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||1413: St Michael and All Angels, Arts Centre Great
Hall, Aberystwyth, Wales
Mystery Worshipper: CVP.
The church: St Michael and All Angels, meeting at the Arts Centre Great Hall, Aberystwyth, Wales. The service described in this report was
a special one to which the other local town churches had been invited, and
was the culmination of a week-long mission led by the Rt Revd Carl N Cooper,
Bishop of the Diocese of St David's.
Denomination: Church in Wales.
The building: The Arts Centre is in the heart of the campus of the University of
Wales, Aberystwyth. The Great Hall is on the second and third levels and
is the largest space in the centre. There are also rehearsal rooms, sound studios, a 350 seat theatre, a cinema,
bookshop, cafe, pizzeria, bar, and a couple of art galleries.
The church: The various groups, missions and outreaches conducted
by St Michael's are listed on their website. The Arts Centre itself
is not devoid of religious activity – one of the buildings is a chapel,
a soulless concrete box used every week by the local town Christian Union
for an event universally known as Jesus Toast, providing students with tea
and toast plus a side order of turn-or-you'll-burn Christianity. I once
witnessed a young man, obviously drunk, being told that a deceased friend
from back home was burning in hell and that was where he would go since
he was gay. All this has made the general student population somewhat dubious
of Christian events on campus.
The neighbourhood: Founded in 1872, Aberystwyth was the first university
institution to be established in Wales. The Arts Centre is in between the
Student Union building and the Hugh Owen building, a piece of 60s architecture
containing a library and several university departments, lecture theatres,
offices and seminar rooms.
The cast: Bishop Cooper delivered the sermon. The service was introduced
by the rector of St Michael's, the Revd Stuart Bell, who also conducted
an interview about which I'll have more to say later. The Revd Andy Herrick,
vicar, led the music, assisted by about ten others. There were also a few
people acting as ushers, and a group who went forward to be available for
prayer or a chat near the end.
The date & time: 25 March 2007, 6:00pm.
What was the name of the service?
Celebration Praise with Bishop Carl.
How full was the building?
The main area holds around 200 people and was full before I even arrived;
we were directed upstairs. There are three side areas upstairs, each holding
around 150. Two of these were totally full and the other had a good number
in at the height of the service.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were two ushers/doormen who told us that the main area was already
full and directed us upstairs. Other than that, no one greeted us.
Was your pew comfortable?
Good theatre-style seat, nice and comfortable. But we spent the first half
hour or so standing, and when people did sit there was a lot of squeaking
coming from chairs somewhere below us.
How would you describe the pre-service
It felt more like I was attending a concert – everyone was talking excitedly.
But given the type of service and that it was coming at the end of what
must have been a very long week, it was not an unpleasant atmosphere. Everyone
seemed happy to be there.
What were the exact opening words of the
The very first sentence was in Welsh, followed by, "The warmest of welcomes
to this special service," in English.
What books did the congregation use during the
We were assured that everything we'd need would be projected onto the screen,
but, just in case, we were given a double-sided sheet with all the words
for the songs and prayers. We were also given two cards (one in English,
one in Welsh) which had spaces for leaving contact details plus tick boxes
next to "I want to be a Christian," "I would like someone
to call and discuss this with me," etc. They were nauseatingly like
those cartoon pamphlets known as Chick Tracts.
What musical instruments were played?
Revd Herrick led on guitar and vocals, along with two more guitars, two keyboards,
flute, Irish whistle, drums, and about five other singers.
Did anything distract you?
The most distracting thing was the number of people who kept coming in and
going out during the service. There was a crèche being run somewhere and
obviously there was a number of parents checking up on their children. At
one point there even appeared a message on the screen asking for one couple
to collect their child thankfully this was a one-off.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
The songs were in a modern style and bilingual in an excellent way. A few
people started clapping in one of the songs, but it wasn't taken up by the
congregation on the whole. Revd Herrick seemed to be one of those musicians who before a single note is played will go through the lines of a verse or two as if they are a prayer. Some people may
approve of this, but personally I've always found it takes something away
from the songs – they're there for singing, not saying!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 The bishop was wonderfully engaging and witty, and got his message
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
He used an analogy to a car's SatNav to make the point
that we all have a GodNav within us, which gives
us directions on which way to go. Different experiences can change the way
we think of things. Events like 9/11 and 7/7 are in part a reaction to religion
being forced into the private sphere. There is injustice in the world but
we must work against it. The key message of Christianity is hope.
Which part of the service was like being in
The bishop's talk was wonderful, and the music was polished in every detail
and beautifully presented.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At one point, a videotaped
interview with a couple from the church was played, but the video stalled
several times and then was scrapped altogether. The sound wasn't great, either,
though this was apologised for in advance.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The bishop invited anyone who wanted to pray with or talk to someone to
come and speak with one of the volunteers at the front. But no one came
forward, leaving the volunteers just standing there. And there had been
no collection, so on my way out of the auditorium I handed in my two contact
cards mentioned above, with the Mystery Worship calling card sandwiched
between them. As I was heading on, I had the distinct feeling that the usher
collecting them had discovered that I had written nothing on the contact
cards and had found the calling card. So I slipped through the crowd as
quickly as possible down to the main level, where there were plenty of people
milling around. A few people I knew came over to chat.
How would you describe the after-service
There wasn't any. Refreshments had not been provided, and the Arts Centre
coffee bar was closed (probably for the best, as it is way overpriced).
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 I enjoyed the music and sermon, but this was a one-off event. Climbing
up the hill to the Arts Centre a couple of times a week is not something
I'd want to do regularly.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Overall, the service was very
affirming. The event was a real celebration, and it was obvious that a lot
of work has been put into it by the parish.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I'd like to say the music, but sadly I think it will be the fact that no
one came forward for counseling or prayer.
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