On Wednesday my friend Leah and I decided to go to St. Mary’s, the catholic church in Swansea city centre (not to be confused with St. Mary’s of the Lake in White Bear Lake 😀 ) . We wanted to go mainly just to check it out, but also because it had been awhile since either of us had gone to church. We decided to see what it was like so we went to the lunchtime service at 12:45.
Just some interesting information: St. Mary’s church has been around since the 12th century, however it was destroyed in the Blitz in 1941 and wasn’t rebuilt until the late 1950s.
Leah and I entered the church and it was completely empty, except for a few old folks drinking coffee and eating cake in a little makeshift cafe. After a few minutes of aimlessly walking around, we realised that the service wasn’t taking place there, but in the chapel in the back. We followed the signs and entered a small circular room with about 15 chairs circling around an altar. It was just me, Leah, and a bunch of elderly Welsh people. I’ve never been in a church that small or intimate but it yet it was comforting experience. It was actually nice saying the responses because it was something that I did basically every day in my childhood. It’s hard to forget things like that.
When we gave peace, everyone and the priest included, enthusiastically walked around to each other and shook hands. They were incredibly welcoming to Leah and I. During Eucharist a lady motioned for Leah and I to join everyone in a circle as the priest gave out the bread and wine. This was slightly uncomfortable for Leah and I because we couldn’t help but think of the germs that must’ve been on the wine glass. But whatever, we laughed about it (on the inside of course. I had repressed my church giggles this time, except for when the priest mentioned the prime banter he had earlier in the day with some school children).
After the service they all invited us to eat lunch with them in the room behind the chapel. This was the best part of the whole experience. We sat at a long table with the 15 other old Welsh people and ate chicken noodle soup, drank tea, and had dessert. We introduced ourselves to everyone and they immediately recognised that we were both North Americans. A few of them had been to Iowa and Illinois before and it was weird to think that they’ve been there before I have. One of them also saw Jimmy Carter at the Sainsbury’s in town once. He was there for the opening of the Dylan Thomas Centre. We talked about their grandchildren, university, the queen (who is having lunch with the priest in Cardiff next week!) and other elderly gossip. Leah and I both found it really easy to talk to them. I’ve never met a nicer or more welcoming group of people in my life. One of the reasons being that I’m sure they never see young people in church. Compared to America, the United Kingdom is very unreligious. People assume you’re agnostic or atheist before they assume that you’re Catholic or another religion. So for them to see two young people in church on a Wednesday afternoon must have been a shock. I think they were also excited just to see young people in general.
This is one of the best experiences I’ve had abroad so far. Talking to locals, especially elderly locals, is a great way to connect with a city. It not only is a way for you to learn about the city, but it’s comforting and good to have connections outside of university.
When we left they all wished us luck in our studies and invited us to come back. One woman even gave me the church schedule and showed me which times are best to attend. I hope to go back sometime soon. Leah is an exchange student so sadly she wouldn’t be able to accompany me, but maybe I can become BFFs with an old lady and go with her or something.