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1955: Canton Uniting, Cardiff, Wales
Canton Uniting, Cardiff, Wales
Mystery Worshipper: OrientBird.
The church: Canton Uniting, Cardiff, Wales.
Denomination: Baptist Union of Great Britain and United Reformed Church.
The building: A glass-fronted, modern brick building that's much bigger inside than the outside would have you believe! The TARDIS, in other words.
The church: This congregation is the result of two churches having joined together in 1994. New Trinity United Reformed and Llandaff Road Baptist Church came together in order to accomplish things neither could achieve alone. This gives the church a most interesting history and an extremely varied cultural tradition. They sponsor Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon, Bible study, Boys Brigade, Guides, a seniors day centre and a playgroup for pre-schoolers. There are two services each Sunday, morning and evening, with communion on the first Sunday of each month. On the fourth Sunday there is an afternoon service for the hearing-impaired.
The neighbourhood: Canton (or Treganna in Welsh) is a suburb of Cardiff, situated about two miles from the civic centre. It is a vibrant and ethically diverse community, home to 13,000 or so residents, a high proportion of which are Asian. Canton boasts a couple of really lovely parks, several decent take-aways, lots of restaurants, pubs and discount shops, the local library, and the famous Chapter Arts Centre, a venue that hosts films, plays, performance art, and live music, and includes a free art gallery, café and bars.
The cast: The Revd Marc Drummer, minister. The notices were given by a lady whose name I did not get.
The date & time: Sunday, 11 April 2010, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Family Church.

How full was the building?
Most of the seats were taken, but there was plenty of room for more seats. I'd say you could have fitted half as many again.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was handed a hymn book and given a hello. I chose a place at the end of a row of seats. Three or four women had to squeeze past me to get into where they wanted to sit, and none of them said anything except "Excuse me." Two of them did not even manage that, at least not audibly. After several minutes, however, a man I later discovered was the minister came and asked me if I was new and got me a church magazine, but he forgot to tell me who he was!

Was your pew comfortable?
There were no pews; we had red seats, the kind that are covered with a vaguely vinyl fabric. They were comfortable enough and did not squeak when people moved, which I thought was an excellent feature!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was really noisy. The musicians were having a last minute practice and there were people talking. A few minutes before the service began, the musicians stopped practicing and the pianist played through a couple of hymns as a prelude.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everybody. Welcome to this family service at Canton Uniting Church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise and a hymn book, the name of which I forgot to note. The readings were taken from The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version.

What musical instruments were played?
There was a piano, an electric keyboard, a flute, a bassoon, a couple of clarinets, a saxophone, and some percussion.

Did anything distract you?
Two badly behaved little boys drove me almost mad. One of them blew raspberries incessantly for what seemed like forever. In fact, one man even moved away to sit in another row. The other little boy thought it amusing to stuff his mouth with grapes and then make cockerel noises. I found myself extremely irritated by the ineffectual parenting happening and found it very difficult to concentrate until the children left the service for junior church.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Hymns accompanied by a kind of happy clappy orchestration. Quite difficult to describe adequately, but we had "Love Divine", "Alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord", and a song called "Wake up, sleeper" (about which more later), as well as another that I have already forgotten.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes, or so I estimate. There was no introduction. I didn't realise the sermon had actually started until about five minutes in, so I didn't time it accurately.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The minister had a good sermon voice. The air seemed to settle around him as he spoke, and he had everyone's attention. Personally, I would have liked a bit more meat, something really to chew over as I walked around in the sun after the service.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The resurrection as a way of challenging our received values and wisdom and accepting that with God, the impossible is made possible.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The one moment of absolute silence after the children had left the service, during which you could literally have heard a pin drop. It was almost as if God were saying, "'Right. I'm here now. Let's get down to business."

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The absolutely horrendous song "Wake up, sleeper" sung to the tune of "Frere Jacques" that we were forced to sing as a round. First, two of the musicians came to the front to explain to us how we were going to do it. Next, the congregation was split down the middle. Then, the children were given various percussion instruments so that they could wake up the sleeper. We had to sing the thing about three times, which, in my humble opinion, is about three times too many. It didn't make sense; it had no theological basis. It was just a big mistake of a song!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It was quite embarrassing to have to stand at the back, and I did feel like a lemon. However, just as I was about to try to take a sneaky photo of the sanctuary, the minister came up to me and deposited me in the capable hands of a very warm, friendly lady who had been showing another newcomer around the building. She took both of us in for a cup of tea. We had a very interesting chat about the history of the church and that of her sister's church, which is in the next suburb. The minister joined us later and we had a nice chat with him as well. I was impressed that he had remembered my name from having learned it before the service started.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a choice of tea or coffee. The tea was quite stewed but drinkable, and importantly, it was at what I consider to be the perfect tea-drinking temperature! There were biscuits on offer but I didn't have any.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I didn't see many single people of my own age there. It's kind of hard to forge friendships with people who have children when you don't have any. They seem always to have to put the children first and are not free at the same kinds of times I am. From the point of view of building a community for myself, I couldn't see very much potential there. Young families or older people would fit in well here. The atmosphere is quite relaxed. The church believes in moving with the times, so to speak, and does not hold fundamentalist views.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Kind of. I wasn't thrilled but I wasn't disheartened either. Overall, I thought the service itself was quite nice, but at certain points I did wonder what I would have thought if it had been my very first visit to any church. The hymns were announced, as were the prayers and the offering, but the sermon was not, and neither was the song after the offering – nor was any music provided for it. I also thought the prayers were a bit perfunctory and I would have liked much more content. But to each his own, as they say.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The poor man having to move because of the annoying boys.
 
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