Blog 8:Communicating with Communities

It is only since I began this ­­series of visits — it  has now at the end of  March reached 69 visits and 257 churches — that I have really begun to appreciate just how large, far-flung and diverse this diocese is. The greater part of the population is located on the coastal fringe and it is clear that around three quarters of our churches are both rural and small.

That does not mean that they are any the less enthusiastic or up for change than their large and more urban counterparts. Nor does it mean, as I have discovered for myself, that the clergy who serve them are in any sense less focussed or enthusiastic than their urban colleagues.

It does, however, mean that resources, both human and material, are more thinly stretched, but that in turn implies the cooperation, collegiality and engagement with the wider community which I have seen working so effectively during the past several months, and is so vividly recorded in all its variety and communicated in the most recent number of Pobl Dewi.

PoblDewiPicturesAnd I want to emphasise once again how lucky we are in our Diocesan Communications Team in producing a paper of such quality – and the Diocesan Communications Officer accompanies me and takes such remarkable photographs which you see in the blog and Pobl Dewi. Moreover, as I go around the diocese I see the most recent copies at the back of the church. My thanks to the Area Deans who undertake this vital task of diocesan communication.

For communication is so vital in a large and scattered diocese of this size. Rurality makes communication paramount. The pictures taken during my Pilgrimage around the Diocese in the steps of St David in Pobl Dewi make that point implicitly, communicating to the diocese as a whole the range and vitality of what goes on within the congregations and parishes which I have visited since September.

I know that a visit from the Bishop means that everyone make a special effort – and no, I do not constantly smell fresh paint — and I take this opportunity of thanking everyone who has put so much time and effort into organizing each day and each visit.

YsgolMyfenyddGroup

It is, however clear that so much of what I see and experience is what happens regularly week in and week out, and I therefore want to pay tribute to the people and the clergy who make those links and nurture and maintain them between church and community.

Two particular elements strike me: the links forged between schools both church and community; and the care homes which I have visited and gained so much from my conversations with the residents.

CatchUpWhere communications are concerned, as an aside, I can, I think by now compile a map of this diocese showing where mobile phones simply do not work. In some places connectivity is non-existent — not just on the part of one service provider but several simultaneously. And as for Broadband do not get me started.

At base of course the most effective means of communication is one person having a face to face conversation with another, which is why I so value the encounters I have had with so many of you as I have walked in St David’s footsteps.

As we stand on the threshold of the Easter season, we are reminded of how important person to person communication is where the transmission of the Gospel is concerned. It began with the women at the tomb telling the other disciples, communicating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That is what spread the story; and such encounters continued to spread the story across and down the centuries; as they do today.

Pasg Llawen a Dedwydd i bob un ohonoch. A very Happy and Blessed Easter to all of you.

+Wyn Tyddewi                                                Maundy Thursday 2016.

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.

 MessyChurch1   SundaySchoolGame

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.

CapelDewiCake   LawrennyShop1

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.

PencaderGreenCentre   CaerfelinAssembly2
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.

AudreyEvans   BroPreseliTea
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.

StIshmaelsScones   CaffiBecaService
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.

Rebecca   PlasDwblDemo1

MynachlogDduCrafts5   PowerStationTour

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.

PotteryVisit2   CourtFarmTour1
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

6: Back to our roots

On the Thursday before St David’s Day, on my pilgrimage Yn Amsang Dewi Sant, In the Steps of St David, I found myself, if not at journey’s end, then in that part of the world which is most associated with our Patron saint.

Llanrhian   Mathry

I was in Dewisland itself, whose Welsh name is Pebydiog . It is the area of Wales most associated in legend with Dewi himself, the area, so it is said, where his earthly journey began in the sixth century. Granston Jordanston StNicholas

I was visiting the group of five ancient churches which has recently been constituted as the Benefice of North Dewisland. By the end of the day the total number of churches I had visited since the journey began just over a year ago was one hundred and eleven (out of three hundred and thirty); and I had been welcomed by the clergy and people at twenty seven benefices. This last sequence once again presented me with the sheer variety of churches and congregations in this diocese; and with the generally positive and hopeful attitudes of both clergy and people as they face the numerous and far reaching structural changes which affect both diocese and province at this juncture. Aberaeron Clergy

It took me from the Carmarthenshire estuary to the North Cardiganshire coast; from the eastern edge to post industrial Carmarthenshire; from substantial Victorian seaside churches to very small rural and quite isolated churches, one of which once produced thirteen clergy (their names are on the sanctuary panelling) including a bishop. This reminds us of how much the rest of the Church in Wales and Anglican churches far afield owe to North Cardiganshire as a nursery of the ordained ministry; and of how things have changed – the last name was dated 1939.

EnfysBookletCoshestonMeeting

The journey included a visit to Pembrokeshire and a newly established Local Ministry Area, which gave the opportunity to both people and clergy to tell me how it was all going. Then there were the projects reaching out to the community, especially the lonely; and a substantial number of those projects involve the use of church buildings refurbished to meet those particular needs as well as creating spaces for post service hospitality…

SchoolAssemblyPres2    College

…contact with schools, – both church and community, both English and Welsh medium – and with tertiary education: it is so good to know that clergy are making and sustaining links with the schools on their patch, both as governors an visitors.

NashShop  BegellyGardenAdit

There were visits to local employers, heritage sites, housebound parishioners, including some very alert nonagenarians and centenarians, and there was the worship in all its variety but in every case prepared with care and delivered with sensitivity.

CityBlessing2015    IMG_0721

And then having visited and enjoyed my visit to North Dewisland, on St David’s Day itself I found myself literally, or at least metaphorically and in imagination, treading in the steps of St David, as we made our way in procession from the well at St Non’s, his traditional birthplace, through the streets of the village city to the Square, on to the mediaeval Cross – it is me or do the steps up to the Cross get steeper every year? – for the blessing of the City and then down to the Cathedral through the Close for prayers at the Shrine. Procession I did indeed have the feeling, given that we were singing Baring Gould’s hymn, that we were ‘treading where the saints have trod’. I have the same feeling, as I continue my journey in Dewi’ footsteps around the diocese to churches which bear the names of so many of his contemporaries, the saints of the ancient British church. But that feeling is not confined to the past. I also feel, and know, that what I have seen and experienced in the last year, mans that I am walking alongside and in the footsteps of the saints of the present, who give life and grow hope to the communities in which they live; and whom they serve. Bendith y Garawys as bob un ohonoch + Wyn Tyddewi.

5: Finishing the First Phase

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:

YsbytyYstythIt 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.

LlanfihangelCreuddynExt   TrisantExt1

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;

YCTrees3   YCTrees2

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

HafodExt    YsgoldyGoch

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.

HayscastleView    GolfClubExt

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.

HistoryMural   Ceremony1Crop

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.

AssemblyBishop

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.

Tea   LunchMeeting
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;

Rhostie5

and I have visited church sites where the building has been long abandoned but retains that indefinable sense of the numinous.

HTPontargothiMurals1

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.

HafodRoof   StUrsulasWindow
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.

HouseGroup    LlanwnnwsGroup

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.

+Wyn Tyddewi

4: Reasons to be Grateful

4: REASONS TO BE GRATEFUL

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;
StClearsHeritageTrail

On the heritage trail in St Clears

  • 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!
CoracleDemoExt

In Carmarthen with the coracle fishermen

  • 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;
SundaySchool1

Sunday School in Borth

  • 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;

MeetingRoom  MeetingRoomInt

  • 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.

IMG_0083Often 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

Michaelmas 2014

Stage 3: Halfway House

I am now half way through the first sequence of visits around the diocese in the steps of St David.

I have visited eight of the sixteen parishes and groups which are served by the Area Deans themselves. That means that I have seen and visited, celebrated the Eucharist, said the Office and given addresses in around twenty five churches. More to the point, I have been able to talk to clerical colleagues, church officers and members of the congregations about where we are in our journey of Growing Hope for the Diocese.

I have much enjoyed these conversations because of the openness and honesty of what you have been saying to me: and not just about the unknown future but about the good things which are happening in your parishes now. And, likewise I hope that whatever answers I have given have been useful and of help to you as we move forward together into the future.

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I have also appreciated the splendid hospitality I have enjoyed, wherever I have visited — which has put a couple of inches around my waistline! Dewi Sant did not have this problem as he made his way around the diocese in his time: firstly because he lived only on bread, herbs and water; secondly because he walked; and thirdly because the diocese was somewhat larger in his day than it is in ours, so not only did it take him longer but he got the exercise!

Anyway, my journey so far, (by car) in his footsteps, has taken me from the far west of the diocese to the eastern border; from coastal and post industrial Pembrokeshire to the forests and hills of Carmarthenshire; to little market towns and tourist destinations; from ancient churches to tin tabernacles; to great mediaeval churches redolent with history; to tiny tranquil shrine churches in their ancient curvilinear churchyards in the depth of the countryside;

I keep saying it but it is so true: the sheer variety of this diocese is remarkable; as is the enthusiasm and dedication of congregations, large and small and rural and urban, populated and isolated.

ImageImageFor example — and there are so many examples I could use — I have been impressed by engagement with the community: the community garden in Brechfa impressed me (and yes the sunflowers have taken root), as did the community shop (and I did enjoy the selection of the wide variety of the goods on offer, so many of them locally sourced – in particular the local liquid on offer).

The tranImageImagequillity of the labyrinth at Llanfihangel Rhosycorn, complements the stillness of the interior of the building: and is an excellent model of how isolated country churches can play to their strengths and offer something which our rushed and busy world so much needs

Then there are the schools, both church and community; and I have been heartened both by the breadth and variety of the education on offer; the way that parishes value and share in the life of a school: and in that instance it makes no difference whether it is a church or community school; by the skill, imagination and dedication of the teachers, and by the sheer exuberance of the children, as I discovered at Neyland.

Image         Image

I was at assembly, dressed in cope and mitre and explaining my robes, when a small boy asked me whether I was embarrassed, ‘going around dressed like that’! I think I said yes and no: since other bishops also walked around looking like this.
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Neyland also brings to mind the outstanding art work of the Stations of the Cross produced by members of the congregations and the local community at St Clements, which is itself a building of architectural distinction; and the way that the mother church of Llanstadwell has developed an active musical programme which engages with the local community.

 

It was the music, as well as an excellently organised and engaging liturgy in a building which lends itself so well to it, which remains in my mind from the Deanery Eucharist in St Mary’s Newport at Pentecost. And as for buildings, the quiet dignity and spaciousness of Myddfai; the impressive rugged grandeur of Llanfair ar y Bryn and the sensitive and attractive way in which Llandingat has been adapted for community use and specifically for a ministry to mothers and children all remain in the mind and the memory.
I could go on —indeed I have gone on at inordinate length because there is so much good work going on in the diocese; and I have been privileged to see it and share it, if only for a short time. And this blog is also late in appearing because I have not had an opportunity to sit down and write it because of everything else going on in the Province and the Diocese at this time.
Preparations and dates for the second round of visits are already beginning to be put in hand and will start as soon as the current round of visits is finished.

Bendith

Wyn Tyddewi.