Friday, 27 March 2015

Show us to Your Leader!

The morning service on Sunday, 27th April is to be on the theme of Leadership. People will be invited to talk about someone whom they have looked up to and followed (or learned from) as a leader - not famous people, but people in your own life, whether in your faith, your church experience, your education, your profession, or life generally.

If anyone feels they have something to say on this theme (very briefly of course!) I (Ray) would be glad to hear from them. There will be opportunity for anyone to participate at the time, but it would be good if at least one or two people come prepared.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Greenbelt: Something for Everybody

For a number of years now I have spent the August Bank Holiday weekend at Greenbelt. I was first introduced to it by some young people at my church in Leytonstone, and I have loved it ever since. It has grown in numbers over the years, and developed a distinctive character. Children go there for the fun and games, teenagers mostly for the pop music and creative projects, and us oldies mostly for the talks and panel discussions and to meet old friends. It is a huge family festival with a special appeal for Christians with open minds and a concern for justice and peace.

This year saw a change of venue. After a number of years at Cheltenham Racecourse, it has moved to the grounds of Boughton House, near Kettering. This is a very different site, much more rural, and naturally there were teething troubles. There were critical comments, and apologies from the organisers, but I didn’t hear any moaning. Greenbelt is a bit like Christmas: whatever little inconveniences we have to put up with, everybody makes the effort to stay cheerful and be nice to one another.

It’s also a bit like the Edinburgh Festival: there is a vast range of things to choose from, and by choosing some you inevitably miss others. I went to talks by John Bell, the ever popular speaker and hymn writer from the Iona Community; by Brian McLaren, writer of books such as A New Kind of Christianity; by Nadia Bolz-Weber, the very unconventional pastor of a very unusual church in America; and by the Bible scholar Richard Burridge who was reflecting on the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian 35 years on.

For me there were two highlights. The first was a panel discussion on issues surrounding marriage in view of the new legislation, chaired by Vicky Beeching, a popular Christian singer. I must confess I had never heard of her till last week, when she hit the headlines by coming out as gay and telling the harrowing story of the self-condemnation she had experienced as she grew up in a conservative Christian environment, and how she now has a passion to save other young people from going through the same. As she walked onto the stage at Greenbelt, there was a standing ovation that seemed as though it would go on for ever!

The other highlight was hearing Mpho Tutu, daughter of Desmond Tutu, talking about forgiveness. She and her father have just published a book called The Book of Forgiveness. Needless to say, I went straight to the bookstore to buy it and join the queue like a teenage fan for her autograph! Like her father, she was so friendly and charming with everybody that it was quite a long wait.

If you haven’t been to Greenbelt, whatever your age, try it! Most people camp there in tents or caravans, but if that’s not your style (as it certainly isn’t mine!) you can always find a hotel or guest house or, if like me you’re really lucky, you may have friends who live nearby.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Volunteering on Iona – a welcoming community

You have 2 hours and a half till you’re back to work. You’re not obliged to do anything in this time. You may sleep. You may go for a walk. You may go for a cream tea at St Columba’s Hotel. You may read. You may join the guests in their sessions. You may play cards with your friends.... You bump into a fellow volunteer who invites you to join a group of them heading over to Port Bann to swim (possibly) and just hang out on the beach. Why not? You grab your raincoat – just in case – and off you go, hands empty, but the air filled with conversation and laughter.

Spontaneity, freedom, and community characterise Iona. The spontaneity simply comes from living so much in the present moving from Saturday night welcome service, to Monday-night-ceilidh, to Tuesday’s pilgrimage, to Tuesday-night-healing-service, to the goodbye-mexican-wave as guests leave on Friday morning. But the time in between is used as you yourselves need and determine. By freedom, I don’t necessarily mean the freedom to do whatever you like – you are working according to a timetable after all – but a true freedom to be who God has made you to be. No living up to others’ ideals, or even your own ideals. But freedom, in its truest form. By community, I refer to the practical inclusion, support and love, but also to the common path we walk during our time on the island. There’s a unity of vision and an instant sharing of experiences and life. Community is built remarkably quickly as a new group of guests arrive and leave each week, but there’s always a sense of joining something far larger, something that has lasted decades and which is constantly evolving with the people that leave and join. “We have come from many places for a little while”.

The Isle of Iona is home to only about 130 residents, but with 100+ guests per week, up to 30 volunteers at any given time, and about 20 resident staff working at the two centres used by the Iona Community - the Abbey and the Macleod Centre - and the hundreds of touristy visitors that explore the island each day, the village becomes a hub of life. Iona Community members are dispersed across the whole world, although the offices are based in Glasgow (

The pilgrimage
I was only on Iona for six weeks, the shortest stretch of time one can volunteer for, working on the housekeeping team in the Macleod Centre. My working days consisted mainly of meal set-up (all except the food itself), clearing/washing up at the end of each meal, a constant stream of laundry ranging from bedsheets to towels to volunteers’ clothing, training guests in their chores during their stay, and on turnover days, cleaning the centre from top to bottom. Days off often involved trips off the island – once to the puffin island of Staffa, twice for walks/hikes around the Isle of Mull, once to Oban on mainland Scotland – or adventures around the island, joining the guests for the weekly pilgrimage or making my own way around. A short walk to the North End or elsewhere on the island could take you to what feels like the most secluded spot in the world. I rediscovered the joy of reading fiction!

 The vision for the two centres is to build a brand new community,of staff, volunteers and guests, each week. This involves worshipping together at the daily morning and evening services, eating together, sharing in daily chores or tasks, and making that conscious effort to get to know one another.  Community happens quickly, with a core  continuity of people each week, and its yet inherently different each week, due to the different combination of people engaging in it. It’s a dynamic, evolving phenomenon which brings so much joy and challenge to everyone who is part  of it. All are invited and welcomed to join!

Elinor Rhys

Saturday, 28 September 2013

i Church Training

Deborah and I (Cerys) have just spent 5 days at the Windermere Centre attending an iChurch web-site course and putting together our new church web-site.  It only needs a few more tweaks and it will be ready.  If you're impatient and want to see what we've done so far then visit

The course was very intensive hard work, yet satisfying in that we came away with our web-site up and running.

We were allowed some free time, which was spent exploring nearby Bowness and Windermere and shopping.  Deborah caught a bus one afternoon and explored the wonderful countryside in the Lake District.

One other important aspect that must be mentioned is the food! All meals were prepared for us - and very delicious they were too!

The training given by Rebecca and Lawrence was first class. They steered us all - Bernie, Cerys, Colin, Deborah, Jacky, Ken, Neil, Sally -  from practically no knowledge to being confident webmasters.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

A taste of Greenbelt

I spent the Bank Holiday weekend where I have usually spent it for some years now, at Greenbelt. This is a Christian festival held at the Cheltenham Racecourse. Its flavour is a bit like the Edinburgh Festival – loads of choices, something for everybody. You never come away feeling there was nothing there for you. You come away regretting some of the things you had to miss because they clashed with something else you didn’t want to miss, or because (especially at my age) you just didn’t have the energy for it all.
Because last year the rain caused serious problems, this year’s attendance was slightly down, at only(!) 17,000. Greenbelt draws all kinds of people, from over 80s to babies, but the balance is mostly towards the younger end. Most people camp in tents, some bring their caravans,  but I am among the “softies” who prefer to stay in a comfortable hotel.
There is nothing regimented or dogmatic about Greenbelt. It is a free festival of the spirit. There is music of all kinds – rock, Gospel, folk, old-fashioned hymns, classical. There are plays, films, art exhibitions and shops. There are talks on a wide range of subjects, and an opportunity to experience worship in many different styles – Catholic ritual, meditation,  Iona, TaizĂ©, a Quaker meeting, a Goth Eucharist – you name it!
This year we even had a taste of the Sunday Assembly, the so-called “atheist church” that was recently started in London and is rapidly catching on elsewhere. It is a blend of communal singing and talk encouraging people to “live better, help often, and wonder more”, but with no obligation to believe in God. I doubt whether any other Christian festival would give a platform to this organisation. Nor do I know of any other Christian festival in which the presence of gay and lesbian people, and events catering for them, is welcomed and accepted as part of the rich tapestry of Christian life.
Among the things I attended were: a talk by a bishop on the “emerging Church”; a talk by a historian on the significance of the Chartists, with samples of their hymns; a mentally challenging lecture on radical theology, and a symposium on the same theme; a forthright appeal for the full acceptance of same-sex relationships by the Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral; the above mentioned Sunday Assembly; a few musical performances, and a concert with the amazing jazz musician Courtney Pine.
The central event is the Sunday morning Communion, held in the open air. The vast congregation gathers in small groups sitting on the ground, with groundsheets and umbrellas just in case! I joined a group of about ten people from my former church in Leytonstone, and had a very happy time with them. The atmosphere was festive, and after praying, singing, hearing a challenging message, and sharing bread and wine we were invited if we wished to stay and dance.

Perhaps next year we can arrange for a group from St David’s to be there. I would highly recommend it.

Ray Vincent

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

So what's happening?

All has been quiet on the blog since the end of May. You may be thinking that we are  perhaps dumbstruck after  having to say 'farewell' to the Chambers family at the end of their inspiring ten months in our midst.

Well, sad as it was to see them go, we have not been moping about, awaiting better times!  In fact  a great deal has been going on.  The AGM in June meant  some changes on the eldership. The new elders team is  busily  involved in the process of seeking  a new minister.

We  were successful in being awarded a £500 grant  from the URC for  an 'Art talk' project and plans are underway for a launch in September.   Contact is being made with schools and community groups in Pontypridd, inviting them to  submit photographs which say something about our community. We hope to be able to offer workshops to help with the technical challenge of producing good photographs.

In March we shall stage an exhibition in the church, inviting as many people as possible to  look at, and reflect on  our community, Pontypridd, in pictures.

The  various visual contributions will be a stimulus for us as a church to  review what we see our role to be, (or  our mission to be) in our local community.

We have also received a £700 grant from the URC Mission and Development Fund which will enable us to send two people to a course at the Windermere Centre, to redesign the church website. We'll be holding an open meeting early in September, before they go,  for people to chip in their ideas about  for a new website.

We are pleased to see the church almost back to normal as the work  to install a new heating system is  almost finished. We can look forward in confidence to a warmer winter than the last one.. inside the building, at least.

And there has been another successful  Holiday Club. That deserves a separate  entry!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Farewell to the Chambers Family

On Sunday 26th May, Dan conducted his last services at St. David's Uniting Church in Pontypridd.
After the morning service most people stayed for a 'party' lunch and to share in the splendid cake that Kath baked.  Here are some pictures of the day.
Dan and family

Our gift to the Chambers - a Welsh Love Spoon

The Chambers' gift to us - or rather, for The Manse

The beautiful and delicious cake