My first year of parish visits in the footsteps of St David is at an end. Time to reflect on the final steps on this first part of the journey:
It is always good at the end of a winter’s day to get in out of the cold and the wet – and it was cold and wet that day – and to stand or sit beside a roaring fire. That was my experience at the end of the last sequence of visits this year. And very good it was too.
It may surprise you but that happened to me inside a church. Ysbyty Ystwyth whose mediaeval church has been restored for use, following the abandonment of the now over large Victorian church, has a working fireplace — and it works very well indeed – and keeps the congregation, the officiant – and, on this occasion, the bishop – warm and comfortable.
It is the first church I have come out of in the winter seeking cooler air! But it was absolutely right and it was so good to be part of that small devoted worshipping community.
The day itself had involved visits to several church buildings: a very large mediaeval church; a former estate church of which my father was once vicar; a small church on the very edge of the diocese which has several Early Christian monuments within it;
An equally small church crammed with Christmas trees placed there by so many different communities and organisations and other churches within the wider local community; another former estate church which was magnificently restored by WD Caroe after a disastrous fire in 1932: it is to my mind his masterpiece; and I am certainly envious of its large and airy vestry
The Eucharist there, was followed by a cawl lunch in the little hall, centre of much community activity. And all of this – buildings, community and landscape – brought to vibrant life by the various congregations, small in number but still focussed, still engaged, and through their loyalty to their particular church proclaiming the love of God and the care of Jesus Christ for their neighbour
Such a day is so characteristic of this diocese and its parishes and its congregations. I could write the same about any one of the eight groups of parishes which I have visited since my last blog.
I have been in each of the three archdeaconries and each of the three counties, four indeed at the eastern edge which make up this large diocese.
I have seen breathtaking views of the Tywi valley; glimpses of the sea in Ceredigion as I looked out from a cawl lunch in the local golf club who also provided a room for a Q and A session with the ministry team and wardens; and experienced a Pembrokeshire tourist destination out of season — it was at one of the parishes attached to the latter that I consecrated a piece of land in the wind and pouring rain.
I have been to schools both very large and very small — it is not only rural churches which are very small — I have been to schools in each in the three archdeaconries, both county and church schools, and explained what a bishop is and does, wearing my cope and mitre as a visual aid. More important, is when the children ask me about my work as a bishop; and searching indeed are the questions.
Equally searching and equally welcome are the vigorous question and answer sessions whether in Welsh over coffee and biscuits in one very small church or in English and in a much larger mediaeval building over a bring and share lunch.
They are usually to do with the future and with the way the diocese envisages the future and the strategic way ahead. I find these very useful since I can engage directly with people’s hopes and fears.
I have been humbled and heartened with the serious and engaged way all the churches and congregations, many of them very small indeed are approaching the future in hope and a determination to be there reaching out in service and mission and ministry for as long as possible
I have been invited to watch a training session for a circus which regularly uses one of our church halls and is an outstanding example of outreach to the young people in a post industrial community in the eastern edge of the diocese;
to think of a name for a sheep;
and I have visited church sites where the building has been long abandoned but retains that indefinable sense of the numinous.
I have experienced the high quality of the art and architecture of the fittings of so many of our churches, especially windows and mural decoration of so many of our churches: they are treasure houses not only of devotion but of the arts.
Above all, however, what has impressed me as I have been around the eighty two churches I have visited since February – and remember there is also the round of confirmations and dedications/rededications; the committees and the conferences which fall to a bishop’s lot: that still goes on as well as being available to those who wish to see the bishop – what has impressed me is not only the fidelity and loyalty of congregations but the devotion and loyalty of my colleagues in the ministry.
So much of what they do: the day in and day out pastoral care both to the worshipping and to the wider community; leading worship Sunday by Sunday; reaching out to those in any kind of need and being there for them. That never comes up on any one’s radar, but that is what we are about as a church and I want to recognise, acknowledge and affirm the role of those with whom I share ministry in this diocese and take this opportunity to wish them and the whole of the diocesan family, David’s Family, Teulu Dewi a Joyous Christmas and a Blessed New Year
Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd dda i chi gyd.