St Mark's, Gabalfa, Cardiff, Wales

St Mark's, Gabalfa, Cardiff, Wales


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Mystery Worshipper: Minister of Music
Church: St Mark's
Location: Gabalfa, Cardiff, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 October 2009, 10:45am

The building

A very 1960s building that, to me, resembles some sort of alien spacecraft. Built in 1967, it replaced the original church, consecrated 1876, which formerly stood where the Gabalfa flyover (an interchange where three major roads cross) is now. Attached to the church is a bell tower, and also the parish centre.

The church

They sponsor several youth programs, including Café 242, a discipleship group for 14-18 year olds in which participants share a meal and chat about being Christians. For adults, there are home groups and a lunch club, among other outreach events. There is also an Alpha course. There are two Sunday morning services, alternating between morning prayer and holy communion, and a Sunday evening service. The evening service on the fourth Sunday of each month is called Engage, and is a more laid back, Hillsong-type affair.

The neighborhood

Gabalfa is in the north part of Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Its most outstanding feature is the Gabalfa flyover (see above). The church is located just south of the flyover.

The cast

The Revd Bob Capper, vicar, presided. The preacher was Rosemary Aldis.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Prayer with Baptisms.

How full was the building?

I would say about three-quarters full. Most of the people seemed to come from nearby – this is, after all, a parish church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. The vicar himself greeted me and took considerable time in getting to know me. Another lady rushed up to hand me a service book. After I sat down, a lady came up to me and said that, as a newcomer, I should take into account that this service wasn't going to be a normal service.

Was your pew comfortable?

Extremely uncomfortable! For a building of the late 1960s, I would have thought they would have at least installed some chairs rather than pews. It certainly kept me awake throughout the service in any case, but I will be suffering from a stiff back for many weeks to come as a result.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was lots of talking and general buzz about the place. A group of several vocalists were warming up, giving us a listen to the hymns we were going to be singing for the service. This put me off – for an evangelical church, some of them were singing in true high Anglican voice, unnaturally rolling their R's and so on. Normal singing would have done just fine.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning! Welcome to St Mark's."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Holy Bible, New International Version, and Alternative Order for Morning and Evening Prayer. Complete Mission Praise was also available, but we didn't use the hymn book at all, as the words were on the screen, as were lots of the other texts. Books were obviously there for those who couldn't read the screen.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, piano, double bass, and a small group of vocalists.

Did anything distract you?

Yes, a few things. The pews, the draft that was coming through the whole building, the high Anglican singing by the small choir. Also, the fact that the clergy were wearing robes and that there were candles didn't help me focus my attention on Christ.

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

The worship was what I would call "blended worship" – in other words, there was something for everyone. However, we had a song called "When I was lost," which is rather upbeat and really gospel centred. Many seemed to want to let out their emotion really badly by clapping or something, but they were restricted due to the mellow tone of the music, which didn't reflect the words, and the more conservative individuals in the congregation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

17 minutes.

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

7 – Being evangelical, and being very controversial here, I don't sit comfortably with women preaching to a mixed congregation. That said, Rosemary Aldis preached a gospel message that showed how someone who wasn't a Christian could be saved, so she must be praised for this. Thanks be to God because of that message. She was dynamic and used anecdotes to illustrate her points. The message was clearly evangelical.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was entitled "Cain, Abel and Seth: Sin, Death and Grace." Basically, it was on Genesis chapter 4 (the story of Cain and Abel). We are all naturally like Cain, full of sin. The punishment for our sin is death, yet God gives us a glimpse of the gospel in Genesis, where his grace shines through in Abel, which points us to Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The congregational singing was great, and the way people greeted me and made me feel welcome was lovely too. The preacher was very good in linking the Old Testament with the salvation plan, which is something a lot of preachers can't do. It was good to see a nearly full church.

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

Well, as previously mentioned, the robes, the pews and the draft I felt.

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

The organist played a rather creepy sounding recessional, which wasn't at all conducive to post-service thanksgiving prayer. Again, people smiled and said hello and made an effort to speak to me. This was lovely, and made me forget about the creepy music, the pews, and the draft.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I didn't have time to stay, but I do believe there was tea and coffee available after the service.

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

6 – As I was told by the vicar himself and others that it wasn't a "usual" service, so I will definitely try this church again soon. However, the service I attended was far too strict and traditional for me.

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

Despite the distractions, it did make me feel glad to be a Christian. The main part of a service is to direct one's attention to Christ and what he has done for us, and to worship God with all our hearts. The service did this on the whole, and the sermon clearly expounded the word, and extolled God.

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

The warm welcomes, and the fact that the service I attended wasn't a "usual" service.

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