Bethesda Chapel, Pembroke

Bethesda Chapel, Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, Wales

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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Bethesda Chapel
Location: Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 December 2013, 11:00am

The building

A tiny building on Tenby Road, Saundersfoot, about ten minutes from the centre of Tenby. Outside is quite typical of Welsh chapels, nicely painted in cream paint with some bare stones. Inside was pretty: no altar, but a pulpit dominating the centre and nice wooden pews. There was also a gallery area at the rear, used for TV and audio equipment to relay the service to a back room when they're busy. I couldn't find out much about the age of the building, but according to a web search I did, some of the gravestones date to the mid-1800s. The interior was whitewashed walls and dark wood. Very quaint!

The church

Although we didn't see anything displayed on walls or notice boards, there were newsletters in the pews with details of weekly Bible studies and other events outside of normal church services. Unfortunately, the names of these events weren't very descriptive and I didn't bring one of the newsletters away, as they seemed to be relevant for more than just that service. There seemed to be a busy programme for such a small church. According to the church's website, they run fortnightly ladies' meetings, fortnightly men's Bible studies, a monthly service at a local residential home, a monthly prayer meeting (praying for the right missionary organisations that the church supports). The church has a witness stall in the summer at the New Hedges Open Air Market.

The neighborhood

The Tenby part of Wales is a busy tourist area in the summer, popular with people from across south Wales and further afield. In winter the area is quieter, with a mixture of locals and people who've retired from other parts of the country living here, as well as a few winter visitors, as we were on this day. The area is rural, with villages, farms and woodland, and the chapel is situated a couple of miles from the coast.

The cast

Dafydd Morris, immaculately dressed in a sharp suit, crisp white shirt and white tie. He clearly takes his preaching seriously and his demeanour matched his tone. The church has been without a full time minister for four years, although a new pastor is about to take over in the new year. Apparently, Dafydd Morris has led regular services and Bible studies in the meantime.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Worship.

How full was the building?

About half-full. It was a very small building, so the congregation of approximately 26 people felt quite cosy. Apparently the congregation were slightly different from usual - as it was Christmas week there were some people away who'd usually be there, and some visitors. I was told that they usually get slightly more people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. There was a gentleman at the door who was very friendly as we arrived. Then a lady came over to us after wed sat down and welcomed us again. Interestingly, they both asked us which church we normally go to, and when we said "Anglican", they both said "Well, we all worship the same God, don't we?" That is, of course, a valid point, but I was surprised that both the first two people I'd spoken to had said it!

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a small building, and the pews were slightly squashed together. Being tall, I found that my knees touched the pew in front, and there certainly wasn't room to kneel!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quite reverent, with only very quiet, minimal greetings going on.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"We come to the Lord in prayer. Let us pray."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A well-worn hymn book called Christian Hymns by the Evangelical Movement of Wales, and The Holy Bible, King James Version. I was particularly pleased to see this, as it's so unusual to find a KJV in churches these days, at least in the ones I usually find myself in.

What musical instruments were played?

A honky-tonk-sounding piano. It was amusing actually, because my experience in tiny village churches has sometimes been that the piano isn't played all that well. However, the lady playing was really good and the music was quite uplifting. Someone behind us remarked, "Look who's playing the piano!" so perhaps they have a couple of people. She was very good!

Did anything distract you?

Going into a tiny church in Wales in December, I'd wrapped myself up well. But it was roasting! I felt very conspicuous in quite a serious service having to remove clothing a number of times to stop myself overheating!

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

Stiff upper lip. It was quite serious, which isn't a bad thing, but a little too solemn for my liking. It fitted my expectations though and it was a nice service. Remarkably, the word "Sunday" was never uttered once either during the service or in informal conversations afterward. Throughout, "Sunday" was called "Lord's Day." It sounded odd but nice.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

32 minutes.

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

8 – The preacher was very good. I'm used to a church where the sermons start with some light humour, and there was certainly none of that. But he was nevertheless very good - clear to understand and with a very Bible-focused message. What I particularly liked was the way we traced themes through the Old Testament. It was a very in-depth study of Jesus in the Old and New Testaments, and of John's role as a preacher even whilst in exile. It was both fascinating and enlightening.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The reading was Revelation 1, and the sermon focused on the last few verses and on John's reaction to the Lord. Revelation 1:17 states: "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead." This calls to mind similar reactions by Abraham, Moses, Joshua and Daniel, which is an appropriate way to submit to Jesus. In Leviticus, animals whose blood is brought into holy places are burned outside the camp, which is why Jesus died at Calvary, outside Jerusalem.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The general atmosphere of a nicely-sized congregation, solid teaching and enthusiastic music. I really enjoyed this.

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

Again the music. Im just getting over a cold, and I struggled a lot with the high notes. I dont think it's so much about me feeling like it was "the other place", but for the rest of the congregation who had to hear me screech out the high notes in "Joy To The World"!

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

There was no time to look lost. A friendly gentleman came over to say hello, and we chatted with him and his wife for about half an hour over coffee in the back room. Unfortunately, this meant I wasn't able to look closely for any notice boards, or to take a photo of the lovely inside of the church, which I'd like to have done.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was very nice. Mrs Charles and I both had coffee. We couldnt tell whether it was fair trade or not as the jar wasn't on display. My main memory is of Mrs Charles taking the largest biscuit on the plate.

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

8 – If I lived in the area, I could make this our regular. It was a little too serious for my taste, but the teaching was excellent and the people very friendly.

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

Yes, very much so.

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

The fact that no one said "Sunday."

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