Received from the CVSC (Community and Voluntary Support Conwy) email.
Cylchredwyd ar ran/Circulated on behalf of Link International
I am writing to you in regard to the coordinated work that is being developed throughout North Wales as Ukrainian families arrive in this area. Link International is working with local authorities under the leadership of Flintshire’s Resettlement Officer and in collaboration with other statutory agencies, Welsh Government, and to bring together community and faith groups and third sector organisations.
It is vital that throughout North Wales the community works together to share knowledge and experience as we create a welcoming environment for our Ukrainian guests.
The vision statement for the project states that we are working together:
‘To create a better everyday life for the many people from Ukraine who are settled in North Wales by mobilising the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.’
There is a very significant role for non-statutory groups to play in this work.
Please find a link below for information on how to be involved as we bring together all those who are working on this important initiative, those who would like information and to support the going work. There is so much that needs to be done from hosting to providing essential items, support with language, education, health, activities for children etc.
The event will take place on zoom on April 25th at 10.30am and registration is required through eventbrite.
We have our technology back at St David’s but we are still a little wary so, this Sunday, we will be recording the service then, if it works OK, we will be putting it on our streaming channel, which you can find here.
Our final session looks at the last of the medieval cathedrals of Wales – St David’s.
Has anyone visited St David’s? Why?
I had visited several times before, once when I came to the area as a student and once with Mark when we were first married.
St David’s is a small town (or rather, city) right at the end of the Pembrokeshire peninsula, surrounded by the fascinating and strange Preseli Hills.
The cathedral sits on the slope as you head down towards the sea from the town, nested in against the bank of the slope but flowing down with the slope itself. It sits next to (too close to) the fast flowing River Alun.
This is how the cathedral describes itself on its “Explore St David’s Cathedral” leaflet:
St David’s Cathedral is set on a spectacular Pembrokeshire peninsula upon the site of an earlier sixth-century monastery built by St David, the patron saint of Wales. This place has been a place of pilgrimage and worship for more than 800 years.
St David is often remembered for teaching his followers: “Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things.”
Today this splendid Cathedral erected to the glory of God remains a vibrant, living church offering a place of peace for prayer and devotion.
Short and to the point, isn’t it? But else do you need to say? This place has been here for a long time, we’re not planning on going away any time soon, in fact never. We know what we’re here for, to glorify God, and we are doing it, just as St David and many others have done before us.
Also, this short introduction to the cathedral gives us our theological theme for today. “Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things.” It’s a wonderful pithy thing to learn and remember, to hold close when things get confusing and complicated as they so often do in life. “Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things.” We should all learn it and have it close at hand in times of need.
What do you think is meant by “the little things”?
As I go through the things Mark and I visited now, see how that basic theme runs throughout it all.
Mark and I took the whole weekend in the area. We’d booked into a little self-catering place and by the time we’d found the food shop and settled into our temporary home it was getting a bit late. Darkness had descended and we had to move fast if we were going to get to Friday evensong. When we got to St David’s we couldn’t see well enough to work out the best place to park so we parked where we could in the town and then found a path leading down through the darkness to the cathedral, which was bathed in light. We rushed into the cathedral and there was no one to be seen. Had we got it wrong somehow? And yet the church was open. We spotted a sign directing us to the quire and we dashed round just in time for the start of the service.
It was packed… There were four of us in the congregation, not including the choir and the presider. But, actually, it did feel full. Unlike Brecon, where the choir had been in the quire and we had been in the nave, this time we were right inside the holy of holies with the choir. They were a matter of a few feet away.
Being so close was wonderful. The beautiful sound created by being so close to the singing and the sight of the choir’s obvious effort to sing well was a joy to be part of. The presider spoke with simplicity and clarity about simple things. She also thanked one of the main choir men who was leaving the following day to go to America. The whole thing was intimate and lovely. I felt held in the presence of God. It was so simple after all – it was just little things like being included and feeling safe. That was all that was needed to make it meaningful.
“Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things.”
The next day we went back to have a look at the cathedral as visitors rather than worshippers. It’s well worth going.
St David’s shrine was destroyed in the Reformation. It was restored in 2012. The words of the bishop who unveiled it are interesting. “Let us pray that today will mark the start of our great mission to turn visitors into pilgrims.” That’s a great aim, isn’t it, for any church that welcomes visitors?
After Mark and I had finished at the cathedral we went off to our next site. We’d done all the cathedrals, so what else might we be wanting to see? Other sacred sites, of course, even older, much much older…
As some of you will know, Mark and I have a particular interest in landscape history, history and pre-history that anyone can see on the landscape, if they have the eyes and understanding.
First of all we went to Castell Henllys Iron Age Village. They have reconstructed several round houses on the site of original ones from the Iron Age.
When was the Iron Age? From about 750BC to the coming of the Romans in 43AD.
There is no particular sacred spot in the village, no church, no monument or anything. But we met one of the creators sitting by a house fire dressed in period costume and explaining the roles of the different people in the village society. He talked of two key people – the warrior, who fought and protected the village, and the story-teller, the story-keeper, the one who told and retold stories of the ancestors and sacred stories of the gods – a priest in other words.
One of the things that most concerns me about the state of Christianity in our country is that more and more people have become disconnected from such stories, from the stories of the faith that connect them back to the ones who have gone before them. Many people in our country have no connection to these stories any more, no connection to any big picture story any more. Or to use the technical term, our society has lost its faith in meta-narratives. Increasingly, people are making their own personal story, the only connection with others often being in a comparative and competitive sense based on colour, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation. These things matter of course but they can pull society apart rather than draw us together. Only the faith meta-narrative draws us together at a level higher than these differences. “In Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26,28)
Well, whatever is happening in our country with regard to the state of our faith, we need to stand firm and keep focussed.
“Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things.”
That’s all we can do. That’s all we need to do.
After our trip to the Iron Age village we went on to search out something even older. Anyone any idea what it is? It’s very famous – if you’re into prehistoric stuff, of course.
CADW website: Pentre Ifan takes us back to Neolithic (New Stone Age, 10,000-4,500 BC) times, when our ancestors buried their dead in tombs such as this. What we see before us today are the bare bones of a burial chamber that would originally have been covered with an earthen mound. The giant 16½ft/5m ‘capstone’ appears to be precariously balanced on three ‘uprights’, though it has remained in place for over 5,000 years.
Pentre Ifan’s sense of mystery is heightened by its surroundings and backdrop. Its outline neatly frames the Preseli Hills towering above.
This really is an ancient sacred site, thousands and thousands of years old. People buried their dead here, accompanied no doubt by rituals and memorial gatherings. It may feel very alien to us but, really, don’t we do exactly the same? There is something very human about wanting to bury our dead with dignity and with meaning and then to return again and again to what has become a special place, infused with meaning for us.
I love visiting such places. It connects me to my ancient ancestor, not only through being at and touching the stones themselves and wondering how they managed to build such amazing monuments, but also because I feel I have some mental and emotional connection with them as I stand there gazing out, seeing what they saw and why it was important to them.
“Do the little things” because, often, the little things like funerals and other family rites of passage, are actually the big things that hold us together and hold us to God. Rituals matter.
Finally, we went to Stonehenge. Yes, honestly. I know you think it is hundreds of miles away from St David’s, over on Salisbury Plain but, actually, it is in the Preseli Hills. Does anyone understand what I am talking about?
The discovery of a dismantled stone circle—close to Stonehenge’s bluestone quarries in west Wales—raises the possibility that a 900-year-old legend about Stonehenge being built from an earlier stone circle contains a grain of truth. Radiocarbon and OSL dating of Waun Mawn indicate construction c. 3000 BC, shortly before the initial construction of Stonehenge. The identical diameters of Waun Mawn and the enclosing ditch of Stonehenge, and their orientations on the midsummer solstice sunrise, suggest that at least part of the Waun Mawn circle was brought from west Wales to Salisbury Plain. This interpretation complements recent isotope work that supports a hypothesis of migration of both people and animals from Wales to Stonehenge.
There is a good programme about this with Alice Roberts on the BBC. I think it’s on again next Wednesday BBC Four 8pm, Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed. There’s also a good write-up about it here.
The archaeologists excavated in 2017 and 2018 and Mark and I were able to find clear evidence of where they had done so, showing exactly where they found the missing stones.
But why were a few left behind?
Maybe each stone had a meaning specific to a family and that family had died out or decided not to make the migration to Salisbury Plain. Who knows? But one thing is clear, those stones were important to the people who took them with them – so important they were prepared to drag them 200 miles to their new home.
They are just stones, but the stories, the meaning attached to them, made them important, sacred.
Seemingly little unimportant things can actually be big things full of meaning.
Mark and I headed back to base after our investigations at Waun Mawn. We thought we had finished for the day but God had other ideas.
We breasted a rise on the road as it reached the sea and were given an amazing sight – the whole of Newgale beach laid out before us with its pebble bank which goes across the whole bay. The sun was about to set and it was a magnificent sight. We made as sudden decision to stop at the car park and get out to watch. We were not the only ones – the pebble bank was scattered with people all staring out to sea and watching – not chatting or running around – just standing in silence and watching. The only sound was the waves lapping against the shore. And when the sun finally disappeared, it was as if a signal had been given and everyone simply turned and walked away. The whole thing was amazing, a truly shared sacred moment.
Why was this so special, perhaps the most sacred moment of the whole sabbatical? Sunsets happen every day, after all. And there are plenty of beaches.
I’m not exactly sure but it was something to do with that particular moment in that particular place on that particular day that made it special, silent yet knowingly sharing the experience with all those other people.
Such a little thing, yet so special, so joyful.
“Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things.”
That’s what we need, all we need, to be at one with God and with one another.
This hymn provides a perfect conclusion to what I am trying to share with you:
Has anyone visited Llandaff or its cathedral? Why?
I had visited several times before, once when I first came to Wales when I attended a Welcome to Wales course for ministers and another timer when Mark and I visited Cardiff.
Llandaff is “village” on the way north out of Cardiff. The village itself is on a little road off the main road and heads along some shops to a green and the ruined bishop’s palace, then down a steep hill to the cathedral. The cathedral nests close to the side of the hill which forms the edge of the River Taff floodplain.
This is how the cathedral describes its history on its website:
“Lord you have been our refuge throughout all generations”(Ps.90:1)
There has been a Christian presence on this site from the time of Saint Teilo in the sixth century. The present building dates from the Norman period, around 1120, under Urban, bishop from 1107 to 1134, a Welshman. It was extended in the early thirteenth century, with further additions and modifications in the later Middle Ages.
The Cathedral has undergone three major upheavals and restorations. In the eighteenth century, when the nave was roofless, the architect, John Wood of Bath, built a ‘temple’ style church in the choir and part of the nave. Wood’s building was swept away in the Victorian restoration which commenced in the 1840s, under John Prichard and John Pollard Seddon, culminating with the south-west tower in 1867-69.
The devastation of the Cathedral on 2 January 1941 caused by the explosion of a German landmine outside the south aisle was addressed in the 1950s under the architect, George Pace, with a repaired and refurbished Cathedral and the addition of the St David, or Welch Regiment, Chapel.
I wonder how many of Ukraine’s churches look like this right now?
After the restoration after the war, an additional piece of architecture was installed, the Majestas, a large very contemporary piece housing part of the organ and with Christ raised up above the congregation looking out to the world beyond through the clear windows (many of the stained glass windows were replaced with clear ones.
Mark and I arrived at Llandaff on the Saturday evening, after our failed attempt to get into Newport. We were booked in to a gastro pub type place in Llandaff itself and had our evening meal there before heading down to the cathedral to check it out. It was beautifully floodlit and walking around it felt safe and very calming. Staring up at the floodlit steeple towering high above us was quite an experience.
The next morning we went to Sunday worship, not to the Parish Eucharist, which is focussed on families, but to Choral Eucharist which, of course, has a choir.
We had a lovely time. We were made welcome, felt included in the congregation (which was quite big) and enjoyed the service. There were covid regulations to consider, of course, but it was all done simply and without complication. There were people of all ages there, people with disabilities had been included with careful consideration, there were people in posh coats and high heels and others in jeans and trainers.
It was a special day because two choir boys who were being made Dean’s scholars. That included some quite solemn and serious words and promises but, at the same time, it was all done with a certain informality or, perhaps I should say, intimacy. It felt real. And the proud families were there in force.
All in all, it was a good experience. We felt included and comfortable. We felt at home. We felt part of the gathering.
Theological theme: Gatherings
The previous evening, as I said, we had dinner at the gastro pub. At the time, there were still plenty of rules in Wales about how many could sit and dine together in a pub. The rules about social distancing had gone and masks did not need to be worn in hospitality venues but, apart from that, most rules were still in place.
When we went down to dinner the pub was packed, really packed. We were stashed on a table near the door, which meant we were near the constant queue of people trying to get in, some of whom were being turned away because they hadn’t booked or because there wasn’t room. One set of six people on a table next to us saw another couple they knew and invited them over to sit with them. But, of course, the rule at the time was six only at a table. The pub manager came over and politely asked the couple to move. But, rather than do that with grace, they made complaints and said loudly that they were never coming in the place again… Not fair, at all. After all, the manager was only trying to follow the law, which they were breaking.
Mark and I HATED it – the unnecessary nastiness of that couple, the packed room, the queue of people being turned away, the general chaos. It felt threatening. We ate our meal as quickly as we could and set out down to the cathedral where, as I’ve already said, peace and clam descended and all was well.
Not all gatherings are positive experiences, are they? And gatherings of all forms were banned, against the law, for an extended period of time in the last two years. Who would have thought such a thing was possible?
Have you got any examples of good or bad gatherings from your own experience?
What about examples from the Bible, perhaps specifically Jesus’ ministry?
Lovely intimate parties, e.g. the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) which was the gospel reading at Llandaff when we were there. The other New Testament reading, by the way, was about spiritual gifts . “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:1-11), for the group, the gathering.
Sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:1. Look how Jesus has such a good understanding of gatherings and crowds, such a good way of handling them. He sees the crowd, realises it will be difficult to try to talk to them all in the intimate style he wants so instead, he gathers his disciples around him and talks to them, with the crowd listening in. Elsewhere he moves on in order to avoid a crowd that is too big to speak to safely, Matthew 8:18. In another place, he gets into a boat and stays just offshore so he can address the crowd safely and so he can be heard by everyone, Luke 5:1-3.
We tend to miss these little details because we focus on the teaching rather than the scene. But the scene tells us so much about Jesus and his approach to gatherings and crowds. Next time you read or hear one of these teaching or miracle accounts, try to visualise the scene described and you will see how clever Jesus is and how well he manages the crowds.
He wants to teach them, he wants them to hear, listen and learn, but he wants to do it safely and with appropriate focus. He doesn’t want anyone to be harmed or unable to hear. He wants to reach his audience, connect with his audience. He made these encounters positive experiences, learning experiences.
But not all gatherings are positive ones.
Can you think of examples of frightening gatherings from Jesus’ ministry?
The woman caught in adultery is a fantastic example of Jesus’ ability to handle even a hostile crowd. John 8:1-11. Gosh, I wish I had such presence of mind to be able to handle that sort of situation! What wisdom Jesus has, what discernment of the minds of all the people involved.
But, now, think of the crowd on Palm Sunday, Mark 11:8-10. And then the crowd on Good Friday, Mark 15:6-15.
Not all gatherings are positive ones. Some gatherings are out of control, mobs. Some can be manipulated.
Crowds can be frightening. Crowds can be dangerous. Jesus was well aware of that. And he allowed them to take him in their mob madness and lead him away to his death. And not one of the disciples really tried to stop them. They were too frightened of course.
How would you be? If you saw something happening where a gathering or crowd is going astray in some way? Would you intervene?
I’m thinking, all of a sudden, about Russia, and about those people who have dared to speak out against the war, who have dared to speak truth in the midst of disinformation.
I’m thinking of that Russian lady, in particular, who put up that placard against the war on Russian TV in front of her work colleagues and in full view of those in authority. She stood up in the crowd, didn’t she? What a brave brave woman. I wouldn’t have done it. Would you?
Sometimes gatherings and crowds are dangerous. Sometimes going with the crowd is fine but sometimes it is very definitely the wrong thing to do. But most of us do, anyway, because it’s simpler that way. We just want to keep our heads down, not rock the boat.
We may find people who speak up in gatherings and spoil the cosy atmosphere irritating but, sometimes, surely, it is appropriate to disturb the gathering, just as the woman with the perfume did when she wiped Jesus’ feet. She didn’t care what people in the crowd would think about her, she was simply intent on doing what she felt she had to do to honour Jesus.
Gatherings of any sort have particular dynamics, that’s what I’m trying to say. And we contribute to those dynamics for good or ill. Jesus had enormous awareness of the dynamics of gatherings and he used that wisdom to help him reach people with the word of God, the good news of the kingdom of God. We can do the same if we allow the Spirit to offer us the gifts needed for the common good.
I had never visited before (except to go to the passpoort centre to get a passort urgently!) so everything about it was a first for me.
This is how the cathedral describes its history (from its website):
c. 500 A church, made of probably of wattle and daub, was built on the site of the Galilee Chapel, now the St. Mary’s Chapel, by the legendary Gwynllyw (Woolos is an English corruption of the name). He was married to Glawdys, and chroniclers relate that their son Cadoc converted the family to Christianity leading to the erection of the building as an act of penitence which became Gwynllyw’s grave
c. 800 The original humble building was replaced by a stone structure. There is evidence of Saxon foundations still to be seen in the chapel.
12th century. Church granted to St. Peter’s monastery, Gloucester. The early Norman nave was added and linked to St. Mary’s chapel through the Norman arch. There was also a lean-to south aisle. The monks managed the church for 300 years.
16th century. 16th Century. The monastery at Gloucester was dissolved. Ownership of the church passed to the Bishop of Gloucester.
Looking at the website, I can see that now they very much promote their art and their music events.
Have a look at their introductory video:
What do you notice about the cathedral from the video? Position – high up above the city. Lots of interior work done with modern art. Nobody there.
Which brings us neatly to my visit to the cathedral. I couldn’t get in…
I had checked on the website beforehand and the diary clearly stated evening prayer at 5pm on the Saturday I was visiting. Indeed, it still says evening prayer every Saturday at 5pm because I checked yesterday.
But there isn’t.
Mark and I got there after a happy day walking round Brecon then Caerleon then the canal locks above Newport. We were ready to finish off a good day by attending evening prayer.
We got to the cathedral early.
It felt odd straight away. The cathedral wasn’t in the city, it felt very outside it, at the top of a hill out of the way in a small neighbourhood with a few shops, some of them boarded up. There was virtually no one around even though it was Saturday afternoon (admittedly on a murky February day).
The church itself was right on the top of the hill surrounded by roads which had to go right round it to get anywhere. Wherever it was the cars were going, it wasn’t the cathedral. The church was just in the way.
In fact it felt worse than that. It felt marooned, on an island completely separated from real life going on around it.
We were still hopeful and went out to root around. We discovered that the church was closed and that the main doors had building scaffolding and fencing barriers surrounding them. It really didn’t feel welcoming at all. Very much the opposite in fact. It felt empty, dead.
I was suspicious by this time and went to read the noticeboard by the front gate which informed me that evening prayer was held on several days of the week but not Saturday.
I was not amused.
I had come all the way from Llandudno to be there and had checked there was a service. I had even tried to make contact with them beforehand to ask, using the “Contact us” facility on their website. But I hadn’t heard anything. Afterwards, I tried to contact them again via the website to tell them that their diary was wrong but I don’t think it worked then either. Certainly, I got no reply and I gave up then. (Maybe a phone call or email without going through the website would have worked. Who knows?)
I was very upset. Not only because I couldn’t get into the cathedral but because neither could anyone else.
Worse still, I came to the conclusion that maybe no one else wanted to. Because, why is the diary still wrong, even today? It can only be because nobody goes to look at it or use it. Perhaps no one, no one who isn’t already in the know, wants to go there, except maybe for one of those concerts or something.
Theological theme: What is the Spirit saying to the churches?
How do we see our churches? How does the outside world see us? How does God see us?
No doubt we all think that our churches are welcoming and that newcomers will want to come in to our churches. But, really, do they?
Last year, when St John’s held its Lego exhibition for two weeks in the summer, I was amazed by the number of people I heard coming in who said they had never been in a church before. Not just St John’s but ANY church. I think we are out of touch with the reality of our situation, or rather our status, in society today. Mostly we are irrelevant. Certainly, we are not at the heart of the community, we are right on the edge, if we appear on many people’s field of vision at all.
How would you describe how people who are not members of churches view church – the buildings and its people, us?
Bearing that in mind, how does your church encourage people to come along, to connect?
But do these approaches actually reach new people or do they just reach the same people, people already connected to churches in some way, who just go round from church to church as they get fed up with one and move to another or as they move house? Do we really connect to people new to the faith, who have never been in a church before?
Pause for a moment and think carefully, prayerfully. How do you think God views our churches, right here and now?
Can you think of any Bible passages that refer to these themes of how God views the churches?
One is a passage we referred to last week, from Amos, where God speaks through the prophet to tell the people how they are failing in their worship: Amos 5:21-24
Or how about the passage we use to consols ourselves sometimes: Matthew 18:20
But the ones that always come to my mind are the letters to the seven churches at the start of the book of Revelation. If you don’t know what I’m referring to or you’ve never read them, I recommend you do really soon. The words of the risen Christ to those churches are as relevant to us today as they have always been.
Are we listening? Are we still following the man (Jesus), are we still a movement (of the Spirit), is our organisational machinery helping us or hindering us, are we now idolising a monument? Is everything we imagine we are now simply a memory? See “The Five Ms“.
I want to share two of Christ’s letters to the churches. Both comment on image cf reality, about the perception of a church from the people attending cf how God sees the situation: Rev 3:17-20 and 22; Rev 2:2-5a and 6.
Every letter to the church ends with the same phrase: “He who has an ear, let him listen to the Spirit.”
Surely the Spirit speaks to churches now just as much as the Spirit did 2000 years ago. Do we have the ears to hear and listen? Can we return to the basic of our faith, the foundation on which it stands? Can we return to our first love?