Niall Gooch wrote this sad, lovely Larkinesque poem after a visit to an abandoned Welsh church:
This is not the place of my imagining.
What had I hoped for?
50p leaflets and creased postcards
flyers for a summer concert two weeks past
and services every other Sunday;
A tasteful war memorial
(listing the martyrs of the true religion,
that tattered flag).
And relics of a long-dead Rector,
whose smart new altar rail
birthed a local schism.
Instead a half-ruin, locked and boarded,
overtaken by the pagan wild.
No quiet pew-sitting, nursing illusions
of imminent restoration
and in the meantime respectful disbelief.
The stooping, stumbling tombstones
gloomed in by weary trees
are near collapse, the path
untrodden and unkempt.
The bell alone seems new, but who
would answer to its call?
These graves have long forgot
the sound of weeping,
and the scent of flowers.
Better this way, perhaps –
to face the truth of dying faith.
Patterns not retraced in hushed politeness
for uncomprehending tourists
by godless guides, but obliterated
and undone: gone.
They will not come this way again.
Even if there is a turning back
it will not be a turning back to here.
It will be a forgetful remembering.
(Niall, if you’re still a reader of this blog, I would love to hear your further thoughts on “forgetful remembering.” Are you saying that once a living tradition dies, even its recovery will be compromised?)
Average Sunday attendance in the Church in Wales has fallen to below one per cent of the population, the Membership and Finance Report said. And the Governing Body was in no mood simply to “receive” the report, as the motion on the order paper asked it to do.
In other words, the leaders of the church did not want to hear it. More:
The motion on the order paper asked members of the Governing Body to “take note of the report”, but the Revd Richard Wood (Bangor) described it as devastating, appalling, an embarrassment, and deeply depressing. He said: “I would hate us just to take note of it.”
He recognised that the Church in Wales was attempting new things, such as pioneer ministry and licensed evangelists, and said that these would take time to produce fruit. But he was concerned about the “huge amount of time, effort, energy, and money [spent] on propping up stuff which has failed”.
He moved an amendment to the motion, to say that the Governing Body received the report “with a heavy heart”, and added a new clause calling for more research into what made a growing Church.
“I want to know what those places of growth have in common with each other; and, in contrast, I want to know what is different about those who are not growing,” he said. “What common features prevail in both camps?”
He continued: “Across our Church, in many places, faith is weak, or has even died, and we are just going through the motions. The Church in Wales is now — according to these statistics — a small and insignificant church in Wales . . . but we act as though we are large and important.”
The Church in Wales is the second-largest denomination in the country, at 30 percent of the population. One can’t imagine that the other Christian churches there are doing much better.
A reader sent me this photograph of a page from one of Peter Seewald’s interviews with Joseph Ratzinger — a cardinal at the time of this interview, but later to become Pope Benedict XVI:
“Small, vital circles of really convinced believers who live their faith.” The ability to “detach herself from the inter-connections with society that have existed until now.”
Cardinal Ratzinger prophesied the Benedict Option. I wonder what it would look like if Welsh church leaders gave up trying to act like a “large and important” church, and instead went Ben Op radical? You know, of course, that I’m not simply asking this about the Church in Wales, but to some degree of all of us.