Language of money
TWO quiet days will provide much of the substance of this diary.
The most recent was at Bryndolau, in Carmarthenshire, which
combines a splendid B&B (Kite's Nest Cottage), stunning views
of the green hills, and a programme of occasional retreats, quiet
days, and painting weekends.
Because I am temperamentally unsuited to silent meals, lunch on
such occasions, led by me, is optionally conversational (those who
prefer to maintain silence are provided for).
On this occasion, it meant that I heard some good stories - many
related with the kind of dramatic eloquence for which Welsh
preachers and politicians were once renowned.
One woman had an Australian relative who was visiting Wales for
the first time. After flying into Heathrow, he hired a car, and
drove along the M4 towards Wales. She had told him that he would
know when he got there by the road signs in Welsh; so he looked out
for them as he approached the Severn Bridge.
"Yes," he told them when he arrived, "you were quite right.
There it was, above the lanes you followed to make your payment:
'manned coinbins'. Tell me, how do you pronounce that?"
Slightly baffled, his hosts pointed out that he had missed the
Welsh sign on the next channel: "Binniau arian", or "money
bins" in English.
I ALSO talked to Doug Constable, an English clergyman who
retired to Wales eight years ago. In that period, he has mastered
the ancient language of the land to the extent that he regularly
presides at the eucharist in Welsh (cymun bendigaid) in
his parish church.
He is an accomplished musician, and his current project is
setting some of the poems of Dylan Thomas to music as part of the
celebrations of the centenary of the poet's birth. His setting of
the lovely poem "This bread I break" has already been performed in
Doug is local to Bryndolau - in country terms, just down the
road - and a close friend of its owners, David and Ros Steel. David
swapped bookselling and the Home Counties for their "place in the
country", where they keep a few sheep and provide a place of
pastoral care and love for men and women, too.
A farmer, and a walker
THE other quiet day was at Ivy House retreat centre in
Warminster, which is, sadly, to be closed shortly. Apparently, it
is not financially viable. Proceeds from the sale, we were told,
will be used for "mission".
During the day, a woman told me a remarkable story. She was
walking her dog along a narrow countrylane when a tractor, complete
with driver, burst through the hedge above and landed on her. The
dog was uninjured, but she was rushed by air ambulance to A&E,
and then into intensive care. She had multiple serious injuries,
but a longish spell in hospital meant that she made a good
She got to know the hospital chaplain, and one day he told her
that he had just come from another ward, where he had been talking
to the farmer who was driving the tractor that nearly killed her.
He was now in hospital with a stress condition brought on by the
trauma of that event, and especially his feeling of guilt. He had
started the tractor when the engine was in gear, and it simply
leapt forward through the hedge.
The woman was upset at this, and asked the chaplain to tell the
farmer, whom she knew, that what had happened was entirely
accidental, that she had no bad feelings about him, and that she
wished him a speedy recovery.
When she left hospital, she went to church as usual the
following Sunday, and was surprised to find the farmer there. He
had never been a churchgoer, but a few months later she attended
his confirmation. Not for the first time, I was reminded that bad
things can have good consequences.
I AM not entirely sure what "mission" means in current
church-speak, but I suspect that that story is a pretty good
instance of it. Definitions are notoriously hard, especially when a
word has been appropriated by corporate image-makers and
Every tin-pot company has its ridiculous "mission statement":
the pension broker's "Your security is our business" is matched by
the pet insurers' "Caring for your Best Friend". As the
advertisements in the Church Times demonstrate, many
dioceses, and even parishes, have also come up with some tricksy
phrase to encapsulate the mysterium tremendum.
In case you have missed them, here are a few examples for
serious contemplation: "Transforming com-munity, radiating Christ";
"Faithful, confident, joyful"; "Changing lives, changing churches,
changing communities". The diocese of Truro is so modest about its
mission statement that I needed a magnifying glass to read it:
"Discovering God's kingdom, growing the Church".
All of this is harmless enough. Indeed, as statements of intent,
full of hope rather than descriptive, they could be an incentive to
A church that says that it is "faithful, confident and joyful"
had better make sure that it never looks unreliable, wobbly, and
grumpy. I doubt whether a "mission statement" has ever brought a
lost sheep into the Kingdom, but it may sometimes remind those of
us who are within the system what the Church is really for.
I did raise an eyebrow, however, when I was told that the
appointment of a fifth archdeacon was part of the diocese of
Oxford's mission strategy. A fifth archdeacon? Satan, tremble.
Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of
Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting at the