The journey, or this stage of it, at least, has come to an end. The next stage awaits. It has been an immense privilege not only to have been the Bishop of this Diocese for almost eight years but also to have served as Dean of St Davids for fourteen years previously; to have served twelve years prior to that Trinity College Carmarthen; and to have served forty five years as Deacon and Priest since in this Diocese since 1971.
I want to thank everyone with whom I have served in ministry: colleagues on the DBF and all the other committees upon which I have served, but above all I am grateful to all the parishes and people where I have ministered; not least that congregation of congregations, the Diocese of St Davids itself.
And that other journey, the one in St Davids Footsteps, y daith yn Amsang Dewi Sant, has also reached its end.
It has taken meticulous organisation and preparation by my two successive Chaplains, Archdeacon Dennis and Canon Paul to have got off the ground in the first place; to have reached the various destinations in the second, — and I now have a fine appreciation of both the remoteness and the far flung nature of some of the communities, parishes and churches in the Diocese; and thirdly to have come to a successful and rousing conclusion at the Cathedral at Michaelmas. My heartfelt thanks go to them and for their loyal, patient and unstinting service to their bishop, along with their navigational skills over the length and breadth of this enormous diocese.
Equally worthy of praise and gratitude are the clergy and congregations of this diocese for responding so positively and imaginatively to my intention of visiting them in this three year rolling visitation. They did indeed ask me to come and see; and to go and tell. I have, as I make sure that everyone who asks gets to know, I have been immensely heartened by what I have seen and heard: by the devotion and loyalty to church and to people; the sense of mission and ministry and service; the readiness to change in the face of the challenge of a moving church landscape and change in society.
It is indeed continuity and change which have impressed me. There is the way that continuity of worship and service to the community still characterises our churches and congregations as they have for decades and centuries. There is, side by side with that, the awareness that continuity cannot continue without change; and so many churches and congregations have taken that on board in terms of adaptation and accessibility of buildings; in terms of creating new and imaginative opportunities in worship; in terms of welcoming and fostering the ministry and contribution of young people — and also those of riper years — we are indeed an all age church; and finally the sense that church and the experience of being and doing church is to be enjoyed.
The pictures which David Hammond-Williams has taken, and may I thank him for his immense contribution to this journey— not least in that he, together with my Chaplains had to listen to my Charge 90 times, both the pictures which he has taken and the rolling video which he put together for the Diocesan Conference, make that point eloquently and colourfully.
The last stages of the journey, — and I will take more time than usual to describe them , for they are the last parishes for me to have visited in St Davids’s Footsteps — took me, via Laugharne, Pendine and Llansadwrnen, Bletherston, Uzmaston and Llawhaden to Dewisland, the very part of the world most associated with Dewi himself. This was the landscape associated with his birth, ministry, religious life, death and continued afterlife thorough his shrine and cult at St Davids.
On the way there, I was privileged to visit the Portreeve of Laugharne and Hall which is home of the immensely interesting, and immensely flourishing survival which is the Court Leet and Court Baron of the township; having begun the day at Assembly in the Church School at Laugharne; then met the congregation at St Martin’s where I celebrated the sacred mysteries — and having been able to preside at the Eucharist at so many churches in the diocese has itself been immensely moving. That was followed by a remarkable community lunch at Llanmiloe, which was itself succeeded by an even more remarkable experience, that of World War I trenches at Morfa Bay Adventure Pendine. It is one of the most evocatively authentic educational experiences of its kind which I have ever been to; and I would commend it.
Just above the beach at Pendine, scene of her triumph and disaster in a new purpose built facility, Babs was home —temporarily. This highly evocative symbol of speed, pared down and brutal, has a palpable presence; and we were fortunate to see it, and hence think about her driver John Parry Thomas who in 1927 lost his life in Babs in an attempt on the Land Speed record. Babs was recovered from her burial place in the sand dunes by Owen Wyn Owen in 1969, and rebuilt by him.
The day ended as it has at all the visits with a simple said Evening Prayer at Llansadwrnen church, into which, as indeed with so many of the other churches I had not hitherto been until this series of visits.
Likewise, the day ended thus on the penultimate visit: with Evening Prayer at Llawhaden church dedicated to Aeddan / Maiddog, a companion of Dewi’s which nestles by the Cleddau, just below the former Bishop’s Castle, which even in ruin is more impressive than the modern Llys Esgob in Abergwili.
Even the torrential rain did not derogate from the experience of a site which developed over the centuries culminating in that dominant gatehouse. That day had begun at Bletherston,, which, although I had been the Rector of the neighbouring parish, I had not only not entered but had no real idea where it was. It has a surprisingly spacious feel enclosed within a deceptively small building; and although closed at present, it has not been made redundant: its former congregation are exploring future possibilities.
After visiting Miss Nan Warlow at home, whom many of you will remember in connexion with the Mother’s Union and the Young Farmer’s Movement, it was on to Uzmaston for the Eucharist and splendid lunch at the Church Hall. It was also an opportunity to visit the grave of Bishop Ivor Rees, who had appointed me to the Deanery of St Davids in 1994.
The final visit fittingly was to Dewisland itself. The Rectorial Benefice of Dewisland, where the story of St David and St Davids all started, saw the end of the pilgrimage, equally aptly on 29th September, the Feast of SS Michael and All Angels: aptly because every major event before during and at the end of Dewi’s life was punctuated by angelic presence and monition.
During the day, I was privileged to visit Solva School and Ysgol Dewi Sant and to speak to staff and pupils; to celebrate the sacred mysteries at Llanhywel, and Diane and I and the congregation enjoyed the splendid hospitality of Mrs Mair Richards at Ty Howel; and then to visit the equally splendid facilities in the recently created bunkhouse accommodation at Carnwchwrn with Mr and Mrs Robert Griffiths.
The journey came to an end at Choral Evensong on Michaelmas; the episcopal ministry came to end, on the following Tuesday, the Feast of St Francis, where I was mightily relieved to hand back the Diocesan Crozier and the Diocesan Cope and Mitre, all of which are unconscionably heavy. Indeed so heavy is the crozier which has always towered over me, that a few years ago I asked his granddaughter how tall had been Bishop Basil Jones for whom the crozier had been made. She said he had been five feet and five inches tall. I felt somewhat better then, for I am five feet four and a half inches tall —so it towered over him too! But they were laid on the Cathedral High Altar to be picked up by my successor the 129th Bishop of St Davids to whom I wish every blessing and success.
Diolch o galon i bob un ohonoch am eich dymuniadau da i Diane a minnau; thank you all so much for your cards, gifts and good wishes for the future to Diane and myself .
This is the final despatch from the journey – watch our slideshow featuring some of the many highlights: