Monday, October 19, 2015


 So I spent a weekend back in Pontypridd.

There's a new vicar's name on the noticeboard. And more Welsh, too. And, gloriously, the hall I once knew as a building next door to the church where the Social Services worked, is now a living, breathing outreach centre for all the the church does in the community. The connection between the two is physical and more. That was just a vision in my day; it's a reality now.

Peter (the successor; we've known each other since I was at Merton & he was at Pembroke) bought me lunch at the Bunch on Friday. That's changed too. It's not just the awards it gets these days - the old spit & sawdust front bit of the bar has had something of a makeover, but the food is still wonderful and there's nothing like a pint of O1.

I managed supper with the MP & his wife. Owen came back early from a party in Newport to spend the evening with the vicar. I'd feel honoured, but honestly faced with that choice (Newport/vicar - which, let's face it, can be rephrased as "Hell's suburb/Heaven's friend") I think we'd all probably risk Friday evening on the M4.

And then to business.

I was in town for a wedding. Best part of a decade ago I baptised two lads that Kirsty had nurtured in faith through a youth alpha course. She had wanted to start a youth group; the only thing was, we had no youth. So I said she should give it a go - & she got an amazing group together, a group which grew in faith and experience and life together.

They were a musical lot, and from time to time I got to encourage them a bit. Matthew Truelove was part of this group. Matt was (without doubt) the most gifted young singer I ever worked with. He wrote songs, he played guitar, he had a voice to stop angels mid-flight. If he'd wanted to, he'd have been the best known singer Wales had produced in a generation. At his side, Sion Carver was a terrifically gifted pianist who would never sing a word for me - and I pushed! Though I always suspected he might have the performer's gene - he certainly had the attitude. Matt now works behind the camera in film, and Sion fronts a band as keyboard player & singer.

On Saturday I married Matt to his amazingly lovely bride Liz, and also got to spend wonderful time chatting to Sion and his terrific girlfriend Kim.

Standing at the front of church as Liz walked down the aisle, seeing Matt take his place, and remembering so many occasions when he had stepped up to that spot to sing, to speak, to be baptised - and now to promise his life in love to his wife, I felt the glorious privilege that every priest has rise in my heart and almost overwhelm me. I had chosen one of the optional blessing prayers in the latest Welsh wedding service, and it almost undid me.

One of the fundamental roles of a priest is to bless people. When you do it, and know you re doing it, and know that the people you're blessing know themselves to be being blessed, there is a powerful spiritual sense that is simply beyond words. It is glorious, and on days when a PCC gets snarky, you just bring this to mind and it helps you keep doing the job.

As the afternoon turned to evening, and Matt & Liz danced and chatted to all their guests, Sion & Kim & I sat under the stars, beer in hand, and told stories of life and experience and faith and I was just glad to be there. Sion is a good guy, and I am so glad we had time to catch up.

I wish there had been more time.

I saw Jane & Teg, Julie & Joseph, Derek, Gill, Joyce, Barbara, Peter & Martine, David and others in Pontypridd all too briefly - and some not at all. Stewart, Trish: next time. Gemma: we'll find some Christmas trees to decorate on another occasion. My wonderful, wonderful OF friends - I cannot tell you how I miss you guys & look forward to catching up. Sorry it wasn't this occasion.

But for all its brevity it was perfect. It was, in every sense, a blessing.

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