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WALES: Churches Close in Financially Strapped St. Asaph Diocese

WALES: Churches Close in Financially Strapped St. Asaph Diocese

By David W. Virtue in Wales
October 4, 2009

LLANDUDNO---It is Sunday morning. An unexpected Indian summer sees the sun high in the heavens. Inside St. Paul's Church, Craig-y-Don, however, it is anything but sunny.

Here in this coastal city of over 20,000 people, swelling to 60,000 during the summer months, a somber looking vicar invites the people to take their seats as the service ends. The church warden has an announcement to make, he says. A grim looking warden rises to his feet and walks down the center aisle of the church to the chancel steps.

He clears his throat, unfolds a piece of paper and begins. "We have an immediate financial crisis but we also need to resolve this for the years to come. If we cannot find an immediate way out of this situation, we will, sadly, have to consider very seriously the future use of St. Paul's Church." The deadline, he later reveals, is Oct. 31, 2009.

The letter speaks for itself. He reads it aloud, his voice shaking with emotion. "By the beginning of October we ran out of money. This means that we will have nothing with which to pay our share of the Parish Share (or quota) which contributes to clergy stipends, meet our commitment towards clergy expenses, pay our domestic bills for heat and light or meet any repair bill that may arise. When writing this letter the heating boilers in the church need servicing before they can be switched on again for the winter months and it is likely that we will have no money to meet the bill. In addition, in January we have to pay the insurance premium on St. Paul's. This is in excess of 2000 pounds ($3,200)."

The litany of loss and despair continues. "We have used up all but $1,600 of our reserves to make sure we meet our bills each month. The reality of the situation is that some people are giving only $1.60 to $3.20 a week - average - with some giving more and others less. We are nowhere near the average sadly."

The warden goes on to say that the $1,600.00 owed to British Gas to heat the church and the hall cannot be paid. Direct debit payments to the Gas Company have ceased. Then he drops a bombshell. The $4,200.00 St. Paul's needs to pay towards its Parish Share (quota) and clergy expenses can't be met. The church only takes in $2,700.00 a month. Furthermore, the rental income from the hall, which has kept the church partially afloat, has gone down as people want more modern facilities.

The treasurer nods his head. All 39, mostly elderly female, congregants look sadly at the warden, say nothing and slowly file out of the church looking away as they shake the vicar's hand, refusing even the offer of free coffee.

Later I learn that the church will close and the remnant of aging Welsh Anglicans will move into a rented Christian Science hall down the road. The property is to be sold to a developer who will level it and build high demand condos in the resort town. It is over for this parish and many more like it in Wales.

This is the diocese of the newly installed Bishop Geoffrey Cameron, a refugee from the ultra liberal Anglican Communion Office in London, the fourth instrument of unity in the Anglican Communion. A brainy attorney, priest and close personal friend of Dr. Rowan Williams, he now faces an uphill task of keeping his diocese going and solvent.

He is more conservative and cautious than his boss, the revisionist Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, who is a clone of Episcopal Presiding Bishop Mrs. Jefferts Schori.

It is no secret that things are financially disastrous in the Diocese of St. Asaph and in much of the Church in Wales. They are steadily closing down parishes across the province, with attendance in free fall. The Episcopal Church's style of religion doesn't bring people in.

Fortunately there are some green shoots of good news in some parts of Wales, where orthodox evangelicals are gaining in influence, said a source.

Wales has known and experienced spiritual renewal and revival. The Welsh Revival (1904–1905) was the largest full-scale Christian Revival of Wales of the 20th century.

That national religious revival brought in an extra 100,000 new converts according to the estimates of the time. It was a movement that quickly spread to the four corners of the world.

Between 1859 and 1904, there were local revivals: in Cwmafan (1866), Rhondda (1879), Carmarthen and Blaenau Ffestiniog (1887), Dowlais (1890) and Pontnewydd (1892).

It was the 1904 revival that hit the churches with a storm of love and power which completely transformed their lives.

Writing at that time, Annie Davies said people were changed in so many ways. The crime rate dropped, drunkards were reformed, pubs reported losses in trade. Bad language disappeared and never returned to the lips of many - it was reported that the pit ponies failed to understand their born again colliers who seemed to speak the new language of Zion without curse and blasphemy. Even football and rugby became uninteresting in the light of the new joy and direction received by converts.

Colliers and tin-men of the working classes expressed their joy in so many ways and with so many original prayers.

Perhaps the song that captured what most of these felt was a song sung by Sam Jenkins, a tin plate worker from Llanelli - a song translated at the time from English to Welsh - Can y Rebel "Am Achub hen rebel fel fi" - "For saving an old Rebel like me".

In asking one elderly revival convert some years ago as to whether the revival stopped in 1906, she answered, "it's still burning within my heart - it's never been extinguished - it has burned for over 70 years."

If Bishop Cameron is to see his diocese turn around, he will need to distance himself from his archbishop who proclaims the joys of pan-sexuality. He must seek with humility the One who sees us all as "rebels" in need of saving, otherwise his remaining churches will be demolished for condos and hotels for tourists who see themselves as anything but rebels and whose money will be used for the pleasures of the moment.

This is the hymn that brought Wales to its knees 100 years ago. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liWYLxitHkU

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