BLOG 7: Countryside Connections
It’s not just the churches or the congregations but the links between them. Those links are as much emotional and spiritual as geographical. I have certainly travelled along some very narrow country lanes indeed, back roads known only to churchwardens as I have travelled from one isolated rural church to the next. Mind you, finding them in the first place can be difficult enough: this is where I depend on the satnav on my Chaplain’s phone.
Journey’s end is always satisfying: and over the past five months, my journey in the footsteps of St David has taken me from the north of this eighty mile long diocese to the south west and to the south east; with a substantial number of churches in the centre.
I have been welcomed at small rural churches which are determined to displace (at least some) of their pews for people, in order to extend their outreach to the local community as well as offering hospitality to their congregations and creating space for Messy Church of which I have seen several examples. I have also seen youth and children’s work, using a village hall in the centre of the community. I have seen several examples of the church’s involvement in community shops, one housed in a hall which has been refurbished to the extent of being able to hold regular film shows.
I have seen a former church school in the shadow of a massive twelfth century motte, housing a Green Technology centre. I have been privileged to visit a great number of schools both church and community and been both moved and stimulated by the searching questions asked me by the pupils in question and answer questions: you have no idea what sort of questions can be sparked by the appearance of a bishop in cope mitre and carrying his pastoral staff.
It has been a particular privilege to visit members of congregations, who are now housebound, more than one centenarian among them, and also visiting senior members of congregations in sheltered accommodation: one visit to a new complex in Pembrokeshire was particularly impressive.
I have also had — and this has had a marked effect on the episcopal waistline — lemon drizzle cakes being a particular episcopal temptation — please, don’t tell my doctor — coffee, lunch and tea, with church officers, giving them — and the bishop — an opportunity to discuss and tease out the implications of the diocesan strategy. This is in addition to the charge which I give at a Eucharist in one of the churches of the groups — and it has been a very special experience for me to have been able to preside at the Eucharist, and one which sticks in my memory is the Pub Eucharist which I celebrated last week for a group of five churches on the Carmarthenshire-Pembrokeshire border.
I have by now made forty visits since the beginning of this pilgrimage around this diocese in the steps of St David; and I have now visited one hundred and fifty five churches and their congregations out of the three hundred and twenty eight which are listed in the Diocesan Year Book.
I must also congratulate the clergy who have put together some amazing venues and events for me to visit and get a taste of the real vitality which characterises the life of even the smallest churches in the diocese of St Davids.
I have visited museums; wielded a blacksmith’s hammer; been impressed by the complexity and scale of a hydro-electric plant and the huge number of fish in its fish farm; listened for the bottom of the valley to the distinctive bellow of a narrow gauge locomotive on which I had travelled a few weeks before;
visited art and craft exhibitions in churches; climbed a hillside to see a particularly significant early mediaeval boundary stone; visited a potter’s workshop and see him throw a vessel on his wheel; seen wrecks and sand dunes and a mediaeval and early modern gentry house spectacular even in ruin.
St David was fortunate: he was one hundred and forty seven years old (so they say) and founded a huge number of churches (again, so they say: I have my doubts). I, on the other hand, have completed just under half of my journey in his footsteps: and I am, D.V. looking forward to visiting the remainder in the fourteen months I have left in post. I will be beginning again in September.
+Wyn St Davids St James’ Tide