Gogledd Cymru

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We lived in North Wales from 1999-2004. Our children were born there and every year we get back there; usually just once.

Last weekend we managed a 2nd visit for the year as my wife had a ‘significant’ birthday. 48 hours of familiar sights, old friends and favourite places.

It was over all too soon, it was so faull and there was so much more we would have loved to have done.

But it was good and I experienced, even as a Sasnaeg, that deep, deep sense of hiraeth…..

Hiraeth

It doesn’t look much I guess and there are far more attractive seaside places, but this is my favourite ever.

Sometime today we will see this view and hopefully sit on the Prom eating chips. It seemed doubtful for ages that we would ever make it: would we be moving, would I have enough leave, would we be able to get somewhere to stay, could we even afford it?

The stay is shorter than we have done before, but I have experienced ‘hiraeth’- longing for a place that has always meant so much to us; where I was first a minister (over 10 years ago), where our children were born and where we still have friends…

…soon…..

Hiraeth

Some time today, we will be rounding Penmaen Head on the A55 and coming through Colwyn Bay. We lived there from 1999-2004.

Although my youngest son has no memory of the place (he was only a few months old when we left), there is something about it that says ‘home. Part of me has that sense of ‘hiraeth’ (an untranslatable word that means something like ‘longing’) as I see Colwyn Bay.

That is one of the best/worst things about moving round: different places feel like ‘home’, but no place really is ‘home’ as in the sense of deep roots that go back a lifetime and beyond. I occasionally envy those who have that heritage and sense of place; particularly as I get older.

I wonder if I will feel the same about the place where I live now (which is the longest time I have lived in one house, ever) when I come to leave: hope so…

Dydd Dewi Sant

We lived in Wales from 1999-2004. That makes my children technically Welsh and I still have a soft spot for all things Welsh- even now, in one school that I go into, the chldren still say ‘Bore Da’ to me.

I am not going to put up ‘Calon Lan’ today, but rather this:-

[youtube]7Axw_i0WxMk[/youtube]

This is a hymn often sung at funerals in North Wales (or at least it was when I was there). I like the way that Cerys Matthews sings this: broken but still hanging on.

Closing a church:3

Every Christian worship service I have been to has had confession and repentence as part of it. If you are outside the Christian tradition or hostile to it, that may sound like self flagelation. Done improperly it can be. As I age, I increasingly find it to be incredibly powerful: here is one space during the week when I am not the centre of everything, I don’t have to pretend and I can admit that I often mess it up. I can take the Christian truth that yes, I am made in the image of God, but also I am incredibly flawed. And cross the ‘I’ out- in this act, I grasp, albeit tentatively ‘ubuntu’ (It’s African- look it up), that I is ‘we’.

At the end of a worshipping community there has to be space to say ‘sorry’- sometimes we messed up:

– we ran away with our own agendas.

– we forgot that we are the only community that is supposed to exist for those that are not yet part of it.

-we fell out and never quite got back together again.

-we used each other.

etc etc…..

& sometimes those ‘messings up’ were never acknowledged and we lived like Pink Floyd : ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’.

…and then we say our sorry’s and recieve absolution, to recognise that there is no condemnation, but rather Grace and Forgiveness.

 

Each Wednesday, for the next few weeks I hope to post some thoughts about closing a church. This has been occasioned by the church that I used to be a minister of (St John’s Colwyn Bay- now St John’s Uniting Church) from 1999-2004 voting to close in May 2013.

Closing a church:2

So, time for some hope; of a kind.

The last service in this church that is closing will be on Friday 24th May. This is a day in Methodist churches that is sometimes known as ‘Wesley Day’- a day when we remember John Wesley swapping a religion of constant anguish to a faith based on Grace. It is a day of celebration- or supposed to be. On that level, it is a suprising choice for the last day.

Often when I conduct funerals, the relatives ask that it be a celebration or say ‘s/he would not want us to cry’. Whilst I understand these sentiments, I will also try and trese out the tragedy and loss. I am wary of theologies or ways of thinking that ‘ignore’ pain. However, when something goes like a church, there is a neccesary place for telling stories & remembering the good times.

So; find people who can tell honest stories about when someone started following Jesus, when the building was packed, weddings, baptisms, good deaths, parties, celebrations etc. Make the telling ‘untidy’ (some ‘celebrations’ have been marred for me by over correct and thoughtful liturgy or voices bleached of all life and emotion) and partial: you can’t hope to cover everything.

…and as John Wesley once said in his delightful 17th century English: ‘If thou art constrained to bless the instrument; give God the glory’.

 

Each Wednesday, for the next few weeks I hope to post some thoughts about closing a church. This has been occasioned by the church that I used to be a minister of (St John’s Colwyn Bay- now St John’s Uniting Church) from 1999-2004 voting to close in May 2013.

Closing a Church:1

(Image from http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6161/6167271217_1896027d2b_z.jpg)

I have never (yet) been a minister when one of the churches I have been assigned to has voted to close. That is not a boast: just an observation- I expect it will happen one day.

I am clear that there are no set reasons ‘why’; it has been happening since the dawn of followers of Jesus gathering together to pray, encourage each other, learn, live in a counter cultural way..and calling themselves ‘church’. The book of Revelation is written to 7 churches: none of which now exist.

I guess that in the current climate, where I believe that we are experiencing more social and cultural change than at any time for 500 years, it is ineviatable that many will go the same way. The same has followed with many businesses and institutions.

The first honest response I came up with was ‘Is God dead?’ ‘Or was God ever there?’. So- religion is just a primitive stage that we passed though. Leaving aside the way that that statement deeply patronises others (the sub text: they are primitive; I have gone beyond that), I think it needs to be asked and aired publicly. I know there is a place for celebration and thanksgiving- I will come to that in a future post- but there is a deeper place for honesty.

As Christians, I think we have been given a fantastic gift: raw honesty to ask any question without flinching. Trouble is, we struggle to do so…. I have lost account of the number of worship songs I just cannot sing; they so often lie or want to put a happy ending on something- it is the equivalent of choking off a scream. I wonder sometimes about the effect of singing them all the time (sometimes/often is great- I dance around the kitchen, go ‘woop’ at Man Utd winning, am amazed at a sunset, fall in love more and more with my family, am excited at good news of friends etc…. this has to be reflected in worship…although whether always in ‘G’ and with tired, repetitive phrases is a matter of conjecture) when you are struggling.

I start most days with a Psalm. Only one have I ever heard someone else use Psalm88 in worship: the bleakest of all Psalms- there is no happy ending, no resolution. And sometimes that is enough and that is OK. I think God can work better with honesty than pretence.

You keep me safe, Lord God. So when I pray at night, 2     please listen carefully     to each of my concerns.

3 I am deeply troubled     and close to death; 4     I am as good as dead     and completely helpless. 5 I am no better off     than those in the grave,     those you have forgotten     and no longer help.

6 You have put me in the deepest     and darkest grave; 7     your anger rolls over me     like ocean waves. 8 You have made my friends turn     in horror from me. I am a prisoner     who cannot escape, 9     and I am almost blind     because of my sorrow.

Each day I lift my hands     in prayer to you, Lord. 10     Do you work miracles     for the dead? Do they stand up     and praise you? 11 Are your love and loyalty announced     in the world     of the dead? 12 Do they know of your miracles     or your saving power in the dark world below     where all is forgotten?

13 Each morning I pray     to you, Lord. 14     Why do you reject me?     Why do you turn from me? 15 Ever since I was a child, I have been sick     and close to death.     You have terrified me     and made me helpless.[b]

16 Your anger is like a flood! And I am shattered     by your furious attacks 17     that strike each day     and from every side. 18 My friends and neighbors have turned against me     because of you,     and now darkness     is my only companion.

Each Wednesday, for the next few weeks I hope to post some thoughts about closing a church. This has been occasioned by the church that I used to be a minister of (St John’s Colwyn Bay- now St John’s Uniting Church) from 1999-2004 voting to close in May 2013.

Closure

I got a text last weekend from someone who I know in North Wales. The details were sparse, but the first church I was sent to, St John’s, Colwyn Bay – now St John’s Uniting- is closing in a couple of months. I was there, 1999-2004 and we held thanksgiving services for our children there.

I have only ever been back to preach once- in 2008 and know little of the debate around this closure.

However, the signs were there with the building: tremendous building put up in 1888 for mixed reasons: to be bigger than the Anglicans and to announce ‘we have arrived’ in that uniquely Victorian way. It struggled initially and was known as ‘Wesley’s Folly’: initially it had 38 members who echoed around the barn. When I arrived, the sandstone that was part of the structure was not mixing well with the sea air. Dealing with it (badly on my part) was truly converting: I do not like property and property schemes- if people want them, fine- just don’t expect the minister to devote anytime to keeping them up. Sadly in the late 80s there was a discussion with a housing association who offered to buy the site and build a newer building. The majority of members opposed this….. be careful about the decisions you take in your own interest.

I know the building is just a building and the church is seperate, but as I type these words, people are coming to life whose faith was nurtured by what went on in that building; christenings, weddings, school assemblies (the public school used it extensively) and funerals.

There is also the recognition of something dying and that is never easy for those who worship there and who look to it as ‘their church; even if they never or rarely go.

It makes me think about ministering in a dying church and finding the courage to look for a future that is nothing like the past. And then I wonder if I have the resources for that future.

A nice picture to look at…..

Well…. I have seen better, but that is about the limit of what my mobile can do.

I went for a lovely walk last Sunday with friends over the Great Orme in Llandudno. This is looking towards Penmaenmawr with Snowdonia beginning in the background.

The September madness starts this week. Each year it gets harder and harder to restart: I go to more lengthy meetings than is healthy about this time of year. I remember a tale, perhaps apocryphal, of a Methodist minister in Britain who lived in a very picturesque coastal area. Around this time when he began to get numerous requests for information from HQ, he got into the practice of sending postcards of the area he lived back to those who asked for the information. He reasoned that the people who sent him the information must have lives so dull that they needed brightening up.

So I will look back at this when I need brightening up over the next few weeks….or whenever I start to think that what I am doing is the centre of the world…