Friday 27 February 2015

A new venue for gay weddings in Carmarthen?

It has been a long time since we heard anything from Towy Community Church which operates Xcel Bowl at Johnstown just outside Carmarthen, but it is now set to steam ahead with Phase II of the development.

The bowling alley received over £1.4 million in grants, soft loans and publicly-owned assets from Carmarthenshire County Council, with the Big Lottery Fund contributing a further £800,000 to the project which was estimated to cost around £2.25 million (not including the cost to the taxpayer of buying the site).

The bowling alley was Phase I of the overall development, and a condition of the planning grant was that Phase II would have to go ahead within five years (i.e. by the end of 2016).

The original plans for Phase II will involve building an auditorium with a seating capacity of 600 to be used for Sunday worship, a cafe and debt counselling centre, and the church said that the overall cost of the two phases would be more than £5 million. Based on the church's own projections, Phase II will cost nearly £3 million.

So where will all that money come from?

Any profits from the bowling alley are supposed to be ploughed back into deserving community projects, and it is a racing certainty that the new church auditorium will qualify. However, there will still be a large funding gap, and back in January 2012 the church's pastor, Mark Bennett, told Golwg that Phase II would mean applying for more grants.

A slightly tricky issue could be persuading those who dish out grants that Phase II meets all the requirements laid out in equalities legislation, and is not just a ruse to get taxpayers to fund the expansion of a fundamentalist religious group.

The church's 150 or so congregation currently meets at Queen Elizabeth High School, and so should fit easily into the new auditorium, but the church is adamant that this new place of worship is not a church.

The debt counselling service is also likely to be rather different from the sort of help provided by organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, featuring invitations to engage in prayer.

How the church would react if someone wanted to book the facilities for a gay wedding, and how comfortable a Muslim family might feel about using the debt counselling service is anyone's guess.

Based on their track record, it is unlikely that the council will find it too difficult to award more grants to an organisation which proclaims that it believes in the literal truth of the Bible and that those who reject Christ face "eternal conscious punishment", but the Wales Audit Office and other scrutinising bodies are likely to be asked to take a very close look.

Given the council's new-found respect for the Welsh language, councillors may also want to consider why the church's bowling venture makes so little effort to promote and use the Welsh language. Its main online vehicle is its Facebook page which is in English only.

One other thing which is certain is that public scrutiny of the church has become very much more difficult.

After it attracted unwelcome publicity over its plans to work with the highly controversial Mercy Ministries and open a hostel for young women in Carmarthen, Towy Community Church took the unusual step for an evangelical organisation of practically erasing every trace of its existence from the internet.

All that is left is a skeleton website giving contact details and a statement saying the church hopes to have a new website up and running in the "near future". And that is how it has stayed for the last three years.

It is no doubt entirely coincidental that Towy Community Church's decision to remove itself from the web occurred at the same time as Carmarthen's Living Word Church also retreated from the digital age and shut down its website which used to advertise Bible study groups and other social get-togethers at the home of the council's chief executive.

And entirely unrelated to any of this is the chief executive's recent refusal to allow the rainbow flag to be flown from County Hall to celebrate LGBT Month, although other councils and public bodies in Wales had no problem with showing their support.

As Caebrwyn pointed out last week, County Hall decided instead to hoist the Union Jack to celebrate the 55th birthday of Prince Randy Andy whose private life is, of course, entirely beyond reproach.


Anonymous said...

An interesting article, spoilt by the last paragraph.

'As Caebrwyn pointed out last week, County Hall decided instead to hoist the Union Jack to celebrate the 55th birthday of Prince Randy Andy whose private life is, of course, entirely beyond reproach.'

It is a requirement to fly the union flag on such occasions, not an option and simply churlish to refer to him in that manner.


Registrant: Mark Bennett
20 Crispin Avenue, Carmarthen SA31 3EH

Matthew Bownds Living Word Church
Carmarthen SA31 1JJ

Not all traces have or can be removed.

Anonymous said...

I do not know of any chapel with a debt counselling service?

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with the last paragraph? Seems perfectly ok and relevant to me.

Somerset Wedding Girl said...

It sounds like it would be a positive move to have a new venue! Thanks for the write up!