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||1393: St Giles, Wrexham, Wales
Mystery Worshipper: Tartuffe.
The church: St Giles, Wrexham, Wales.
Denomination: The Church in Wales.
The building: St Giles is considered to be one of the finest medieval
churches in Wales. The tower dominates the Wrexham skyline and is, according
to an anonymous poet of the 18th century, one of the seven wonders of Wales.
There is known to have been a church on the site since the 13th century,
but the original church was destroyed by fire in 1463 and was rebuilt by
1472. A fine example of the Perpendicular style, it is constructed of a
dirty, sandy coloured stone which looks like it was the victim of decades
of mining pollution in the area. Inside, I was struck by the beauty of the
ceiling adorned with 16 colourful angels playing instruments and singing.
The high altar and altar gates are quite fancy.
The church: The church is part of the Open Network of churches in
the area and its congregation volunteers to keep it open, meaning that there
is often someone to welcome you. St Giles is also the resting place of Elijah
Yale, the founder of Yale University in America, on the campus of which
stands a copy of the tower.
The neighbourhood: There is evidence of prehistoric activity in the
Wrexham area as well as occupation during Roman times. Wrexham was once
heavily industrialised and was especially known for its breweries, one of
which produced the first lager beer anywhere in the United Kingdom. Following
a period of economic decline and crisis, today Wrexham is undergoing a massive
investment programme, with new housing in the town centre and a new shopping
and entertainment venue in the shadow of the church.
The cast: The service was led by the rector, the Rev. Canon Geoffrey
Marshall, who presided at the eucharist. He was assisted by the Rev. Matthew
Wilkinson, curate, who preached the sermon.
The date & time: Sunday, 28 January 2007, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were about 90 people in the congregation, making the main body of
the church about two-thirds full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I walked up the hill to St Giles, the bells rang out across a sunny but
chilly Wrexham, making me feel very pleased to be going to church. The tower
boasts a peal of ten bells cast in 1726. If only this greeting could have
continued when I reached the church. As I entered, a couple serving as welcomers
exchanged a "hello" but otherwise ignored me, continuing their
conversation on church finances. I then went forward to where three women
were sorting out the hymn books. They looked astonished when I asked if
I could please have one. Not the most auspicious of starts, and no one actually
made me feel personally welcome until the end of the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was of the traditional sort. Long. Hard. Wooden. But since significant
chunks of the service were spent kneeling on very fine blue hassocks or
standing, my bottom never went fully numb.
How would you describe the pre-service
There was a general air of chatter and friendship in the church, though
no one spoke to me despite my efforts. About five minutes before the start,
the organ played a little calming music which people talked over until the
notices were read out.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
be with you," to which we replied, "And also with you."
What books did the congregation use during the
Hymns Ancient and Modern and a home-grown publication entitled
The Parish Church of St Giles Sung Eucharist during Epiphany. We
were also handed a news sheet that contained the collect and psalm. It was
an ordeal at times to juggle amongst the three.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ was used throughout. There was a small choir which was sometimes
inaudible. The vicar apologised for the lack of singers, explaining that
many had been struck down by colds. Apparently things are normally better.
Did anything distract you?
An elderly lady in the pew opposite fainted, sparking a little bit of a
concern and a tad of a distraction. I was touched, though, by the amount
of care and love offered her by the congregation. There was a genuine concern
for her which seemed so appropriate in a service that talked about Christian
love. Other distractions included the Christmas decorations (confused this
worshipper) and the chatter that started whilst waiting to take communion
(irritated this worshipper).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
The worship was fairly high in a traditional Welsh way, based on the modern
setting for communion used in Wales. This was a full eucharistic setting
with sung gloria, sanctus and Agnus Dei but no smells or bells.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 The curate seemed a little nervous but could easily be heard. I
thought the sermon lacked anything particularly new or revelatory, but it
was a good, solid exploration of the passage in question.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The curate looked at St Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians to have "faith,
hope and charity." He examined the idea of sacrificial love amongst
Christians. Christianity is useless without love. The Bible uses several
different words to signify love. Sacrificial love (or charity) is said to
be the most important, as this is what Christ showed us.
Which part of the service was like being in
The reading from 1 Corinthians seemed to bring fresh light to a famous passage.
The care shown by members of the congregation was also a true sign of love
among Christians, not only in the case of the lady who fainted, but also
at communion, when people helped others to move forward, and later as people
asked after each others' families, etc.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The tunes for the service music were not announced. There was no clue given
as to what we should be singing, which meant that I felt I could not join
in praising God. If I had known what the tunes would be, I could have joined
in, but instead I felt "outside." Also, the chattering during
the eucharist was a little sad, as this is meant to be the most important
part of the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was approached by the curate, the rector and a member of the choir. They
all made me feel welcome and seemed interested in getting to know me. I
felt personally welcome at last.
How would you describe the after-service
There was no tea or coffee, sadly.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I think I would want to visit a couple more times before making
it my own, as the initial welcome was a letdown. However, what I witnessed
during the service was moving, and the friendliness at the end would make
me want to come back.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
I did feel glad to be a Christian and to share in the love I saw there.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I will remember the love spoken of in the sermon and demonstrated in the actions of the church members. I also hope the lady recovers.
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