FATHER RICHARD’S LETTER
REFLECTIONS ON THE LIFE OF THE PARISHES
I like to tell people a little story against myself when I suspect I’m in danger of taking myself too seriously. Some years ago, I was buying some church supplies from the S.P.C.K. shop in Hereford and fell into conversation with a canon of the cathedral. We were bemoaning the sad state of the Church (poor leadership, facile gimmicks etc). He amused me by saying, ‘a few parishes, though are bucking the trend, a parish across the border has really undergone a renaissance, from single figures to thirty or forty on a Sunday morning – I’ve heard however that the vicar of Hay-on-Wye is very eccentric.’ Noticing my lack of response, he quickly added, ‘and where is your parish Father?’ – I responded, ‘I’m the parish priest of Llanigon’ (I thought it kindest to omit ‘with Hay-on-Wye!’)
I write this report in Holy Week when the Church Universal ponders on the mysteries of Christ’s suffering and crucifixion and can’t help noticing that it was invariably ‘the crowd’ who were the cause of Christ’s Passion and death. ‘Crucify him, crucify him’ shouts the crowd. It’s not for nothing that Carl Gustav Jung reflected that ‘the monster is the crowd’. I see no reason to think that when God made us in His image, he used a supernatural pastry cutter – one size fits all!
We should all try to be true to the best we can be of ourselves and by God’s patient grace to be true to Him. If this earns us a reputation of eccentricity – then so be it. I think the distinctive hallmark of our worship is that it is essentially ‘Godward’ not ‘manward’.
I’ve lost count of the times people leaving mass in our parishes who have said ‘I’m a different person leaving church from when I came in’. It’s not unusual for visitors to leave church in tears as they have been moved so deeply by reverent holy worship.
Cardinal Henry Newman once observed that the only sign of ‘Life is change – and the saints have changed often!’ This change starts deep in ourselves as individuals and congregations.
So often the modern church gives the impression that ‘change’ is to do with managerial manipulation and arbitrary changes in parish structures, causing priests to oversee half a dozen parishes or more. No wonder clerical burn-out and depression is increasingly common.
In two years’, time I will have been in Holy Orders for forty years. The happiest years have been in the Parishes of Hay, Llanigon and Capel-y-Ffin. I am grateful to have rediscovered the wonderful things that can be achieved where Priest and People together are as one.
I will not mention the names of the many people who work hard and quietly for the good of our churches, but I do hope that they know how deeply appreciative of them I am.
I finish these reflections with a profound thank you to you all and pray for you Christ’s Holy Blessings.