TENBY BENEFICE: ST ANNE’S, NEW HEDGES.
May I say, first of all, how good it is to be with you: and to be with you first of all in this journey I am making around the Diocese. It will probably take me the whole of the time I have left in post to be able to do so, since I want, by the end of that time to see if I can go around and see every church in the diocese: and I am told that there are about three hundred and forty of them!
Many of them I have of course been into and celebrated the Eucharist and administered Confirmation in them or preached at centenaries and reopening and rededication services. Even so I have a way to go and I want to thank everyone who has helped to organise these visits, which are beginning with the parishes and benefices of the Area Deans and will end in 2016, os byw ac iach God Willing at the Cathedral; thanks to both my senior colleagues centrally and especially all of you Andrew and his team; indeed the whole benefice is a team and augurs well as a harbinger and pioneer for the future the Diocese is envisaging and envisioning at present.
So, having visited Tenby and Penally here we are at the very centre of the universe St Anne’s New Hedges. And I can say without any fear of contradiction that this is the first time I have been into St Anne’s Church New Hedges. And what a splendid church it is; and what an equally splendid congregation you are. So it is a pleasure to be with you and to acknowledge both your welcome today and to be able to visit this church, put up in 1928 as a tin tabernacle and is still serving the kingdom of God today.
It may not be on as old a site as Penally with its connexion to the beginnings of Christian discipleship and leadership in this part of the vineyard. It may not have such an evocative and exotic name like Gumfreston, whoever Gumfrey was, reminding us that it is not just the Welsh of Penalun or Edmyc Dinbych which is our heritage but that blend of Flemish, Scandinavian and English and which is woven into our Christian heritage in South Pembs – nor indeed, does it have wells like Gumfreston. It may not possess such a grandiloquent fabric as St Mary’s, nor the location of St Julian’s but it is as important in its mission and ministry, a mission and ministry attested by its congregation as any of the other churches in this benefice.
And its relatively recent date makes it well prepared to respond to the changes which this diocese, as is the rest of the church in Wales is putting into place at thus time. Indeed this area deanery is already putting ministry areas into place so as to facilitate and free us up to do the mission and the ministry, and ministry is not something to be left to the clergy but is the responsibility of all of us together as part of the Body of Christ, which really is Jesus Christ in and for the world today; nothing less than the way those around us are to experience the love and the justice and the mercy and the peace of God embodied in us as they were once incarnated in Jesus
So this journey, this pilgrimage around the diocese is not about me. It is about you and it is about the diocese of St Davids and all the good things in discipleship which you have been telling me about over the past five years. It is these that I want to see for myself: all the good things which are happening in this large, it is 80 miles by eighty miles: diverse, its three archdeaconries each have a distinctive personality, as indeed for that matter have the sixteen deaneries and certainly the new ministry areas which you have seen on the map and have been discussing at various levels over the past few months, have a distinct relationship to the deaneries: they are more often than not correspond to half deaneries; the things I want to see and hear about from you yourselves across this far flung diocese of St. Davids. What you are doing at this present time following ways, journeys to the kingdom which lead along ways both known and familiar and along new and unknown ways into the future on the way to the kingdom.
It is about you showing me all the good things which you told me about in the Deanery gatherings, the Clergy Synods and the several last Diocesan Conferences. It is about you, the people of God in the diocese of St Davids, telling your good news stories for yourselves and to me directly, the stories of the Good News of the kingdom of God, in all its variety in all their variety, for telling and showing and living the kingdom of God is what we are about as the people of God in this diocese.
And the fellowship and the welcome and the numbers of you who have gathered today and at a time when the weather is not all that brilliant – I have been thinking of you as I have seen the pictures of the raging of the sea on the travel news- so our gathering together like this is itself a powerful and eloquent expression of the presence of the kingdom on the lives of the congregations, within which the worshipping and the pastoral life of this Benefice is focussed.
So here I am seeing and hearing for myself, you are telling me what is happening; what you are making happen where you are. Here I am and specifically, I am particularly aware of the irony of my saying all that today and in this benefice. Especially since we have been to Penally. For today is the feast of someone after whom this diocese might equally well have been called. It is so apt, therefore that that we are met on this day: for this is the feast of St Teilo; St Eiludd, his other name.
If the weather was clearer we could no doubt see his birthplace at Trefloyne; and you are very well acquainted with Penally the site of his burial place: yes I know that both Llandeilo Fawr and Llandaff claim that. But we in West Pembrokeshire know better.
But, all over this diocese you cannot escape that first generation of Christian leaders and their flocks. There are so many of them whose names are commemorated in the churches of this diocese: whether it is Llanddewi or Llandeilo or whoever. There are the places where they lived and taught and proclaimed the gospel by their words and by their lives. Those places, now so ancient and venerated, so familiar and yet so distant are not so unfamiliar or far away. They are still part of our spiritual landscape, our Christian landscape. They are still used and worshipped in, because they and we are part of the same ongoing story. They were once, when their part of the story of the Christian faith in this nation of Wales began exactly like this little church; they were the St Anne’s of their day; they were the tin tabernacles of their day.
And the saints Dewi Dyfrig Deiniol, who was also a Pembrokeshire man, Teilo: they are our predecessors as disciples; they are on the same journey just that little distance ahead of us round the corner.
Now there are two aspects to discipleship which always come to my mind whether I am thinking about us today as disciples or our predecessors whether in the time of Teilo and Dewi in the Dark Ages, or the time of the very first disciples of Jesus it is two phrases. The first started the whole process off when Jesus said to Andrew and Peter: Come and See. (John 1 39.) The second is Go and Tell: which is another way, to my mind, of putting, crystallising those words of Jesus which we call the Great Commission, which you will find in St Matthew’s Gospel ch 28:19-20): Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”.
Come and See; Go and Tell. That is the rhythm of discipleship. What we say; and what we do; the way we organise our lives; they way we deal with our neighbours, especially those who are not like us or one of us especially the weak and the defenceless, those who have lost out and have been pushed out to the edges of life: all of that we cannot keep to ourselves. We will want to Go and Tell and we will do that by what we say; and what we do; the way we organise our lives; they way we deal with our neighbours, especially those who are not like us or one of us especially the weak and the defenceless, those who have lost out and have been pushed out to the edges of life: all of that we cannot keep to ourselves. That is a very eloquent way of going and telling; of doing mission and exercising ministry in and through ordinary life.
And it will in itself make other people to want to come and see and be caught up in the story themselves; and will want them to call others to come and see and be caught up in the story themselves. That is the test for all of us as disciples.
Now, at the present time it may seem to us that we have lost sight of that simplicity. We are caught up in all the complexities which go with a faith which had been around for two thousand years in very many changing scenes of life; a faith which has grounded itself in the landscape of Pembrokeshire for almost fifteen hundred years. With all the structures and the committees and the finances and the buildings and the regulations and the laws and all that stuff.
Well, what I want to say is that all of us think that and I want to say two more things : the first is that all of that notwithstanding, you as a congregation and as a benefice and we as a diocese are not only still here, but that our normal everyday Christian life and practice – the stuff we do outside in the world which shows the Love of God in Christ at Work and what we do inside our church buildings, the regular loyal Sunday by Sunday worship of God where we offer ourselves our souls and bodies to God and where we gain strength and sustenance and solace to go out again and be Christ in the world – and the way we adapt our church buildings in order better to do that in and for the world we live in – our normal everyday Christian life and practice goes on and flourishes despite all the bureaucracy and stuff. Otherwise we would not be here this afternoon any of us. Hope is always here and is always growing.
Secondly, the purpose of all that is going on at the moment in both this diocese and the church in Wales in terms of restructuring and ministry areas and so on is designed as far as possible to free us up from all that hinders us so that we can get back to the simplicity and clarity of mission and ministry which St Teilo knew: though he exercised his mission and ministry through withdrawal from the world , so one size does not fit all, it never has. Simplicity and Clarity are to me summed up in those two phrases: Come and See. Go and tell. And you cannot have one without the other.