On our visit to South Wales last week we were privileged to visit exciting churches. The first is built next to a Mediaeval Shrine, and the second is a coming together of two traditional denominations by the seaside! Neither is what you would expect!
Llanfair Uniting Church, Penrhys
Here is Penrhys, supposedly a visionary estate designed to lift the mining community out of the Rhondda valley-bottom up onto the hilltop – it may have given the residents amazing views, but also created terrible housing problems and social isolation. When I was a social worker, I was there in the 1970s and have awful memories of life on Penrhys. Is it coincidental that it is on the Holy site of pilgrimage to Mother Mary, considered in Medieval times as one of the great shrines? For it has been the Church which took up the vision of building the Kingdom of God. Set up as an eight denomination LEP, its ethos is in its strapline “A Church for everyone” The local primary children come each week to the church. Over the years its ministers and people have built a chapel ‘Llanfair’ in English, ‘Church of Mary’, and developed a couple of derelict flats for community use, with second-hand boutique, laundry, homework club, craft sessions and much more, all despite huge battles over funding, and sadly with some really-needed facilities having to close. But for me this is Church at its best, giving dignity and hope to all – at present with no minister, though with ministerial support, the local people are training to be accredited worship leaders. The picture above shows us celebrating communion and I can tell you the quality of their worship is of Heaven. A former minister of the church, John Morgans took many groups to Caldy Island for Bible study weekends. I remember the abbot there saying that all the thousands who go to the island looking for God will find God, but God made in their own image. If they want to meet the real God, then they must go home and into their community and God will be there.
God is certainly in Penrhys – it is a contemporary shrine!
Barry Waterfront Centre
Yes, it is just a portacabin and a garden plot – but when you go there you are walking into the Kingdom of God. Two churches of different denominations, Methodist and United Reformed came together for more effective outreach, first meeting in one of their buildings but then, like the early church, unpitched their tent and moved their site to a piece of waste ground! But this ground is in a newly developed estate, and on a path between a retail park and a medical centre. As you can imagine, it has been a long journey of grappling finances and planning, and denominational structures. What did they start first? They constructed the community garden, complete with raised beds for cultivation and a pond and hedgerow for conservation. Only then came the cabin as the church. With inspirational leadership from Phil and Carole Challis (married couple, joint superintendents – not something you meet everyday!) they are hoping for a new multipurpose building, but I warned them not to lose what is so special here. I have rarely met a group of people so ready, accepting, even expectant of change to serve the Kingdom. Everyone whom I have met, who has led worship in their cramped room, told me what a special time it is – everyone engaging, sharing together, open and honest with each other, but open for others to come and share with them. A great adventure goes on!
Barry Waterfront Centre have discovered all our church life is but temporary!
Photo of Barry above by M J Richardson, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12826278