This week I have been at the last of the General Assemblies I am due to attend in 2011. This time it was the Presbyterian Church in Wales. They met in Lampeter, Dyfed from 5th to 7th September.
This is a small denomination, at least two thirds Welsh speaking and the Assembly was conducted largely in Welsh with simultaneous translation. All papers are produced in both languages. As a non-Welsh speaking Welsh person I fully understand the imperative to keep the language alive by using it in everyday situations but there is, of course, a tension for a small denomination in maintaining the bilingual context both in terms of cost and time.
The business of the assembly is conducted in much the same way as we are used to, though there was little discussion of issues raised. In discussion with their Moderator I gathered that most people would have had an opportunity to discuss all the matters raised in reports since they would have been dealt with in committees, Presbyteries and Associations (groups of Presbyteries).
As I have noted before, the issues which were on this agenda were often issues which are on the agenda of the United Reformed Church or have been on the agenda of other churches whose Assemblies I have attended.
It was impressive to hear about this small denomination having raised £9000 for three hospitals in India which they support and to know that 130 of the churches had signed up to the Back to Church Sunday initiative. The range of Church and Society issues which they were concerned about or were involved in was also impressive. Every five years they launch a special appeal and on Wednesday morning this year’s appeal was launched for projects in Guatemala being supported by Christian Aid.
The previous such appeal had raised £¼m. On Wednesday too we heard about projects with children and young people, new ways of training lay leaders and explorations into the use of new technology to spread the Good News.
This is a denomination with a great sense of history and half of the second day was taken up with celebrating the first ordinations to the denomination in 1811.
I have found the experience of attending Assemblies has offered me the opportunity to meet and talk to a range of people from the denomination and to hear about the joys and frustrations of their situations as well as to meet and talk to ecumenical guests from these islands and further afield all of which gives a new and wider perspective on the work of our own denomination.