The first sequence of visits is drawing to its close- I have one more visit to an Area Dean’s parish. Dates and places are, however, already in place not just for the end of this year but well on into next year for the second one.
In the meantime,
- I have walked the bounds of an ancient borough;
- stood on the river bank observing one of the most ancient forms of river transport in these islands and beyond in action — and no, given the force of the tide, I did not venture into the coracle, not even though Noah’s Ark may have been a somewhat scaled up version!
- was welcomed by an enthusiastic congregation who had imaginative and innovative ideas for the future for a comparatively isolated rural church with a small, surprisingly large mediaeval fabric;
- been impressed by excellent work with youth and children;
- seen at first hand ministry with schools at work;
- experienced two instances of schools and former schools being used for worship and outreach following the closure of church buildings;
- an imaginative conversion into a community meeting room of a former public lavatory;
- appreciated the sterling efforts being made by congregations, often small, not only to keep the wind and the rain out of the historic fabric of their churches but also to enhance and modify them into places of solace and welcome for the wider community.
Most of all, I have valued immensely the opportunities both to preside at the Holy Eucharist at midday at so many churches and also to say Evening Prayer quietly at the end of the day in preparation for returning home.
Worship is what makes our church buildings live. Worship is what lays the foundation for the outreach and welcome which so many of our congregations, even in the most remote rural locations, extend to the wider local community and the passing visitor and pilgrim.
Worship into which the congregation pours its enthusiasm and devotion imbues our buildings with that sense of the holy which strikes and attracts the passing visitor and pilgrim and which strikes bishops on their travels around the diocese.
As I make this series of visits, I not only think of my first predecessor Dewi Sant, but all those clergy and ministers who served these congregations, sometimes successive generations of families.
Often their memorial tablets grace the walls of the churches they served, giving us some idea, fulsome language and rhetorical flourishes aside of the quiet dogged service they rendered to their parishes; often under the considerable restraints of pluralism and diversion of ecclesiastical income elsewhere.
More often than not, they lie buried beneath the altar under nameless slabs. We owe as much to them in their generation as we do to Dewi and his contemporaries whose names grace the numerous historic churches in the diocese which bears his name.
Bendith + Wyn Tyddewi