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2500: St Michael and All Angels, Aberystwyth, Wales
St Michael, Aberystwyth
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: St Michael and All Angels, Aberystwyth, Wales.
Denomination: The Church In Wales.
The building: A large Victorian Gothic church of 1889-90 standing on the site of earlier church buildings and next to a castle overlooking the sea. All looks very windswept. Inside, the church is large and has many high church features such as a hanging cross, choir stalls and a reredos, along with evangelical trappings. The Church in Wales is generally Anglo-Catholic, and even in evangelical parishes people dare not touch the existing fittings! All in all, a beautiful place to worship God.
The church: It is a large evangelical church, unusual in these parts. The congregation are a mixture of townspeople, students and visitors.
The neighbourhood: Aber, as it is affectionately called, is an historic market town and seaside resort. Aberystwyth University and two comprehensive schools make it a major centre of learning as well. The town really grew from the 1820s onwards, with some huge hotels built and a long terrace of what are now student houses.
The cast: The Rev J.D. Laurence, curate. Ken Walters, a local lay preacher, gave the sermon.
The date & time: 3 March 2013, 6.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Evening Praise.

How full was the building?
Most of the central section was full – a good 150 people, with a few students straggling in later on.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Everybody was very friendly. I was on a weekend break re-visiting my student haunts at nearby Lampeter. Several people on my row were from the Lampeter area.

Was your pew comfortable?
I had a comfortable chair whilst others in front had hard Victorian pews.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly and chatty, with people wandering about.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to St Michael's this evening."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
All on PowerPoint, as you would expect for a modern evangelical congregation.

What musical instruments were played?
A guitar with someone leading the songs. I enjoyed some of the songs, but many of them lacked melody and sounded much the same, almost as if one melody had been written to fit lots of songs. However, there was a very meaningful "The trumpet shall sound" which almost raised a tear. I like a good tune!

Did anything distract you?
How often the word "awesome" appeared everywhere. The enthusiasm of the congregation. Also, during the prayers, one leader would say "Lord in thy mercy" whilst the other would say "Lord in your mercy." I'm sure the Lord has no preferences, but it was slightly curious how 17th century usage crept into what was a very 21st century service!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very charismatic and 21st century. A few hands raised. "Awesome." More about that word later!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Ken Walters used a tactic to get our attention. Being a mathematician, he showed us the world's longest prime number and then showed us the longest number in the Bible (in the Book of Numbers, no less) to get our attention and interest.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was an exegesis of Luke 4:31-41 (Jesus heals and casts out demons in Capernaum). He appeared to be a realist, saying that clearly people were not always healed, and those who are healed still die.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The friendliness toward me as a stranger: several people came and chatted. This has not always been my experience when visiting large evangelical churches. All credit to St Michael's. They are a very friendly church!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The word "awesome" without a doubt. Whilst I am sure people were sincere, I thought the word seemed to cheapen the message and make it sound a bit insincere.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people chatted and I nearly stayed for coffee. However, I had to leave in order to get to my B and B near Lampeter.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Didn't stay!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – This would be a lovely and inspiring church to belong to if they could drop the word "awesome."

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The word "awesome" and "The trumpet will sound" song.
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