Land of my Fathers?

By John Ellis

When in Wales I wonder about my family origins. The surname might well be Welsh although I have no evidence of devout Ellises crossing the Bristol Channel to evangelise the Devonians. What is not in doubt is the long Christian story in Wales.

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Synod venue in Carno

One recent visit was to the Synod of Wales, meeting in a very rural setting in a community hall built with Laura Ashley money. Many participants had round trips of over four hours in order to be present. Compared with English URC Synods, this one felt small and intimate. With so many of our Welsh pastorates including united churches with a variety of ecumenical partners, the URC’s ecumenical DNA was very much in evidence. So were items of business related directly to the Welsh scene, not least the forthcoming Welsh Assembly elections.

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Stow Park Church and Church Centre

The next day in South Wales, I saw something of the work of Stow Park Church in Newport. The congregation has a complex history that again crosses denominational boundaries. Abandoning large chapels, beyond the capacity of their congregations to maintain attractively, has allowed a modern community centre to be made available as a key local facility. Projects have been developed there that both meet local needs and draw on the professional experience of church members, including training in computer use and in printing skills. Both the Elders who explained this work to me were clear that the motivation was, as their posters said, Making Jesus Known. They take seriously the need to make links between the service to the community and the Christian worship in the same premises. Their evening service is cafe style and designed mainly for those with questions about Christianity, not existing church members.

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Elder Mathias Tchatchoua outside the Centre

The Welsh context was also prominent at a gathering for those attending this year’s Council for World Mission (CWM) Assembly in Korea from the European Region. “European Region” is a slightly grandiose title as of the five denominations involved only one is outside Britain. Two however are specific to Wales: the Union of Welsh Independents and the Presbyterian Church of Wales. We heard a long reflection on the fiftieth anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster, when a coal mine slag heap engulfed a village and its primary school. We heard about the contribution of the chapels to helping the community with its grief. We also heard that none of those chapels still exist in Aberfan today. It was a reminder of the history and the contemporary challenge for the Nonconformist tradition in Wales.

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