Mystery Worshipper: Wes Charles
Church: St John the Baptist
Location: Llanystumdwy, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 May 2010, 9:30am
Although the board showing previous vicars went back to 1395, the present building dates from 1862. It can't have been built very well, as it had to be restored just 28 years later, in 1890. There has been a church on the site since the 6th century.
There was no information about any outreach programmes or community groups on display, although there were some notices written in Welsh, which I didn't understand.
The church is in the heart of the small village of Llanystumdwy, where is located the grave of former prime minister David Lloyd George. The village is on the Llyn peninsula, near the coast in the beautiful region of Snowdonia, North Wales.
The Revd Graham Johnson, a retired priest who was doing the rounds this Sunday morning and was off to another village to conduct a service after the one we attended.
What was the name of the service?Holy Communion (bilingual).
How full was the building?
About 30 people in a large-ish church (compared to the size of the community). It was about one third full. I understand that this was four or five congregations together, as the Sunday service moves each week between local churches.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, a lady welcomed us and instructed a child to hand us our service books.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, it was fine. It was a wooden pew and the back was at a particularly comfortable angle. The kneelers had good cushions on a raised wooden board which looked a little awkward to use.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite lively and chatty in a respectful kind of way.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Bore da," followed by a sentence that continued in Welsh; then, "Good morning and a very warm welcome to all of you."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern, new standard; Emynau'r Llan and Ffurf Arall Ar Gyfer Y Cymun Bendigaid, An Alternative Order for the Holy Eucharist.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ, played well.
Did anything distract you?
Mainly the bilingual nature of the service. Although the service book was truly bilingual, the service itself alternated between English and Welsh throughout the service, sometimes during the same prayer! It was a bit like a game, trying to guess which language was coming next!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Nicely traditional, in a friendly, relaxed way.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The Revd Graham Johnson had a conversational style and was very easy to understand (the sermon was in English!) with well-structured themes. Unlike some sermons, I found myself engaged throughout!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He started talking about the modern trend for leadership books and training courses, then contrasted this to our calling as disciples to follow. He said that we have sufficient language to describe earthly leadership, but that our language is inadequate to describe the leadership of God. I assume the inadequacies were present in both English and Welsh, although perhaps this was an in-joke and a dig at the tourists in the congregation. He finished by talking about Sidney Carter's hymn, "Lord of the Dance" and how God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were calling us to follow them in their dance. He said at one point that "preachers shudder at having to explain the trinity on Trinity Sunday," and as a result, he just glossed over the subject!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Call me a pedant, but it does annoy me when vicars misunderstand the subjunctive mode at the end of the eucharistic prayer. The prayer says, "All honour and glory be yours ..." but they often say instead, "All honour and glory are yours", which is incorrect, despite the service sheets usually having the correct version. My little moment of heaven this morning was when the service book was printed incorrectly, yet the vicar corrected it! Nice to see someone who knows how to use the English language.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It started at the Lord's Prayer, when he invited everyone to say it in the language of their choice. I tried to say it in English at the same pace as the mainly Welsh congregation, but finished somewhat before them. The chaos continued in the final hymn, where he extended a similar invitation!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were very friendly and chatty, and as a result, we were almost the last people to leave.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, as people drifted off. There was a sign outside, however, stating that it was a Fair Trade church.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – It was a lovely service, a great sermon, and a friendly congregation. A bit of a commute from home (300 miles or so), but I'll certainly consider going back next time we're on holiday up here.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely. It was one of those services where you really feel closer to God.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Feeling as if I was attending a church service at the tower of Babel when people started singing the last hymn in Welsh and English simultaneously.