Coedpoeth, a large village near to Wrexham was the destination for Morriston Songsters as we departed from Edwards Coach Depot in Llansamlet. We had been invited to lead a weekend at Coedpoeth Salvation Army, which although a small corps numerically has a big presence within the community it serves.
There were memories of a journey through Mid Wales to Bangor some years ago where many of the Songsters suffered travel sickness from winding roads. Thankfully both the roads and coaches have improved since then and we all arrived safe and well.
The venue for the weekend was the local parish church – St. Tudfil’s Church in Wales. As we had a run through some of the items to be used during the weekend the beautiful acoustic of the church was soon evident. A huge buffet awaited before it was time to get ready and prepare our minds to the evenings festival.
A good crowd had gathered for the festival. In the first of many new innovations to how we presented our message the Songsters mingled with the audience sharing with each of them a small olive wood cross from the Holy Land, in preparation for the weekend we had prayed for everyone who would receive them even though they were at then unknown to us. As the opening bars of ‘God of My Praise’ filled the church the Songsters moved into position around the church for their opening item, this bright energy filled song filled the space and the audience knew they were in for a good weekend. As the final chord of the song faded away Salvation Song moved forward bringing ‘The Prayer’ to focus the mind of the listener. The Songster were by now in formation at the front of the church standing with parts mixed rather than in traditional formation (the 2nd innovation of the evening) for ‘Everywhere’ and ‘Total Praise’ both songs were introduced with Scripture and the first was enhanced by a visual presentation (again this is something recently adopted to our ministry). With the he ladies moving into the choir stalls the male voices featured the traditional ‘Gwahoddiadd’. Major Angela Tucker (Commanding Officer, Ceodpoeth) introduced and welcome the Songsters before the singing of ‘The Majesty and Glory of Your Name’ and ‘I’ve Been Changed’. The audience were invited to sing an up-beat arrangement of ‘To God Be the Glory’ accompanied by Coedpoeth Band augmented by others from Wrexham and Rhosllanerchgrugog. Two songs in contrast ‘I Know a Fount’ and ‘Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit’ preceded the evenings first soloist, Jonathan Mead with the Cornet solo ‘A Happy Day’. Coming toward the interval the Songsters sang their anthem ‘Your Grace Still Amazes Me’ be before Chris joined Jonathan at the piano for ‘Count Your Blessings’. The band ended the first half of the programme with ‘Selection from Jesus-Folk’ evidently bringing back memories of productions of the musical as many were singing along to the songs and choruses contained in the music. The interval gave further opportunity to further relationships established at the beginning of the evening.
One of the aims of the weekend was that we wanted to present a message with meaning and the second half of the evening commenced with the focal point of the night which also introduced the weekend theme’ The Christ of Calvary’. Reflective music at the piano quietened the audience as the Songsters, back in traditional formation for a presentation devised by David Lloyd-Jones. Opening this period with ‘The Christ of Calvary’ during the singing of this song a large wooden cross was carried down the length of the nave and was received and draped with a purple cloth and adorned with a crown of thorns. Leading into ‘Devotion’ some of the Songsters came forward during the singing of the song and attached red ribbons to the cross to symbolise the blood of Christ shed on the cross. Songster Helen Mason then moved forward towards the Cross in ‘My All for Christ’ a new arrangement from Songster Leader Chris Lear, during this several Songsters brought items to place at the foot of the cross representing things that could get in the way of or be given over to be used by Christ. During the final line of the song the Songster turned to face and focus on the Cross. Songster Sergeant Cheryl Webster then brought scripture and thoughts around what is in a name. With food for thought from the presentation and message the final soloist of the evening was Major Elizabeth McCaw-Aldworth with ‘I’m A Soldier Bound for Glory’. The final songs from the Songsters for the evening included the bright and toe-tapping ‘O Happy Day’, the reflective ‘He Sought Me’ and the powerful ‘Midnight Cry’. A closing prayer voiced the Band sent everyone out into the night with the strains of the march ‘Amsterdam Congress’.
Refreshed after a comfortable night’s sleep and hearty breakfast the Songsters made their way back to the church in anticipation of a great day of worship in God’s house.
Morning worship which saw us worshipping with Coedpoeth Salvationists and members of the church was led by our own Commanding Officer Major David McCaw-Aldworth on the theme ‘The Christ of Calvary – What’s in a name?’ based on Acts 4:12. The Songsters commenced with ‘I’ll Follow Thee’, with the band augmented by some of the instrument playing members of the Songsters the opening song ‘At the Name of Jesus’ was sung heartily. Songster John Turner brought us into the attitude of prayer asking that we keep out lives focussed on the cross, we also prayed for those we had left back in Morriston and remembered that although we were not there they were praying for us and we were praying for them as they met. The Songsters then brought two items; ‘God Speaks to Me’ and ‘Somebody Prayed for Me’ which was followed by a testimony from Songster Howard Knuckey. Scripture was brought by Songster Jennifer Brown followed by the message from Major David where we considered claiming the name of Jesus for ourselves and for others. Major David made know seven members of the Songsters who three years ago were not part of the group, some had also not even been attending church but who through one way or another have been welcomed or encourage within our Corps and have found their place serving their Lord in the Salvation Army at Morriston. With the challenge of claiming the name of Jesus the song ‘The Christ of Calvary’ was used to the tune ‘Annie Laurie’ and during the singing of this two-people made their way forward to the front of the church and knelt at the improvised Mercy Seat in response to the message. Worship concluded with the singing of ‘All Hail the Power of Jesus Name’. Worship was full of many special moments to many, one member of the congregation in conversation with one of our Songsters said, ‘I have come to this church all my life and I have never walked away from a service feeling as I do this morning’.
After worship, we took to the streets in a short open-air meeting in a local estate. The United Band provided the music to well know songs and the Songsters contributed a-capella ‘Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit’ and ‘From the First Hallelujah to the Last Amen’. Good conversations were had with residents during the time spent in their street.
Good conversation was shared over lunch joined by members of the corps back at the hotel. As the Songsters departed the hotel they were invited to sing by the staff and gave a rendition of Calon Lan in the reception area which drew people to listen.
In the final meeting of the weekend the United Band commenced with the rousing march ‘To Regions Fair’ as the Songsters entered the church. Opening with ‘Good News’ the style completely changed for the second song, an arrangement of the spiritual ‘Lord, Listen to Your Children’ before Songster Linda Craven led a time of prayer. Another large congregation joined in with the singing of ‘I’ll go in the strength of the Lord’. Thoughts were centred again at the cross during the singing of ‘Via Dolorosa’ which included moving and often graphic images from the film ‘The Passion of Christ’. Changing style again ‘How Sweet the Sound’ is an arrangement of ‘Amazing Grace’ with a Latin American feel. The band brought another rousing march a favourite for many Salvationists ‘Montreal Citadel’. Salvation Song presented the secular ‘You Raise Me Up’ which although not a religious piece of music certainly has spiritual meaning to the singer and listener. In bringing together music from an earlier era of The Salvation Army ‘The Christian Mission’ told the story of the early days followed by the oldest published piece used over the weekend, ‘The Awakeners’ was published in 1934. Moving closer to an era nearer to the present day this section concluded with ‘From the First Hallelujah to the Last Amen’, these were accompanied with video footage of various ‘Army’ happening over the last 100 years. There then followed moments of comedy during ‘The Bass in the Ballroom’ featuring Major David McCaw-Aldworth, his tuba, some bunting and some L-plates and plenty of puff! In the concluding moments of the weekend the Songsters final items were again varied in style with ‘More Than Wonderful’ being followed by ‘In the Strength of the King’, Songster Mair Laugharne then brought scripture and thoughts. After expressions of thanks on behalf of the Songsters and from the folk at Coedpoeth the final item of the weekend was a blessing over the congregation ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You.’
As a group of singers, we thank those from Coedpoeth who made the weekend possible and a success. Months of planning and preparation have taken place and it is a credit to the corps that the even though small numerically they managed to host a group the size of Morriston Songsters. Special mention must be made of Corps Secretary Alun Jones who has had a major hand in everything associated with the weekend.
While returning back home the Songsters shared with each other their experiences over the weekend, many spoke of the conversations they had had with those who had come to listen and of how our music and the message, as well as the friendliness of the Songsters had spoken to them in some way.
To God be ALL the Glory