A little more conversation
How Gilgal Baptist Church provides a thought-provoking presence in its town's Elvis festival. By Ivor Williams
Imagine a town where every street, pub, café, hotel and chip-shop has wall-to-wall Elvis Presleys. Everywhere you look you can see ordinary people (and their children too) walking around dressed in a range of Elvis costumes – from army uniforms to gold lamé suits to Las Vegas caped jump-suits. With them are their partners dressed in polka-dotted dresses, 1950s and 1960s style, and thousands of non-costumed people wearing Elvis T-shirts, Elvis scarves, Elvis wigs and plastic Ray-Ban style glasses. Shop fronts are covered with Elvis displays and images.
For three days in the autumn, that’s what happens to a small Welsh seaside town called Porthcawl.
With around 16,000 residents, Porthcawl hosts an annual Elvis Festival which, for a late September weekend, brings a staggering influx of more than 30,000 visitors. It has become the biggest Elvis festival in the world, attracting visitors and Elvis tribute artistes, mainly from Britain but also from further afield.
With a prospective audience as big as that, it’s no wonder that Gilgal Baptist Church can be seen witnessing at the band stand on the main shopping street, John Street … it’s a heaven-sent opportunity not to be missed!!
Although the church can often be seen witnessing there throughout the year, the Elvis festival must be one of the highlights.
With many of the church members witnessing in the open air (often garlanded with a Hawaiian lei or two) it is the perfect way to engage with passers-by and speak to them about having faith in Jesus.
The church’s approach is quite novel. While church members chat to visitors, giving out more than 200 tracts and leaflets – including ‘Elvis Million-Dollar Bills’ with a Christian message made up of his song titles – I sing many of the Elvis Presley gospel songs, while pastor Martin Gillard mans his ‘Graffiti Board.’ Curious people cross over the street to see what’s going on and, hopefully, leave with something to think about, having been invited to come along and join the church in worship at a future date.
The Graffiti Board (a white-board) has an open-ended question about Elvis written on top and people are invited to write a comment underneath. Questions over the years have included, ‘Was Elvis a Real Christian?’, ‘Is Elvis in Heaven?’, ‘What is Your Favourite Elvis Gospel Song?’
This year the question was ‘Why Did Elvis Sing Gospel?’
Each year, the questions have proved to be very thought-provoking and many visitors - and towns-folk - have had some stimulating conversation with Martin and his team and have written interesting, wide-ranging answers.
The whole Elvis Festival experience has to be seen to be believed and the happy, friendly atmosphere makes it so much easier to begin talking about faith to complete strangers. In fact, it’s the opposite of one of Elvis’s songs … Gilgal Baptist Church gets ‘A Little MORE Conversation’ about the Lord!
The church’s motto is “To know Jesus better and to make Him better known” The Elvis Festival gives us a huge platform to be able to do this and we hope that as visitors leave the band stand they’ll have the team’s words, and maybe a gospel song, going around their head … and, perhaps they’ll be ‘All Shook Up’ and want to find out more about Jesus!
Elvis image | Pixabay
Other images | Gilgal Baptist Church
Ivor Williams is a member of Gilgal Baptist Church