Friday, 26 October 2012

On the streets of Ponty

Driving through the streets of Pontypridd last Saturday night at about 10 pm a youngster was  vomiting  on the pavement. Its  not an uncommon sight. Overindulgence in alcohol is the number one cause of social problems on our streets, from minor health 'repercussions' of this kind to more serious accidents, verbal and physical abuse.

From 10pm this Saturday night, and every Saturday thereafter, help will be at  hand  for those who want or need it.   Twenty two newly trained Street Pastors were commissioned at a special service at Temple Baptist Church.

All have undergone  an extensive training programme over recent months, including awareness of drugs and alcohol  and how to respond to people in different situations of need. All of them are members of local churches, and all have committed to  be out on the streets on duty at least once a month.

Street pastors is a national scheme run by the Ascension Trust. It began in London in 2003 and since then about 9000  volunteers have been trained around the UK,   A reduction in crime has been shown to  result in areas where  street pastor teams are working.

Mark Thomas, of the Ascension Trust, reminded those being commissioned of their three watchwords "Listen, care and help".    According to  the local police representative present, this is "what the police don't do!"   (which  I take to mean that they don't have time to do!).   The police and the local authority  have been enthusiastic and co-operative supporters of the scheme in Pontypridd. They recognise what a human, caring  presence  on the streets can accomplish, which the statutory authorities are unable to do.

Mark spoke about the challenge in Micah 6 v 8 about what God requires of us: to act justly, love mercy (or kindness) and to walk humbly with God.    This  is what street pastors are called to do. It is what Christians are to do, and, he suggests,  is it not a  'requirement' for all human beings?

The congregation looks sparse in the picture - not because the occasion was poorly attended. Rather because by this stage there were so many people on the stage! In addition to the street pastors, volunteers have committed to be prayer partners,  to remain at 'base camp' and to uphold in prayer  those who are out walking the streets.

May God be with them all!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Gathering - an insiders view

John Henson was involved in  the work for several of the sub-commissions  whos labours culminated in the Gathering (see earlier blog).  He writes:

What took place in the Great Hall at Aberystwyth on 13th October, high on Penglais Hill overlooking the sea, may not have been on such a grand scale as the Second Vatican Council, but for the small country of Wales may prove just as significant in terms of the history of religion. The 'Gathering' was well attended by the representatives of the five Christian denominations in Wales signed up for Covenanting for Unity, namely Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and United Reformed. The key events were the celebration of communion using a new order of service authorized to be used in all the above churches, and also a video setting out a scheme for the appointment by bishops, in such a way that all the churches might find them acceptable. Since I am a member of both committees that dealt with these matters I found myself with a reserved seat and even a place on the platform for one session. I also was invited to read the Gospel in the opening devotions from Good As New, Luke 14:14-21. I am loathe to comment on the success of the occasion, although undoubted was the bonhomie among the mostly ecumenically committed delegates, and the singing was good to the inevitable Blaenwern and Hyfrydol, to good new words. I disdained the headphones for English translation and followed the very clear Welsh throughout.

Reflecting on the liturgy now, I think even more than when I was working on the committee, that it is too wordy, a fault with nearly all liturgies. Each member's favourite little bit had to be included. There is little of me there, though there is some. Especially I think I prevented some obscurantism, and for the sake of my Baptist consituency ensured as many 'mays' as possible. It is now up to the churches whether they use the rite or not.

As to the celebration of the rite itself, it was handled skilfully, with options for gluten free bread and non-alcoholic wine. Five doyens of the 5 denominations concelebrated at the same time - not quite necessary I felt at the stage we have reached, and all but one of them (my URC Moderator/friend) was in flowing robes, which gave an unfortunate impression of priestliness uncongenial to many of the free church folk present. The Archbishop of Wales, who was one of the 'celebrants' was the most modestly dressed!
A question and answer session led by Phil George, a well-known media figure sounded a cautionary note. The main point spontaneously to come out of this session was that the real problem to be tackled was our relationship with an alienated society rather than with one another.

Was it all worth it? Time will tell. Better get a move on otherwise there won't be many Christians to unite.

John Henson

Monday, 15 October 2012

My Challenge to the Church

 At the Gathering in Aberystwyth, (see previous blog post) panel members were asked to  present a challenge to the churches as they think about a  Church Uniting in Wales.  This was Bethan's:

 Before I present my challenge to you, I want to share with you the thing I enjoy most about going to church and the thing that I feel is unique about going to church. And that is that it’s a place for me to communicate and be friends with people of all ages and all walks of life. The reason I’m telling you this is because I feel that more more people should have this opportunity, and although we as churches are all welcoming and welcome everyone, people just don’t seem to come to events or walk into churches anymore. But why is this? 
             How many of your churches have notices and news sheets or posters up saying that you welcome all sorts, or saying what’s on during the week? It's really useful for people who come to church to hear the notices or get the news sheets... but what about everyone else?
 So my challenge to you, as the church, is to change the way you communicate or advertise the church to none church goers. 
            We are bombarded these days with different  ways to communicate, telephone, meeting for tea in a cafe, texting, email, facebook, twitter and blog spots, but yet churches don’t seem to make full advantage of them.   
             I ’m not saying that these ways of communicating should be used to evangelise as in making online 'statuses' of Bible quotations and praising God because, from what my friends that don’t go to church have told me, it is more likely to push people away than encourage them to come to church. It feels like its being pushed upon them and to be honest things like that make me cringe. But I would say that things like a facebook page for churches and a chance for churches to 'tweet' would give the space to advertise activities that are going on in the church and also give church members a place to communicate with one another, other than on a Sunday. 
 Blogs would also be beneficial for churches to show what has been going on and it also gives people who have an interest in writing and blogging a chance do so. But obviously if people don’t have an interest, there’s no need to force people to write one!
I also think that using social media would be a good way of getting young people more involved in the church because, from my experience, it is impossible for a young person to go on a computer or smart phone without checking facebook and the church news would come up on their newsfeed!

It’s a way of showing that the church is the people not the building; facebook‘s where ever gods’ people are praising! 

I know my challenge has been all about technology in a way, but I’d also like to challenge the leaders of the churches and organisers of events to remember why I enjoy going to church. Because whenever there’s a Synod day or big event there’s always separate activities for the children and young people, which is good in one way but in others means you lose the opportunity to communicate with people other than your peers. Why can’t activities cater for all ages? Because that’s the thing I appreciate most about church.
          Bethan Walkling

The Gathering

 One Church Uniting in Wales?  That was the vision put before a gathering  of some hundreds of representatives of URC, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and (Church in Wales) Anglican churches in Aberystwyth  on Saturday.

The vision was shared in many ways, incuding  a drama which showed us how One Church  split into many denominations over 2000 years,  each with its own particuar emphasis.  Squabbling between churches  took on comic proportions before our eyes.  Interspersed with some of the Church's  best loved traditional hymns, like 'The churches one Foundation is  Jesus Christ our Lord' it highighted the anomaly of our divided reality.

Bethan,pictured here (left), took part in a panel discussion chaired by  Phil George  (Broadcaster and member of Canton Uniting Church) along with  Delyth and Trystan, Chaplains  at the University of Cardiff. 

For Bethan's viewpoint, see her separate blog post.

To my mind this  was a vital part of the day,  and perhaps  the riskiest part,  involving unscripted conversation about the ways in which young people experience church and what might be done to reach them more effectively   (Cardiff chaplains wear chaplaincy hoodies, rather than dog collars!)

Most of the day otherwise comprised presentations of one kind or another -  although there was plenty of chatter in the pauses between sessions as people responded informally to what they heard and saw.

This was an image from the day that  will remain with me. It's a picture of lichen, growing in concentric circles on a rock with a huge gap in it.   The Rev Dr Olav FykseTveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, introduced this as a  picture of church unity... growing and spreading,  creating a wholeness despite the  obvious chasms!

Communion was  co-celebrated by  five leaders  from the five covenanted denominations, with Rev Simon Walking representing the URC, Rev Dafydd Andrew Jones on behalf og the presbyterian Church of Wales and the Rev. John Garland for the covenanting Baptist churches.   A new, bilingual communion service was used, copies of this were made available to delegates for use in their own churches.
Lots of discussions will be taking place at local and national levels, to see if the idea of  a church Uniting in Wales is one that can take root.  Watch out for further blogs on the matter, once I have  studied the  pack of  recommendations and  discussion papers in more detail.

The drama, the order of service for communion and discussion doucments can all be downloaded from the dedicated website for  the Gathering .

Thursday, 11 October 2012

"Luv 'em to bits"

“I luv ém to bits” she said as she snipped my hair and told me about her customers, some of whom have been with her for decades.  During the winter months, when the steep roads can be icy, I asked if she closed shop and just stayed home, but no, her husband either takes her or she walks “only seven miles”.  I’d imagine the customers mostly stay at home on days of ice or driving rain but again, no.  They come in all weather.  “Mad as a box of frogs,” she says. 

Here are three things I’ve noticed in the last month of living in Pontypridd:

v  Many people have been here a while.  For some, they’ve lived in this area for decades; others were born here (or very close by), others have great- grandparents born in the area.  Roots go deep, and appreciation for the land, the culture, the intertwining stories of people and place run equally deep. 

v  There is a great love for neighbours, friends, and people of the community.  And for those in this community, as in every village, city or town, who are more challenging to love -- those whose lives have been broken and walk through the world more visibly wounded than others -- love is expressed through care, patience, understanding.  People are included; programs are supported; a place is provided.

v  The people of Ponty are tough.  They’ll walk seven miles in the cold to get to work because they know a customer will come despite the weather.  These are folks that can make ends meet, who are not pretentious in the slightest but have dignity and honour and will give you the warmest welcome should you pass this way.  Hard work is never a deterrent for a worthwhile project and the concern for others almost always tops a concern for oneself.

As for the people of St. David’s Uniting, well, they are all this and then some.  They are a remarkable and delightful group of people.  The next blog entry will be about them.  For now, whoever is reading this and wherever you are, I hope you are part of a community that, for all of its seen and unseen flaws, you “love to bits”.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Yea! We're here.

Yea!!  We’re here and very happily so.  Incredibly warm and delightful people; gorgeous scenery; a manse cleaned and furnished with care, thoughtfulness and amazing generosity – words fall short except to say that we are genuinely blessed to have landed here.

From our morning walk

How do these things happen?  

There is a wonderful congregation in Vancouver named St. David’s United, and a delightful congregation in Pontypridd, Wales, named St. David’s Uniting.  5,000 miles apart, they’d never heard of each other until a couple of months ago, yet they have a historical connection through the person of Dilys Maddin.  

The Old Bridge (177something)

Pontypridd, Wales (taken from The Common)

Dilys Hughes was born in Pontypridd in the 1920’s.  She was raised and attended school here.  After the second World War, Dilys married Charles Maddin and they began a new life in a new home in Vancouver, Canada.  It turns out that a new church was developing up the road from their home (this was, after all, the 50’s, when a new church was opened in Canada every week).  Being relatively new to the area themselves, they jumped in with this new venture and helped get it off the ground.  As the building neared completion in 1957, the congregation needed a name.  Several suggestions were put forward, including one from Dilys.  In respect to the patron saint of her beloved Wales, she suggested this new church be called St. David’s.  

I don’t know if the name seemed a good fit or if it was helped by the, shall we say, persuasive skills and enthusiasm of Dilys, but one way or the other the name St. David’s won the day and this is how a congregation in Pontypridd and in Vancouver were first connected.

Over 50 years later, this connection was entirely lost until remembered by Dilys’ daughter, who now lives in Arizona and, when she discovered I was going to serve St. David’s in Pontypridd, sent an “I can’t believe it!” e-mail.  That I should happen to be called to the same town where Dilys was born and raised and attended church, and that she would the one who brought the name to the congregation in Vancouver is more than a coincidence.  It is remarkable and makes me wonder about relationships and connections.  It makes me wonder about how God works in our life, hitching us to people who share unseen lines of connection.

When I was able to tell the congregation in Vancouver where we were going and what we’ll be doing, two people approached me and said, “We’ll be right down the road!”  Bob Burrows, a retired minister from St. David’s and a member of the Vancouver Welsh Men’s Choir was leaving to sing at the Cardiff Castle.  He had some extra time, so hired a car to take him to Pontypridd, 20 minutes away. He found St. David’s Uniting, in the center of town, took photographs, and called us from his cell phone to say, “I’m so excited for you!”  

Only four days later another member of the Vancouver St. David’s congregation, Hew Gwynne, was coming to Cardiff to visit relatives.  The Sunday after Bob was here, Hew Gwynne arrived for coffee after the Sunday service.  He, too, took photographs and sent an enthusiastic e-mail.  
St David's Uniting, Pontypridd

What are the chances that a person born in Ponty would be a founding member of a congregation in West Vancouver who helped name the church, and 55 years later I would be called to go from this West Vancouver congregation to serve an interim position at St. David’s in Ponty, and within two weeks of informing the W. Van congregation of our whereabouts, two members would be visiting the town and the church where my family and I would soon be arriving?  Anybody good at statistics?  What are the odds?

There seems to be a bridge of connection between the two communities.  Perhaps you’ve seen this 5,000 mile bridge that spans from Pontypridd to Vancouver.  It crosses the Atlantic, rides over cities and prairies, clears the rockies and coastal mountains and lands in West Vancouver.  You may not be able to drive on this bridge or find it on Google Maps, but you can travel this distant line of connection, as several already have.

We are connected in ways unseen.

Dan Chambers