium about them! A small chamber pipe organ would be far better!

Did anything distract you?
I had just watched an installment of An Island Parish on the telly a few nights ago, with Mr Easton speaking from the Isles of Scilly, and here he was now in Wales! I wondered if he ever gets fed up with people recognising him. Also, the octagonal shape of the building lent itself well to worship, although some things could have been better hidden, e.g. a broom cupboard thing at one end.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a traditional hymn sandwich, Methodist style. The hymns were a good cross-section of Methodist hymnody, but there was one that no one apparently knew – including the minister!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Mr Girlingand couldn't hold my attention, I'm afraid. It wasn't his fault – but mine! I had my thoughts on higher things, like my tea, and whether I would be able to get a hotel room for the night (foolishly I hadn't booked one beforehand).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jeremiah and judgment. He drew parallels between biblical judgment and events in our own time. Apparently he had been part of a jury years ago. As a liberal, I found some of what he said hard to accept.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music from the contemporary service downstairs! It was also heavenly, I thought, to see Mr Easton in person. Many people have said that on his programme he comes across as caring and interested in people in a way that other church officials don't show.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The creepy organ music before. The organist was clearly an accomplished musician, but the electronic instrument sounded too funereal in my opinion.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
For some reason I picked up a vibe of "What's he doin' 'ere, then?" from what I could hear of the regulars' conversation. So I just made my way out with as much dignity as I could muster. However, Mr Easton caught me and engaged me in a friendly conversation. It turns out we are both Lampeter graduates, although his programme on the telly gives the impression that Wales is completely new to him.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Once I arrived downstairs, an elderly gent asked me if I'd like some coffee. But except for Mr Easton, everybody kept to their own holy huddle. Were it not for him, I would have left the building without having spoken to anyone.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I would love to live in Aberystwyth with the dramatic scenery and lively goings on – however, it would be nice to have some conversation.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, but a bit of a lonely one, though. Granted I was just visiting, but why couldn't the regulars have made an effort to talk to a newcomer?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Meeting Mr Easton after having seen him on An Island Parish.
 
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