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30 May 2014

Jan Waterson writes:

FURTHER to your obituary of Jim Cotter (Gazette, 25 April), his ministry of "quiet prayer, simple hospitality, and thoughtful conversation, and deepening solitude and simplicity" had a particular focus in his later years, which is still growing.

In 1997, Jim visited a little and rarely open church at Llandecwyn, high above the estuary of the Afon Dwyryd, near Harlech, accessed by a single track, with no through road into the hills. He sensed that here was a place with roots deep in Welsh Christianity, as well as in the primal religion of the centuries before, which, in its simplicity, could invite the stranger to be at home, and could be a place where people of different churches and faiths, and all people of good will, might find an atmosphere in which they could breathe freely, without feeling pressured into a pattern of belief that no longer connected with their lives.

For the following two summers, he experimented with opening the church. Convinced of its value, he spent the next seven summers keeping St Tecwyn's open seven days a week, offering hospitality and prayer.

A few years later, Jim started to explore whether the insights and practices developed at Llandecwyn might be transferable. He was the instigator of a supportive network, the Small Pilgrim Places Network (www.smallpilgrimplaces.org). This promotes the vision and development of Small Pilgrim Places. Each, of the current 33 Places is unique. But all aim to be simple, quiet, and unpretentious, offering a welcoming and inclusive space for pondering, breathing, meditating, praying, and "being". Indeed, Jim was later able to transfer some of the lessons of Llandecwyn to a very different context in Aberdaron, where St Hywen's continues as a member of the Small Pilgrim Places Network.

The Revd Andrew Hunt adds: I forget how many times I have recommended or given to people Prayer at Night, especially the latter part of the book, "Cairns for a journey; that Day and Night should be a single whole" - a brilliant exposition of the apophatic way of the Cross, with countless psychological and spiritual insights, couched in the form of an extended pictorial prayer, a Christian work, yet open to all. It is a classic.

Others have found succour in his reworking of the Psalms, or in Healing, More or Less. These works provided an opportunity for the Church to bring itself up to date with contemporary society, using the traditional terms of reference of Christianity, but expressed in a way to which those seeking God today could relate.

I was fortunate to have trained under Jim on the St Albans MTS course, a course so radical that it was swiftly dumbed down after his departure in 1986. His intelligence, alertness, and spiritual, academic, and theological brilliance were like an electric shock to the system; the God that I had previously met through the Church had to be greatly enlarged. Invited speakers such as Ken Leech, Keith Ward, Angela Tilby, Donald Reeves, and others produced a similar effect. I was half thrilled, half mortified, to discover, through Jim, that gay people were generally more intelligent, sensitive, caring, and insightful, and sharper and wittier, than straight emotional dumbclucks such as I.

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