Alfred Place Baptist Church

Fair Days in Aberystwyth

On Monday was the middle of the three Fairs held each November. This is the largest, the old ‘hiring fair’, when men and women stood at one side and farmers looking for labourers and milk-maids and servants walked up to them and interviewed them for a year’s employment. All this changed after the Second World War. Even the cattle market in Aberystwth has been closed and stores have been built on that land. I remember the farmers and their wives coming into town on Mondays, the women going around the shops and the men to the mart to buy and sell cattle and sheep. It does not happen any longer.

The fair arrives for an entire month with its stalls and rides. The boxing booth is no more; Health and Safety inspectors have closed it down. Then on the three Mondays the stall holders arrive, about a hundred of them, selling everything they can bring. It is a hot noisy sweet-smelling occasion and the line of stalls along a sidewalk leads eventually to the carousels and dodgem cars. The prizes for the coconut stalls, the darts, hoola hoop and rifle stalls used to be a goldfish in a plastic bag, but again Health and Safety have ended all of that.

The team begin to put up the Christian Book Trailer and Stall around 7.15, and before 9 there are customers walking up and down enjoying the free sweets in the line of stalls and eyeing everything – tools, meat, china, clothes, Pwllheli Rock, Christmas decorations, everything for a pound, CDs and DVDs, fruit, electric equipment, cheese, and so on. There was a steady drizzle all the morning and that cut down the sale of Christian books, from 340 pounds last year to 240 pounds this year. Far less people walked in the rain, planning their promenade for the afternoon and evening. The cold gives them a bracing determination, but the drizzle keeps them indoors. The rain stopped lunchtime, and then it was busy, busy, busy until 9 p.m. Hundreds of tracts were given out. Some of our students were great, one tracted for five hours, went home for lunch and then came back for two more. There were many conversations. The muslim on the adjoining stall sells car-seat covers. He enjoys working next to us, appreciating our moral and ethical standards. “We ought to have this stall in every fair,” he says. “We . . .” he says. Fascinating. Then a strange Muslim came up walking on a zimmer frame. He stopped, let down a seat on the frame, sat on it and declaimed. He announced he was . . . well, it sounded like a ‘Mandarin Muslim.’ Can that be so? Google simply announces a list of restaurants in California with that name. He had a very loud voice and announced that the creation of Adam out of dust was a greater miracle than the creation of Jesus. He wasn’t the sort of man to debate with. He declared that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, the familiar Islamic error, and that statement is very hard to respond to coolly by those covered with that precious blood. The car-seat cover salesman on the stall next door announced his agreement with the non-crucifixion of Christ. It was a bit of a stalemate and there was relief when Mr. Zimmer Frame took off to explore the bargains elsewhere in the fair. When they were taking down their stalls at the end of the day Ifan walked across to the car-seat-cover selling Muslim and held him warmly with both hands on his arms and said to him, “Jesus died for our sins and he rose for our justification.” The man did not retaliate, and he will be back for the final day of the fair next Monday.

The next day we had our monthly fraternal, twelve of us ministers from across mid-Wales, welcoming Oliver Gross who is being inducted into a church in Welshpool on Saturday. Oli came to the university here seven years ago, a pagan. A fire broke out in the block of rooms on the promenade where he was living. The biggest fire in Aberystwyth’s history for many years, it left a huge gap in the line of five storey Victorian housing lining the prom, like two missing front teeth. Now those halls has been rebuilt and extended and the promenade looks much better. Oli lost all his possessions and academic work in the conflagration, and he went home perhaps to stay and look for work, disillusioned with university life, but he had befriended a Christian who had spoken to him faithfully and warmly and that friendship was helpful. So he returned to college and began to worship with us. He read a couple of books by Pink and John Stott on The Cross and they both helped him so that around his 20th birthday he knew he had been converted. I baptized him in October 2000. His father was soon converted and I went to his baptism in the Midlands. In 2003 Oli began his training at the London Theological Seminary and he found his years there helpful. There were three or four other men from Aberystwyth studying there at that time. Since graduation he has been an assistant pastor and then this year was called to this church plant 50 miles away from us in Welshpool. The church was planted by an American pastor who worshipped with us for a couple of years and won the hearts of the people. He moved to Welshpool and there by the Bible and prayer over a decade planted a congregation. He moved back to Georgia after 15 years in Wales a month ago. Now to a church whose membership is less than twenty people (many of whom we know) Oli has come to evangelize and pastor, and we are impressed at this move especially when there were settled churches who were intent on calling him. May God bless him richly. I am chairman of the service on Saturday afternoon. He begins by preaching through I Peter and has borrowed my commentary of Wayne Grudem on the epistle.

I have been asked to deliver sixteen or so lectures on the Holy Spirit at the Welsh Evangelical School of Theology in Bryntirion for the B.A. Course next year, that is, ‘Pneumatology.’ I don’t think we had any lectures on the Spirit at Westminster Seminary. A new team has come to in and immediately I am asked to lecture. I am soon beginning a series on Sunday nights on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. I was glad to have been invited, though it will have its own humblings. These may be days of small things, but they are not days of absolutely nothing at all.

GEOFF THOMAS