EDWARDSVILLE — As teenage volunteers carried trays of bread, freshly baked and sliced, to the tables at the annual St. David’s Tea on Tuesday evening, guests at the Dr. Edwards Memorial Congregational Church admitted their mouths were watering.
“The bread is wonderful,” said Mary Morrison, of Pringle. “There’s nothing like homemade.”
“I like the Welsh cookies too,” added her husband, Neil.
While a committee had made plenty of the soft, round cookies for the annual tea — which honors the patron saint of Wales — longtime church member Betty Jones, of Trucksville, and her helper, Carol Wolosz, had almost single-handedly baked some 125 loaves of bread for the event.
“My mum baked her own bread. My grandma baked her own bread,” said Jones, who emigrated to the United States when she was 19 years old, worked at a local silk mill, and sent money back to Wales to help her parents and younger siblings join her.
Jones, 88, who still bakes her own bread for everyday use, beamed as she watched some 80 guests at the St. David’s Tea help themselves to four varieties — raisin, cinnamon, wheat and white — and sample them plain, or adorned with jelly, marmalade or butter.
But as anyone learning about Welsh culture soon discovers, people do not live on bread alone.
Singing seems to be just as important.
“I wish you could hear yourselves from up here,” tea co-chairman John DiRico said with a smile after the guests, standing by their tables, raised their voices to join song leader Wolosz in a hymn called “Cwm Rhondda.”
“Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land,” they sang with enthusiastic confidence. “I am weak, but thou art mighty. Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand …”
Why are the Welsh so strong on singing?
“There’s a joke that says it’s because we never had the money to buy instruments,” Peg Sinclair, of Kingston, said with a laugh.
Seriously, her fellow committee member Jan Jones, of Shavertown, said. “It’s a grand tradition. I remember being in this room as a child in Sunday School with hundreds of other children, all singing.”
“You’ve seen ‘How Green Was My Valley,’ haven’t you?’ Mary Morrison asked, referring to the 1941 movie’s stirring scenes of miners joining in a thunderous chorus.
All this singing may come from natural talent, or it may be that practice makes perfect.
In either case, co-chair Sally Morgan DiRico said, “What Wales is well known for is four-part harmony.”
Nodding to include committee member Jean Bonn, of Mountain Top, she said, “Normally, we’re altos, but we can join in a song and just pick our notes.”
The annual St. David’s Tea included gifts for the oldest woman and oldest man who attended, group singing of the American and Welsh national anthems, and entertainment by 14 members of the local group Changing Habits, who dress and sing like Whoopie Goldberg and her cast mates from the movie “Sister Act.”
Co-chair John DiRico asked the crowd to identify the occupations of famous people whose heritage is Welsh, and they dutifully called out “architect” for Frank Lloyd Wright, “actor” for Sir Anthony Hopkins, “singer” for Charlotte Church and “explorers” for Lewis and Clark.
Church pastor the Rev. Shawn Walker shared some legends of St. David, patron saint of Wales, whose feast is observed March 1. The saint is said to have raised a boy from the dead by sprinkling him with tears and to have stood on a piece of earth that miraculously rose so that a crowd could see and hear him better as he preached.
The best story about St. David, Walker told the crowd, is the one that includes his advice “to do the small things,” the little extra efforts that make life better for everyone.