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269: St Thomas, Lampeter, Ceredigion, Wales
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St Thomas, Lampeter, Ceredigion, Wales
Mystery Worshipper: Andras.
The church: St Thomas, Lampeter, Ceredigion, Wales.
Denomination: Methodist.
The building: A new building erected less than 10 years ago on the site of the town's former Wesleyan chapel. Smart and well-cared for, but perhaps inadequate for present needs.
The neighbourhood: Lampeter is Wales's oldest university town. The college (which, until the 1960s, was an Anglican theological college) was established to stop the spread of Unitarianism up the Teifi Valley! The whole area is very beautiful, but contains a good deal of hidden rural poverty.
The cast: Rev. Alwyn Evans.
What was the name of the service?
Covenant Service.

How full was the building?
Packed to the doors. There may have been a couple of empty chairs, but I didn't spot any.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I had a pleasant welcome when I was given the service books, and there were greetings from several members of the congregation sitting around.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not a pew, but a comfortable chair of the stacking variety. Not much room to kneel, but then this is a Methodist church, so that isn't expected anyway. The front row seemed pretty squashed up against those taking communion. But good to be so full!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Mostly quiet, but many members of the congregation seemed to be on chatty terms with everyone else, so it was pleasantly friendly. The children (a dozen or so) were chatty but well-behaved.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to our covenant service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
"Hymns and Psalms" (the standard Methodist hymnbook) and the enormous (and heavy!) "Methodist Worship Book". It runs to over 1,000 pages in the bilingual English-Welsh version, which is what we used (though we used the English side only). Readings were from the Good News Bible.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
There really were no distractions at all – very unusual!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Standard Methodist middle-of-the-road worship, though given real focus by the use of the covenant service order of worship. For anyone who doesn't know, this is the annual invitation to the members to rededicate themselves to God, concluding with a full communion.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – a warm and friendly sermon rather than inspirational.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The wedding at Cana, in Galilee, as told in John's Gospel. We had a good exploration of St John's technique of Gospel-writing (the Cana story starts "on the third day" and thus foreshadows the resurrection, for instance). This was followed by an assurance that God wants to offer the real wine of love and forgiveness. Unlike the master of the feast in the story,we must recognise where this wine comes from.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing was wonderful, but the best part was certainly the covenant service itself. The minister used the new version of the covenant prayer, which lacks some of the traditional language that Methodists know and love ("let me be put to doing, let me be put to suffering..."), but it still made my spine tingle.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The church was a little too full for comfort (an unusual complaint in church these days). And with nowhere obvious to hang my coat, I was feeling warm enough for limbo, if not for the other place, by the end of the service. Welsh Methodism is said to be in serious decline. If this is what decline looks like, then we could do with more of it!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was quickly steered by the lady in the next chair to the flap through which coffee and biscuits were being served, and then had the pleasure of (brief) conversations with several members of the congregation. They seem a very warm and friendly bunch who enjoy meeting together.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Traidcraft, I think. Not the best coffee out, but pleasantly served in a decent cup, with biscuits, and no one wanted any money for it either.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely – but then the covenant service always does. Here it was even better than usual.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I hope, the words of the covenant itself: "I am no longer my own, but yours. Your will, not mine, be done in all things..."
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