Bethel Presbyterian Church
Bethel Presbyterian Church is a church on the edge. The edge, that is, of Cardiff. Located about 500 metres from the Link Road that marks the Western boundary of the city, near Culverhouse Cross, Bethel Church has been the ‘last church’ within the city limits for the past 25 years.
It was originally planted with a view to reaching the Michaelston end of the Ely estate. The dozen or so families who formed the core group had been part of Ely Presbyterian Church further in towards the city. Their desire was to establish an evangelical witness amongst the new housing developments that were being built in the area at that time.
For many years, the church plant met in a variety of school facilities that very kindly accommodated its needs. However, when the opportunity arose to purchase the premises of what had been a local power tools salesroom, the members gladly did so. Despite the unimpressive exterior, on the inside the building was rather like Dr Who’s Tardis: small on the outside, but surprisingly expansive inside. The central sanctuary had room for around 80 people and two ante-rooms provided good space for a whole range of functions.
During its 25-year history, the church has had three ministers. Rev Richard Holst under whose leadership it was founded. Rev Todd Matocha from America who served the congregation for eight years after he had completed his Seminary training. And the current minister, Mark Johnston, originally from Ireland, but who has served churches in Ireland, London and Philadelphia over the 30 plus years of his ministry.
From its earliest beginnings, Bethel has placed a high premium on faithful exposition of God’s word at the heart of all we are and do. In the longstanding Reformation tradition of what Martin Luther described as ‘the Word doing its work’, God’s word proclaimed has been a key component of our worship. Like many churches in similar traditions, we believe that the Bible and the truth it reveals shapes and inspires our praise as the Holy Spirit uses it in the hearts as well as the minds of all who hear.
We are also consciously liturgical in our form of worship. In one sense, we are fully aware of how counter-cultural this may seem in a church age when being ‘contemporary’ is seen to be all that matters. (Though even the most contemporary churches are themselves liturgical, if they could but see it!) The beauty of a structured approach to worship in this way is, in part, the way that it roots the worship of our generation in the worship of every generation through the church’s history. We are not doing something ‘new’ but continuing in the spirit and content of praise that have characterised the people of God through the ages.
There is, however, a richer, deeper vein in seeking to worship God in this way. It has sometimes been cheekily described as the ‘Nonconformist/Presbyterian Hymn Sandwich’; but is more perceptively described as ‘covenantal dialogue’. That is, in the context of the glorious covenant bond between God and his people, God calls us into his presence to honour him and all that ensues in the worship that follows is a beautiful interplay between him and his people, each speaking to the other, but all in a way that enthrones him on the praises of his people.
The congregation is delightfully diverse in terms of its age spread – from nonagenarians to lots of young families. (The only major gap in its demographic is the 40-50 somethings.) It also has a wonderful mix of different nationalities in the congregation from all four nations of the United Kingdom as well as South African, American, Nigerian, Romanian and others besides. Although the church is not large, a membership of around 40, with a typical Sunday attendance of 60 in morning worship and 40 at night, it is very active. We have a Sunday School consisting of 5 classes with around 20 kids on our rolls. There is also a parent and toddler group that meets on Friday mornings during term time under the illustrious name of ‘Tiny Tunes’. As the name suggests, its activities revolve around music for pre-school children as well as tea, coffee and the chance for grown-up conversations for their parents!
On Friday evenings, we run a meeting called Explorers for primary age children in the local area. There are around 35 children on the rolls for this and their activities include a time for games and craft followed by refreshments, with an opportunity for singing and hearing the great stories from the Bible as well. As the number of teen and almost-teenage children grows in the church we have just started a Friday night Youth Event that provides a range of social and Bible-focused activities for young people in that age bracket.
The church’s desire is very much our desire to serve the local community as best it can – especially with regard to meeting the spiritual needs of those around us, which very much seem to have fallen by the wayside in our increasingly secular world. The church employs Pastor John Woolley as an Evangelist/Church Worker who works with us for 3 days a week. He takes assemblies in local schools, has been involved with the local Nursing Home and also looks for ways to minister to the local community – regardless of whether or not they see themselves as Christians.
In a modest way, the church has tried to care for the needs of people struggling with alcohol and addiction issues. We have a number of recovering addicts in the church who can speak from experience about their own lives been turned around significantly.
It seems that many people these days know very little about church and what it’s like. A ‘safe’ way to find out more can be to visit a church’s website as a kind of ‘virtual shop window’. If you want to find out more about Bethel you can do so at www.bethelpcr.org.uk.