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2731: St Mary’s, Beddgelert, Wales
St Mary’s, Beddgelert, Wales
Mystery Worshipper: Wes Charles.
The church: St Mary’s, Beddgelert, Wales.
Denomination: The Church in Wales, Diocese of Bangor.
The building: A very pretty little church nestled in the mountain village of Beddgelert. There have been Christians worshipping on the site since the 7th century. The present building had been built by 1230 as the priory church of Valley St Mary. When Henry VIII dissolved the priory in 1538, it became the parish church of Beddgelert. The grey stone building is white inside with plenty of carved wood panelling. The original panelling was removed in 1830, and the present panelling and ornate oak screen were given in 1921. Ancient stained glass was also removed in 1830, and the current very nice stained glass was given in 1882. There was also an area displaying artifacts that had been discovered during a restoration in 2000. The Friends of St Mary's Church is a registered charity that raises money to maintain this historic and beautiful building.
The church: For a small church with a small congregation, there was a lot going on. They were preparing for a flower festival later in the week, and the children from the village had just come back from a summer camp. Every couple of weeks they go to the local school to read a Bible story to the kids, and on some Saturdays they have "messy church" days with particular themes and a little service in the middle. As well as the Anglican church, a Catholic church meets on a Sunday afternoon. There is some kind of ecumenical youth group that meets.
The neighbourhood: Beddgelert is a pretty village nestled in the mountains of Snowdonia in North Wales. It is a popular tourist site for attractions such as the Glaslyn Gorge, a very scenic stretch of river; but also for the pink blossoms of the plant Rhododendron ponticum, a non-native species that has invaded the region. According to a popular legend that is entirely untrue, the village was named for Gelert, a favourite hound of Llywelyn the Great, a 13th century prince. Returning home one day to find his infant son missing and blood on Gelert's snout, Llywelyn slew the dog in a fit of rage, only to find the child alive and well next to the lifeless body of a wolf whose throat Gelert had ripped out. It is said that Llywelyn never smiled again.
The cast: I only got the priest’s name as Richard, a local retired priest.
The date & time: 27 July 2014, 9.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
It felt busy enough with about twenty in the congregation (twelve regulars plus eight tourists), which I guess is representative for the time of year. It's a little church, and everyone was spread out, so it looked well attended.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady said hello as she handed us the service books. The gentleman ringing the bell just inside the door smiled as we came in.

Was your pew comfortable?
It wasn’t bad. Nicely traditional, but the back was a little low for me to get really comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, yet with low murmurings of friendly greetings among people as they sat down.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"For the visitors among you, the service is bi-lingual but you can follow the Welsh prayers in English in the books," followed by several notices.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New; An Order For The Holy Eucharist in the Church In Wales; Emynau’r Llan (Welsh hymnal).

What musical instruments were played?
A CD of organ music played through speakers on top the oak screen.

Did anything distract you?
As I walked in through the door, I remember thinking how good the "organist" was, yet I couldn’t see the organ. This distracted me for quite a while, until the matter was cleared up in the second hymn when the "instrument" changed to some kind of electronic piano, at which point I realised it was a CD.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly liberal middle-of-the-road Anglican, partly in English, partly in Welsh. The English hymns were sung so much more loudly than the Welsh ones.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – The priest, Richard, had a nice way of speaking: very clear, articulate, quite energetic. However, the content of the sermon was – well, it was more a commentary on the week’s news than a commentary on the Bible reading. I imagine, based on his style and clear way of communicating, that he could deliver a good sermon if he had a mind to.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Richard compared the nice holiday he’d just had with recent, rather depressing, news events such as the Malaysian Airlines plane being shot down over Ukraine, the problems with ISIS in Iraq, and the Liberal Democrat MP who’d been told he couldn’t publicly sympathise with Hamas, which took away his right to free speech. He then talked about World War I and explained how these modern Middle Eastern problems stem from that. He touched on his personal thoughts on the Palestine/Israel conflict. The only link to religion was when he said, "The world needs to embrace the spirit of charity at the heart of all true religion." He finished by referencing the Old Testament reading where Solomon asked God for wisdom (2 Chronicles 1:7-13). "The world should do the same," he said.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The whole after-service-coffee atmosphere was lovely. We got chatting to someone, who was telling us all sorts of things about the church and the area. Speaking to such friendly people and seeing the excavated artifacts was my heavenly moment.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
When the vicar messed with the order of service! During the absolution, rather than saying "who forgives all who truly repent," he deliberately said, "who forgives all." Obviously they’re not big on repentance in North Wales!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There were plenty of invitations to come for refreshments. The priest and a couple of other people came over to welcome us, so there wasn’t much chance to look lost.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Surprisingly good, and I was pleasantly surprised both by the generous spoonful of coffee and the amount of milk.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – It was nice but I’d miss having a real organ. Having said that, Mrs Charles is an organist, which would solve that problem. I was disappointed not to see Bibles in the pews, and not to have a Bible-focused sermon. I’d miss solid Bible teaching.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes and no – overall probably yes. The priest seemed very sincere and had a nice manner, yet the sermon was lacking. And we apparently no longer need to repent. Then, after the service, I heard about all the work they’re trying to do to connect children with the Bible and I felt encouraged again.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The way the English hymns were sung more loudly than the Welsh ones – obviously the Welsh contingent had gone to England for their holidays this week!
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