|1144: South Dairy Baptist, Wiston, Haverfordwest, Wales|
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| Mystery Worshipper: Onefourseven.
The church: South Dairy Baptist, Wiston, Haverfordwest, Wales.
Denomination: Baptist, affiliated with the Baptist Union of Wales.
The building: The church reminded me of a simple stone country cottage. Were it not for the gravestones lining the path, a casual observer could mistake the church building for someoneís house. Three small windows surround the large entrance, and the entire building is covered in slate tiles. Inside there is a small downstairs section (room for only four lines of pews) and an upstairs balcony.
The church: The church was "planted" in the 1830s. The church community is only about 40 strong, with those under 18 slightly outnumbering the adults. They sponsor a Sunday school, youth group, worship group, and family events such as an annual Easter egg hunt.
The neighbourhood: Wiston is the site of one of the best preserved motte and bailey castles in Wales. The church is in the middle of nowhere. Apart from a farm about half a mile down the road there are no other houses anywhere near the church. Just cows and sheep.
The cast: Alex Mayne, pastor.
The date & time: 31 July 2005, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The building was fuller than it normally is because a group from the Baptist Campers Guild were visiting that Sunday. A few judicious questions helped me work out that there were only about 15 regulars. Consequently the building was just under half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed with a cheery "hello" at the door by a woman who turned out to be the church secretary.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The Baptist Campers Guild were a pretty noisy lot. I'm sure the regulars didn't quite know what had hit them.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
There were no opening words. One minute I was happily looking over my Mystery Worshipper checklist, the next the singing had started.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The words to the songs were projected via an overhead projector.
What musical instruments were played?
Two acoustic guitars and a flute. Oh, and a little boy playing a toy guitar at one point during the service.
Did anything distract you?
A gentleman named Clive who kept saying "Amen," "Hallelujah," "Praise Jesus," etc. throughout the sermon. Very loudly. But Clive redeemed himself with a really good testimony at the end so I forgave him. I was also distracted by trying to work out the subject matter of the pastor's novelty tie.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was informal and it sounded as though the musicians didn't feel the urge to practice much. The pastor doubled as one of the guitarists, and he seldom let the other guitarist (who doubled as the Sunday school teacher) know whether he was going to continue playing or stop playing. The second guitarist shot the pastor several glares toward the beginning of the service. The flautist turned up about ten minutes after the service started. I said the worship was informal, didn't I?
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 The pastor obviously valued the affirmation Clive gave him, and there were times in the sermon when it felt as though the pastor and Clive were the only two people in church.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
To be honest, I lost track of what the sermon was about. All the major Christian issues were touched upon. Evangelism, living a righteous life, gifts of the spirit, and so on. You name it and it was in the sermon. There was even some good-natured heckling from the congregation.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Everyone in the church took part in several roles. The woman who welcomed people at the door was also the secretary, the pastor was also the worship group leader, the other guitarist was the Sunday school teacher. Even Clive the cheerleader made the coffee.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The pews. Seating that uncomfortable should be outlawed!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had a conversation with the pastor, who is a highways engineer when heís not preaching sermons or leading worship. I also got to talk to Clive, who told me a bit about his life.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The tea was very good and came in china mugs. There were also Jaffa cakes, which automatically add a point on to the "would I make this my regular church" score.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 I enjoyed the service, but to be honest, the church was a little too small for me, and as I live a five hour drive away, it's probably just that little bit too far.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Iíll remember the kid playing his toy guitar during the worship. I guess we all wish we could recapture some of that innocence.