Tag Archives: Wales

16 November: The ruined chapel

ruined chapel

This derelict chapel is lost in the Herefordshire countryside. The church at nearby Richard’s Castle is no longer in regular use for worship. Has God abandoned the Marches (the Welsh/English border country) or have the Marches abandoned God?

It’s more complex than that. People have gone. Farm work is done mechanically; the railways that employed thousands have closed or greatly reduced the number of workers, and so on. But also people have indeed turned away from Sunday worship.

This chapel was built around 1810 by local people who responded to the Methodist Revival led by the Wesleys. They wanted to live the Christian life more fully and when they were cold-shouldered by the established Church of England, they erected chapels that look as much like dwelling places as churches. Other  groups were also building ‘dissenting’ chapels, like the Baptists and Congregationalists. One of my ancestors is believed to have ministered at Bethel Chapel in nearby Evenjobb, across the border in Wales.

It is a shame to see the building abandoned, the lawn gone to nettles, brambles, and buttercups – we can welcome the buttercups, but the others will soon be preventing people from entering. It is unloved. Perhaps no descendants of the worshippers live nearby, or they don’t know about the chapel, perhaps they don’t care.

So do we Christians pack up and go home? Or do we try to tune ourselves to Christ, live as he would do, in season or out of season?

In a final plug for Rowan WIlliams’s  Luminaries, a few words from his reflection on Archbishop Michael Ramsey.

You’re free to offer God’s love quite independently of your own security or success. Sometimes the world may be in tune and sometimes not; sometimes there is a real symbiosis, sometimes a violent collision. But the labour continues, simply because the rightness of the service does not depend on what the world thinks it wants and whether the world believes it has got what it needs from the Church. (p116).

 

 

 

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27 October, Month of Mission: Prayer of Blessing.

hands pray dove.JPG

My catechism told me that: ‘prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God.’ Short and sweet, but insufficient. This prayer from USPG, the Anglican missionary society, shows that we should raise all our being and the whole of creation to God – and let our prayer work within us to discern and carry out our mission of forgiveness and healing to all people, all creation. And as Saint Paul tells us, it is the Spirit that prays in us.

Blessed be God in the joy of creation.
Blessed be God in the sending of Jesus.
Blessed be God in the work of the Spirit.
Blessed be God in martyr and saint.
Blessed be God in the spread of the gospel
to every race
and every land.
Blessed be God in the church of our day
in its preaching and witness
and its treasures of grace.
Blessed be God who has called us to mission
who forgives and who heals
and is strength in our weakness.
USPG

Carving from Saint David’s Cathedral, Pembroke.

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23 September: Riding the rails

 

train.steaam. bettws

Now four years old, Abel was enchanted when he came to the miniature railway at Bettws-y-coed.* Since he was tiny, unable to walk or speak in words, his fascination with trains has been clear. He would lean in the direction of his local station when being pushed home in his pram, hoping to direct his mother thither.

Full sized trains go places and can be sorted by colour and shape, but they are formidably big. One day a train that grandfather cannot sit upright in turned out to be the right size for Abel. Most of the elements of a railway were in evidence: rails, steam and diesel locos, signals, points, level crossings and bells. Abel felt aggrieved when the signal was red as he passed it, but relaxed when he observed the next light change from green to red as the locomotive pulled the carriages by. I can remember my father explaining this very phenomenon to me on the approach to Birmingham New Street!

Abel was quite right to be concerned. Partly because he likes things to be correct, but also he is aware of the dangers of level crossings and other parts of the railway. His toy trains often crash and rescue services swiftly descend upon the scene.

Despite the inherent dangers, a well-run railway is safe; disciplined staff know their jobs and do them well, thoughtfully rather than mechanically.

A disciplined life is open to the grace that gets us through many dangers, toils and snares, and grace will lead us safely home.  All Aboard!

*http://www.conwyrailwaymuseum.co.uk/

 

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September 20: Guests of the house.

footwash

I took advantage of a family holiday in North Wales to read ‘The Summer of the Danes’ by Ellis Peters in the area where the action takes place. Here Brothers Cadfael and Mark arrive at Saint Asaph to be greeted and shown to a room.

‘I’ll send someone with water,’ said their guide … and he was gone.

‘Water?’ said Mark, pondering this first and apparently essential courtesy. ‘Is that by way of taking salt, here in Wales?’

‘No, lad. A people that goes mostly afoot knows the value of feet and the dust and aches of travel. They bring water for us to bathe our feet. It is a graceful way of asking: Are you meaning to bide overnight? If we refuse it, we intend only a brief visit in courtesy. If we accept it, we are guests of the house from that moment.’

Helleth, who comes to do this service, is almost the only woman but a central character in the story of power and piracy, secular and ecclesiastical. Ellis Peters uses 13th Century Wales to explore the role of women in society, love and marriage; war- and peace-making; marriage of the clergy; feudal authority and loyalty; and Welsh identity, all within a page-turning mystery. As so often the book is better than the TV programme. You’ll find it for sale on-line.

The Welsh did not initiate this rite, of course, but I believe it was a Welshman, Archbishop Rowan Williams, who reintroduced the Maundy Thursday ceremony to Canterbury Cathedral. You can read about a participant’s experience of the washing of feet in Canterbury here. and about an updated response to this tradition here. This is Rev Jo Richards’ reflection on Holy Week. This reflection links the Station of Veronica to Jesus washing Peter’s feet.

One evening on holiday I ended up giving Abel a bit more than a foot wash after he slipped on slimy mud at the seashore, a service gladly given! There are many such little occasions to provide for each others needs.

 

 

 

 

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24 May. Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX, IV. Walking around Wales: a book review. (Relics XVI)

Before any planning for our walk, I read a book about pilgrimage. Anne Hayward’s A Pilgrimage Around Wales is subtitled in search of a significant conversation.1 Mrs Hayward set herself to have a significant conversation each day of her walk. In his foreword the Archbishop of Wales points out that the significant conversation can be a silent exchange with the people who made the place holy. He recalls a visit to Saint Peter’s in Rome, and being taken down to the niche holding the relics – beyond reasonable doubt those of the fisherman himself. ‘The presence of the Apostle, the witness of the Apostle, the courage of the Apostle, the love of the Apostle for the Lord, and much, much more were all around in an unspoken conversation.’(p7)

Measuring the significance of a conversation is surely impossible. Significant to me, or to the Other? At the end of her three months’ tramp, Mrs Hayward counted up more than 150 names of people she had such conversations with. That is not counting the conversations Archbishop Davies points us to, in the stones and windows of the churches she visited. (I wish she had identified some of the places, to let others find them.) She travelled alone, camping most nights; we will be in a group, with maybe 60 or 70 people walking anything from 100 metres to the full distance. A few people may camp out once or twice.

Tyndale the terrier will walk rather more than the rest of us. He may hold significant conversations with other dogs who leave messages for him, or who pick up his trail marks. We will hold conversations with each other, in words, in linked arms, or held hands, or a shared mint.

Mrs Hayward had conversations with bereaved people, worried mothers, campsite wardens, young hikers and churchwardens, among many others. We can expect significant conversations with the Lord that Peter loved, in song, in silence, in weariness, in landscape and seascape, in sky, tree, river and road. Even a ‘thank you’ to a bus driver may feel very significant at the end of a long walk!

She had but herself to consider when planning her walks, her rests, her meals, we must bear in mind the needs of all our walkers and riders in wheelchairs, buses, cars or trains. Different pilgrimages. Whether you want to walk around Wales or make for Rome or Canterbury, God speed! And any day’s journey can be a pilgrimage, if you remember to pray, ‘Stay with us, Lord.’ Anne Hayward’s book could help a would-be pilgrim to be clearer about the journey. A very human book, and a book for the armchair pilgrim as well as the footsore one. More about ours soon.

1Anne Hayward, A Pilgrimage Around Wales: in search of a significant conversation, Y Lolfa, Talybont, 2018.

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3 March: Margaret’s Story – as shared by L’Arche Flintshire.

‘I’ve been a part of the Community in Flintshire for a long time. For the last few years I have represented Flintshire on the L’Arche National Speaking Council. This means that occasionally I get to go off to meet up with other Communities and report back what I find out to the group here in Flintshire. 

Two years ago I went to Belgium on an inclusion course and performed a short presentation. From that I got to go to Belfast for the international [L’Arche] gathering. I came up with a workshop for about twelve people. [They were] all my ideas. We played ‘we’re going on a bear hunt’ but instead it was ‘we’re going on a house hunt’ and it was about all the places I’ve been to with L’Arche.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to meet and know people from the other Communities. I’ve had lots of invitations from people to come and visit– I haven’t managed to go to them all yet, but I’m hoping to. I love L’Arche.

Before L’Arche I was very quiet, although I bet everyone would probably disagree. It’s given me a lot of confidence in myself. I’m a different person. It’s helped me through so much.

L’Arche gives us a chance to feel part of a community. We help each other to grow. We are a friendly group. If we have any sadness or any happiness we all stick together as one. We just lost one of our core members, but everybody is sticking together. We all brought each other up from that.

L’Arche offers the world an awful lot of things. With Jean Vanier doing what he did – just taking two people into his home and from then all of a sudden you go from one Community to 135. It’s a brilliant worldwide thing that we are all in one boat. It doesn’t matter where we come from. We are all one in the boat.’

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January 13: Christ’s interest.

dawn

Mrs Turnstone delights in the fact that on this day, the light of the Sun is first seen in Greenland, the first sign of Spring in the North. When Hopkins lived in North Wales there were no street lights, and anyone moving after nightfall needed a lantern. At least there was peace, and ‘who goes there?’ need not have been spoken in fear.

I am blest that she who goes there is indeed rare, and that ‘Christ minds’ her and me and you, dear reader.

The Lantern Out of Doors by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: , what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

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December 15: Once we realised our mistakes…

aberdaron.children.digging

Professor Kate Bulinski is a paeleontologist at Bellarmine University in America. I wanted to share her guest blog at the Vatican Observatory website, as it challenges us to face up to our responsibilities to observe God’s Creation and our part in it – and to start to restore, renew and revive what we have unwittingly damaged. Here is a short sample from her post. Click on her name above to read it in full. A good Advent read. Let’s pray for the enthusiasm to carry on despite the odds, like these children, digging at Aberdaron beach, despite the rain.

MMB

I sometimes ask my students to contemplate what the fossil record of the 21st century would look like. Would we have layers of sediment embedded with plastic debris and electronic waste? … What would future humans (or our evolutionary descendants!) have to say about this era of Earth history? And perhaps more importantly, what would God say about how we responded to the charge to care for creation and how we responded once we realized the mistakes we were making?

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25 August: At this table: Shared table XXIII.

shared.table.porthamel1.jpg

A meal in the garden in the company of friends is a great blessing, one Mrs T and I shared recently in Wales. Good local food well cooked. Our friend’s granddaughter has a chef for a brother and she seems to share his love for cooking – one passed down the generations!

There was talk of the brother as well, of course, of cabbages and kings. The lad takes a pride in his work, to the extent that he has persuaded his bosses to buy butcher’s meat and fresh fruit and vegetables so that he could prepare better meals at no extra cost. He is feeding young people on activity holidays.

‘And now, instead of frozen, ground down whatever and jars of sauce, they have spaghetti Bolognese with proper, lean minced beef and sauce from scratch.’

…….

I hope you enjoy a few outdoor meals this summer, and that the cooks enjoy them as well as the diners. The next day was bread and cheese for just the two of us, halfway up a hill in Herefordshire, near Saint John Kemble’s home. That was enjoyable too: we’d walked up an appetite!

…….

Conversation and a meal go hand in hand, It’s not difficult to see why many Christian Churches, like us Catholics, have the Last Supper as the centre – or source and summit – of worship, as it was the source and summit of John Kemble’s life. Time to listen to God and address our prayers to him, as well as to receive Communion. May our week’s activities work up an appetite for his Table.

WT

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22 August: Relics XIII, His last pint and pipe.

claypipe.jpg

Fragments of clay pipes often turn up when digging in England and Wales. Trevor, the old gardener I worked with in Wales, told me how they were sold at low prices, or even given away, by pubs to valued customers, which explained a cache in one corner of the churchyard we were restoring. The drinkers at The Three Salmons snapped their old pipes and threw them over the wall, where I found them many years later. This one is from Canterbury; a little unusual with its laurel leaf decoration. It set me thinking of John Kemble, the Martyr of the Marches.

Herefordshire is a long way from London, and the local gentry often turned a blind eye to the work of Catholic priests, even when they were officially deemed traitors. And in all honesty who would organise an invasion or coup d’etat from such a rural inland area?

John Kemble himself was from a landed family that was largely Catholic. He was ordained in France in 1625 and returned to work in his home area either side of the Anglo-Welsh border. For more than fifty years he travelled around Hereford and Monmouth ministering to the local Catholics and keeping a low profile until he was accused of being part of a non-existent Popish Plot to overthrow King Charles II in favour of his Catholic brother, James Duke of York.

This time the magistrates had to arrest him and despatch him to London where he was cleared of the plot but still found guilty of treason and sent back to Hereford to be hung drawn and quartered.

On 22 August 1679 he sat down with the executioner and bystanders for a last pipe and pint before his death, comforting his executioner:  “Honest Anthony, my friend Anthony, be not afraid; do thy office. I forgive thee with all my heart. Thou wilt do me a greater kindness than discourtesy.”

So, although this 3cm of clay pipe is really no sort of relic at all of Saint John Kemble, it brings him to mind: his half century of dedicated ministry and his courage and care for others at the time of his death. And I’m counting it as a relic for the blog!

MMB

 

 

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