Visitor Information

Church or Chapel ?
Back in the 15th century the Western Christian Church began to divide into different strands and traditions.  The period is known as ‘The Reformation’ because its early leaders felt that the church had become corrupt and they wanted to ‘reform’ it back to the pattern of the New Testament church.  There are, however, different types of church style within the New Testament - so which to go for?  Different leaders favoured different patterns.  Eventually the church in the United Kingdom split away from the Church of Rome and, in 1662 the Act of Uniformity forced all UK churches and clergymen to follow a particular pattern and to use a specific service book - The Book of Common Prayer. 
The Act of Uniformity insisted that all men in holy orders, every minister, teacher, lecturer or university fellow, must submit to Anglican authority and to the bishops, as if they were appointed by God. If such ministers were unable or unwilling to conform they were ejected from their livings. They were required, by St Bartholomew's Day – 24th August 1662 - to give their 'unfeigned assent and consent' to the newly revised Book of Common Prayer, including some ceremonies which the puritans had long found objectionable, such as kneeling to receive communion and the use of the sign of the cross in baptisms. All clergymen were to be ordained by a bishop. Although most clergymen conformed to the Church of England, a sizeable minority refused to do so. Nearly a thousand - almost a sixth of the total - lost their livings on what became known as ‘Black Bartholomew’. Some two thousand clergymen and teachers suffered in England and Wales between 1660 and 1662, creating a permanent split in national religious life. Often the ‘nonconformists’ had powerful support.
Lots of people, both clergy and others, continued to hold services according to their understanding of what was right.  Many were arrested for doing so and illegal services were broken up. In some cases people were put to death. This led to some fellowships meeting in secret, often gathering together in farmhouses or barns to avoid detection. Gradually Britain became more tolerant and such services became legal once again.  The congregations were often called ‘independents’ because they were independent of the state church.
 Until 1831, the Congregational/Independent churches had no central organization, though a number of county unions had been formed. In that year the Congregational Union of England and Wales was founded, remaining in existence until its constituent churches formed themselves into the Congregational Church in England and Wales in 1966. At this point a number of churches broke away to form the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches. In 1972 the CCEW united with the Presbyterian Church in England and Wales to form the United Reformed Church. Those churches who preferred to continue in the congregational tradition then formed themselves into the Congregational Federation, and a small number of other churches remained unaffiliated to any of the new groupings.
The State Church, which in Wales was The Church of Wales, became known as the established church and other congregations became known as the ‘Free Church’ because they were not part of the State.   In other words ‘free of the State’. The term ‘chapel’ became widely used as a generic term to differentiate between church and chapel. Since 1920 this distinction is not entirely accurate since in that year the Church of Wales became dis-established and was renamed The Church in Wales.  The Church in Wales is therefore no longer subject to the control of The State.  ‘Church’ and ‘Chapel’ distinction, however, is likely to remain in people’s minds for a good few generations yet!  
Many chapels will look quite different from churches. This is because they reflect some quite different customs and ways of thinking. The focus of most chapels is the Bible - both read and preached.  Ritual and processions are not common and so the chapel is arranged to give prominence to the reading of the Bible and to the sermon. 
Come into a chapel and you will probably see that the pulpit is quite large and occupies a prominent position at the front.  In front of it will be a plain table - not an altar but what’s called a ‘Communion Table’.  Sometimes the Communion Table can be quite small - almost insignificant.  It may also be enclosed by a big seat, called the ‘Sedd Fawr’. When chapel services were liable to being broken up by soldiers or local mobs the Deacon’s were responsible for the safety of the preacher! If the Sedd Fawr is still being used (many chapels don’t use it much these days) those in it will turn round and face out to the congregation to sing the hymns. Again this custom is based on tradition. It used to be that the Deacons looked out to see who was missing. Then, during the week they would visit to find out why someone was missing and fill them in on the gist of the sermon.
Behind the pulpit there may well be an organ, possibly in a gallery, with pews in front of it for a choir to sit in. That’s because singing is an important part of chapel worship - and all the congregation join in.
Chapel interiors are often quite plain and are crammed full of pews or chairs. From the pulpit the Minister will be able to see almost everyone in the congregation and vice versa. There may well be an open Bible on the Communion Table, facing out towards the congregation to show the traditional belief that the Bible is for all to read.
You may not be able to see a font - the place where babies and adults are baptised or christened. In churches they are often placed just beside the door. If the place of worship is a Baptist chapel there may be a big, underground font or ‘baptistry’ at the front, where all can see it. Sometimes there will be a smaller font brought out only when needed. Again, this reflects the importance of ‘word’ over ‘sacrament’ in most chapels. Just occasionally there is no font because, particularly in rural areas, families had a special bowl which was used as a font by that family. 
You may see that there are holes drilled into the pew or chair tops. That is because when a Communion service is being held the congregation may remain in their seats, rather than come up to the front. The bread and the wine are brought round to the pews and the individual wine glasses are placed into the holder in the pew.
Glossary of terms
Baptism  commonly known as ‘Christening’
Baptistry A large tank, frequently sunk into the ground which is filled with water for Baptisms - most commonly found in Baptist Churches
Bible  The sacred or holy book for Christians
Communion The part of the service where a special meal is remembered and re-enacted.  On the night before Jesus was arrested he and his special friends, the disciples, gathered to share a particular meal.  During it Jesus took bread, broke it and gave it to the disciples, saying ‘This is my body which is broken for you’.  After supper he took a cup of wine and gave it to them saying ‘This is my blood which is shed for you.’ 
Many Christians follow this pattern and example and the service is called ‘Communion’ or ‘The Lord’s Supper’
Communion Table  The table at the front from which Communion or The Lord’s Supper is led
Congregation  the people attending a service.
Font  A bowl (sometimes on its own stand) used to hold the water for a Baptism
Pew  the long, bench-style seating found in many churches and chapels
Preacher  The person ‘preaching’ or giving the sermon
Sedd Fawr (Big Seat) This normally encloses the pulpit and traditionally is where the church Deacons/Elders (local leaders) sit.
Sermon: The part of a service where the preacher, often the same person who is leading the service, talks to the congregation about an aspect of faith or the Bible, normally relating it to contemporary affairs and concerns.

The United Reformed Church
The United Reformed Church is one of the mainstream Christian denominations in the United Kingdom. Although relatively small in size it plays an important and dynamic part in the British Christian community.
Formed in 1972 with the union of the Congregational Church in England & Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England the United Reformed Church has seen two further unions, with members of the Churches of Christ in 1982 and the Congregational Union of Scotland in 2000.
There are 1600 local congregations served by over 700 ministers, paid and unpaid.
A United Church
The United Reformed Church combines its commitment to the Reformed tradition with a passionate belief that all God’s people should be one. It seeks to work with Christians of all traditions, and rejoices in being part of more than 400 Local Ecumenical Partnerships, with the Methodist Church and others. It is also committed to theological and cultural diversity.
It has declared itself a multi-cultural church, rejoicing in the gifts of members from across the world and seeks to hold together a wide variety of theological understandings; valuing different insights helps the church understand the wonder of God.
A Reformed Church
Worldwide, more than 70 million Christians are members of the Reformed family of churches. They uphold the historic Trinitarian creeds of the church universal, find the supreme authority for their lives in the Word of God in the Bible, discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They order their lives through councils of the church, where ministers and lay people together seek the mind of Christ.