STAGE 3: HALFWAY HOUSE
I am now half way through the first sequence of visits around the diocese in the steps of St David. I have visited eight of the sixteen parishes and groups which are served by the Area Deans themselves.
That means that I have seen and visited, celebrated the Eucharist, said the Office and given addresses in around twenty five churches. More to the point, I have been able to talk to clerical colleagues, church officers and members of the congregations about where we are in our journey of Growing Hope for the Diocese.
I have much enjoyed these conversations because of the openness and honesty of what you have been saying to me: and not just about the unknown future but about the good things which are happening in your parishes now. And, likewise I hope that whatever answers I have given have been useful and of help to you as we move forward together into the future.
I have also appreciated the splendid hospitality I have enjoyed, wherever I have visited — which has put a couple of inches around my waistline! Dewi Sant did not have this problem as he made his way around the diocese in his time: firstly because he lived only on bread, herbs and water; secondly because he walked; and thirdly because the diocese was somewhat larger in his day than it is in ours, so not only did it take him longer but he got the exercise!
Anyway, my journey so far, (by car) in his footsteps, has taken me from the far west of the diocese to the eastern border; from coastal and post industrial Pembrokeshire to the forests and hills of Carmarthenshire; to little market towns and tourist destinations; from ancient churches to tin tabernacles; to great mediaeval churches redolent with history; to tiny tranquil shrine churches in their ancient curvilinear churchyards in the depth of the countryside;
I keep saying it but it is so true: the sheer variety of this diocese is remarkable; as is the enthusiasm and dedication of congregations, large and small and rural and urban, populated and isolated.
For example — and there are so many examples I could use — I have been impressed by engagement with the community: the community garden in Brechfa impressed me (and yes the sunflowers have taken root), as did the community shop (and I did enjoy the selection of the wide variety of the goods on offer, so many of them locally sourced – in particular the local liquid on offer). The tranquillity of the labyrinth at Llanfihangel Rhosycorn, complements the stillness of the interior of the building: and is an excellent model of how isolated country churches can play to their strengths and offer something which our rushed and busy world so much needs
Then there are the schools, both church and community; and I have been heartened both by the breadth and variety of the education on offer; the way that parishes value and share in the life of a school: and in that instance it makes no difference whether it is a church or community school; by the skill, imagination and dedication of the teachers, and by the sheer exuberance of the children, as I discovered at Neyland.
I was at assembly, dressed in cope and mitre and explaining my robes when a small boy asked me whether I was embarrassed, ‘going around dressed like that’! I think I said yes and no: since other bishops also walked around looking like this.
Neyland also brings to mind the outstanding art work of the Stations of the Cross produced by members of the congregations and the local community at St Clements, which is itself a building of architectural distinction.
And the way that the mother church of Llanstadwell has developed an active musical programme which engages with the local community.
It was the music, as well as an excellently organised and engaging liturgy in a building which lends itself so well to it, which remains in my mind from the Deanery Eucharist in St Mary’s Newport at Pentecost. And as for buildings, the quiet dignity and spaciousness of Myddfai; the impressive rugged grandeur of Llanfair ar y Bryn and the sensitive and attractive way in which Llandingat has been adapted for community use and specifically for a ministry to mothers and children all remain in the mind and the memory.
I could go on —indeed I have gone on at inordinate length because there is so much good work going on in the diocese; and I have been privileged to see it and share it, if only for a short time. And this blog is also late in appearing because I have not had an opportunity to sit down and write it because of everything else going on in the Province and the Diocese at this time.
Preparations and dates for the second round of visits are already beginning to be put in hand and will start as soon as the current round of visits is finished.
Bendith Wyn Tyddewi.