POBL DEWI: First of all, then, Eileen, I would like to talk to you about your ministry as the diocesan Rural Affairs Adviser.
Eileen: “As someone born and bred in Llanllwni, Carmarthenshire, I have a passion for rural issues. This is who I am. I grew up on a smallholding and for thirty years now I’ve been dairy and sheep farming with my husband, Dyfrig, and now also with my son, Owain.
“Some fifteen years ago, Bishop Carl asked me to take on the role of Rural Affairs Adviser in the diocese following a television programme I did with Dai Jones (Llanilar) in the Cefn Gwlad series looking at my work as a minister and farmer. And I considered being asked to do such work to be the greatest privilege I could have received.”
POBL DEWI: I take it that the bishop did not have to wait long for an answer.
Eileen: “No, I accepted straight away. And it was a pleasure to be licensed at Llanybydder mart with hundreds there at the service and I still remember the farmers joining in singing Pantyfedwen with gusto.”
POBL DEWI: What is different from ministering in a rural area rather than in a market town or large village?
Eileen: “Farmers and those that live in the countryside in general face completely different things to their ancestors. The most significant thing is loneliness, especially nowadays. Farming used to be very social work, with a crowd of people coming together for the harvest and for other occasions where neighbours’ help was needed.
“Those were times for fun and enjoyment together, as well as work. Farmers nowadays work on their own because they have the machinery and technology to enable them to farm without the need for anyone else to help them. They can go for days – if not weeks – without talking to anyone!”
POBL DEWI: But, loneliness is something that affects more than just farmers.
Eileen: “That’s true. Loneliness is not just a problem for the farmer. It affects many other rural residents. As so many of our young people move to the cities in search of work, the countryside has become an attraction for those looking for an ideal place to retire. That is usually far from their children and families. And all is well for a while, but in turn with illness or losing a partner, they also find themselves facing loneliness and feeling isolated.
“Now in many of our rural areas the only public building that is still open is a church or chapel and I think it is an integral part of our ministry to tackle the problem of loneliness in these areas. But in order to fulfil that ministry we must accept the responsibility of being part of our communities as Christians and of being a church outside the doors of our buildings all week. ”
POBL DEWI: What have been the important things for you in that ministry over the years?
Eileen: “Perhaps the most important thing that has come from my time as a consultant is the establishment of Tir Dewi. Tir Dewi is a society that offers an ear to listen to farmers especially when faced with the complex problems that can be a part of farming today.
“Because I share the same background and culture I have to admit that we are a bit stubborn when it comes to talking about our problems, often because an individual can think they are the weakest link in the chain that has lived on the farm and inherited it for past centuries.
“There can be all sorts of problems: physical and mental health, financial, legal, relationships with others, and so on. It is hoped that talking helps not only to stop things from getting worse, but rather as a first step towards resolving the problems. We can draw on experts in many fields to offer advice and assistance in different situations. And in that regard we also work closely with other organisations such as the Welsh Government Agriculture Department, the farming unions, and the Young Farmers movement. The importance of the support that Tir Dewi can offer has already been recognised. ”
POBL DEWI: And you talked about this aspect of church ministry to the countryside at the most recent meeting of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales, didn’t you?
Eileen: “At the last meeting I proposed that each diocese designate a rural affairs adviser, but more than that those officers should given the neccessary time to do the job properly. That need was confirmed to me at the Royal Welsh Show this year when a woman came to me on the field who realised I was involved with Tir Dewi and said how much such a ministry and service is needed in her area. ‘As farmers, we’re on our knees’ was her message. ”
POBL DEWI: The future of farming in Wales and the rest of the UK is uncertain at present due to the changes in Brexit and leaving the Common Agricultural Policy. What do you think the impact of this will be?
Eileen: “Agriculture is currently dependent on financial support from the European Union in the form of a single payment. At some point that payment will stop and there will be a huge change as a result as the system is administered from Westminster and Cardiff.
“The government also gives priority to providing food at the cheapest possible price. These changes and uncertainties are already causing great pressure on our farmers. It is sad to hear even our young people ask if there is any future in farming when the industry has such a central place in rural society.
“We must show confidence in our rural communities and as a church we are called to do so from Sunday to Sunday, but also on a daily basis, while serving, like our Lord, in homes, outdoors, in the fields, an in all weather. ”
It’s always a pleasure to talk with Eileen. There is no way to avoid her enthusiasm to see Christians contributing to life in our rural areas by serving both the churches and their communities in various ways. We pray that she will bring the same enthusiasm to her ministry as archdeacon.