One Step Behind


Doing Theology One Step Behind

I moved to Wales four years ago to become the Vicar of Holy Island on Anglesey. I am now the Vicar and Leader of Bro Eleth (10 parishes on the north side of the Island of Anglesey which is predominantly Welsh speaking (c. 66%). My immediate reflections about moving and changing cultures were summed up in ‘The Oppressor in the Mirror’, which arose out of a short paper presented at the British and Irish Association of Practical Theologians Conference held in Cardiff in 2015).[1]

It has been a journey of unlearning, of discovering that was I had presumed been a shared history of the nations of the British Isles is far from that. Like many educated in England, my history was a British history littered with the names of crowned individuals and tales of daring do of English men and occasionally of English women. I knew hardly anything about Welsh history and culture, and began a discovery that concluded that the much heralded characteristic of English fair play does appear to have been in evidence with how the English or British establishment had dealt with the people of Wales. The fact that overt bias is seemingly a thing of the past does not mean that it does not linger in the collective memory (pp. 142-143).

The focus of this research is twofold. It is embedded in the lives and histories of the Anglesey towns of Amlwch and Llannerch-y-Medd. Amlwch is the most northerly town in Wales and Llannerch-y-Medd one of the historic market towns of the Island. Both are distinctively Welsh in terms of the fact that in both the Welsh language is spoken predominantly in a variety of different arenas. The use of the Welsh language does not determine Welsh identity, although there is both a governmental initiative to promote the use of the language, and often a keenly felt loss in areas where it has disappeared.[2]

This piece of work is secondly ingrained in the context of my own specific ministry. I am a Yorkshire born priest who was ordained into the ministry of the Church of England, serving on an estate on the edge of Gloucester, the coastal town of Maryport in west Cumbria and in Bartley Green a large outer housing estate on the edge of Birmingham. Now as the vicar of Bro Eleth, I live and minister in northern Anglesey covering three specific settlements and their surrounding areas. The area is post-industrial, coastal and rural. All of these contexts have edginess about them, whether because of geography or socio-economic circumstance.[3]

This research therefore is auto-ethnographic. The research question: ‘What does it mean to interpret the Bible from a Welsh Liberation Perspective as an English-speaking Priest in the Church in Wales?’ demands that this is the case.

It became clear that it was necessary to use the Bible in both languages, not because the Church in Wales is a bilingual organisation in a devolved nation that treats both languages equally, but due to the fact that three of my congregations conduct themselves entirely in Welsh, and in the words of one worshipper, ‘I have never worshipped God or read the Bible in a tongue other than my mothers’.

This in itself a challenge as I am very much a Welsh learner. Whilst I am competent enough to lead worship in both English and Welsh, and regularly give a short homily in Welsh, I still tend to think in English. Whilst, I have passed the entry and foundation level exams for using Welsh as a Second Language, I am only in the foothills of the mountainous terrain of the language. I would describe the process of learning Welsh as entering into a different world, as learning a language opens up the possibility of living within another culture, with its own rules, symbols, history and behaviours. I am one step behind not only because of the limitations of my language and understanding of the histories and cultures of Wales, but because I am the beginning of a journey onwards from the discovery that I might be associated with the Oppressor in the Mirror.

Contextual Theology and Ethnography

Contextual Theology is rooted in a specific place and also with the lives of people. Thus, theology rooted in context ‘is primarily a piece of witness, or testimony, based on the practice and experience of individuals’ and communities.[4] Ethnography has commonalities with Contextual Theology. It is as Walton suggests the ‘multi-layered study of cultural forms as they exist in everyday contexts’.[5] Both modes of study then begin by observing experience and engage in listening to context prior to producing analysis and any plans for action. Ethnographic research is sometimes portrayed as passive in a way that Contextual Theology cannot be. Theologies of Context; Black, Feminist, Womanist, LBTQI+ and Liberationist are always invested in the situation or Sitz in Leben, seeking to understand and calling for repentance/action.

Ethnography has been described by Hammersley and Atkinson as a ‘particular set of methods’ that

Involves the ethnographer participating, overtly or covertly, in people’s daily lives for an extended period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, asking questions – in fact, collecting whatever data are available to throw light on the issues that are the focus of the research.[6]

Sarah Pink however argues that a representation of ethnography as ‘just another method or set of methods of data collection wrongly assumes that ethnography entails a simple process of going to another place or culture, staying there for a period of time, collecting pieces of information and knowledge and then taking them away’.[7]

Ethnography cannot be done in a sterilised bubble, and ethnographers are not like archaeologists of old who took precious artefacts from their context to place in another without seemingly any thought to what their removal might do to the original setting. Ethnographic study has the possibility of changing the context and individuals within it, including the ethnographer. It is, or can be, ‘a complicated, messy and humbling endeavour’.[8] Vincent refers to the ‘faithful practice’ of theologies of context.[9] For contextual theologians, particularly those of a liberationist perspective, theology is both part of the process of action and calls us to act. Scripture is not interpreted in context with the expectation that it is solely an academic endeavour, exegeted in and for itself.

While I have considerable sympathy with the view that all theology is in a sense ‘contextual’, for indeed scripture, the creedal statements, theological text books were all written in a particular time and space[10], Contextual Theology has a particular intent or approach. Bevans describes it as a means of doing theology that takes account of four things, namely ‘the spirit and message of the gospel, the tradition of the Christian people; the culture in which one is theologizing; and social change in that culture’.[11]

In terms of my own context, it is the last two of Bevans’ descriptions that appear to be particularly fruitful in developing an auto-ethnographical and liberationist approach. I say this for three reasons. First, the moving from England to Wales is the auto-ethnographic or auto-biographical impetus to this piece of work. I am thus acutely aware of the differences between these different countries and of course also the similarities that exist between the two. These are expressed in terms of language, history – shared and otherwise, culture and economics. Second, with the advent of devolved power from Westminster to Cardiff Bay and the debates that have taken place both and after the Referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, conversations have sprung up within Wales about its identity and relationship particularly to England within the UK. Third, the religious make-up of Wales has changed dramatically over the last three decades; where faith was shaped by Chapel going or allegiance to non-conformity this is by and large now not the case. Grace Davie notes, ‘Secularization may have come late to…Wales, but it came fast. Post-industrialization has not been kind to the free churches…. As the communities, of which the chapels were part, have collapsed, so too have the chapels themselves’.[12] The areas in which I live and serve as Anglican vicar are not as pluralist in terms of religious identity as some of the cities in South Wales, but the increasing absence of Sunday church-going from family and community life is a feature shared from Holyhead to Monmouth and Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury.


Auto-ethnography involves a subtle step-change from ethnography, Walton writes, ‘instead of the researcher being a disciplined observer of social processes ‘out there’, the project is brought much closer to home. The focus in auto-ethnography is upon analysis and communication of those experiences that have shaped the researcher. Personal experience becomes a data source’.[13]

Thus in the context of this research the starting point for the research was the move from England to Wales for me and my consequent culture shock of finding myself in a different nation. In a sense it is irrelevant in auto-ethnographic terms that the Wales I have been immersed in is not consonant with other parts of Wales. Indeed in chapter 2 of this thesis, we will explore the fact that Wales is not a monolithic whole and that we need to speak of Welsh identities rather than one identikit picture of what it means to be Welsh. The auto-ethnographer needs to be aware that the data she or he is interpreting is not empirical. The researcher is shaped by and shapes their contexts. This need not question the validity of findings reached, especially if the researcher is appropriately reflective and fashions their conclusions in the light of other data, including the histories, socio-economic settings, location of the place as well as communal stories of the community or communities alongside individuals within it.

When I first moved to Holyhead, I undertook within the first six months of being there to ensure that the main act of worship on Sunday morning at St Cybi’s Church, Holyhead would be bilingual. This started with small steps constrained by my own linguistic abilities but included using Welsh for the opening greetings, the absolution, the peace and blessing. Prior to my arrival the services at St Cybi’s had been conducted wholly in English for a period of 25 years.

This opened up a number of responses. First my action was not isolated but was seen by some as part of the overall story of the church in Holyhead; one that I did not at the time know. St Cybi’s had been the Welsh speaking Anglican Church in town with its sister church St Seiriol’s the English speaking Church. The Church of St Seiriol was demolished in 1992 which led to the merging of both congregations and to St Cybi’s becoming an English speaking congregation apart from a Welsh language service once a month in the evening. Second, the re-introduction of Welsh delighted some Welsh speakers, yet also thirdly, brought hostility, including anonymous letters, presumably from non-Welsh speaking worshippers, whether incomers from England or those born within Wales who had not had the opportunity to learn or chose not to use the language.

‘Using Welsh affirmed who I am’ – Ann

‘I live, socialise and work in English. Welsh does nothing for me. When I hear it in worship, it jars. If the blessing is only offered in Welsh, it is as if it has not been offered at all’ – Buddeg.

Both Ann and Buddeg were born in Holyhead, went to the same school and were from homes where Welsh were spoken at home. Both are proud to be Welsh. There is a level of complexity of identity and language that needs a fair degree of nuancing. This will be undertaken in chapter three of the thesis.

Within this mix was me, having moved to Wales and acutely conscience of my Englishness who took the decision to introduce Welsh into the common life of principal Anglican place of worship in Holyhead, which is Wales’ busiest and the United Kingdom’s second busiest port expecting it would make a positive statement about firstly my intent to embrace the language and culture, secondly that I understood that the Welsh society and church were working hard at being bilingual and that thirdly, I grasped to a limited extent that Welsh was part of; but not all of, the identity of Wales. I had not yet appreciated that a positive statement could be interpreted in negative ways.


The auto-ethnography of moving from England to Wales

‘Auto-ethnography’ writes Chang, ‘is becoming a particularly useful and powerful tool for researchers and practitioners who deal with human relations in multicultural settings, such as educators, social workers, medical professionals, clergy and counselors’.[14]

Chang goes on to suggest three areas in which auto-ethnography is particularly beneficial. Firstly, it is research method friendly to both readers and researchers, eschewing often the writing conventions of the scholarly guild.[15] This can lead as Chang notes to the researcher becoming swept up in the power of story rather than employing rigorous analysis and interpretation to the auto-ethnographical text.[16] Two stories from my own context illustrate how easy it is to get caught up in moment of the story, assuming an unnecessary universality.

The first involved a conversation between me, as vicar, and the head of a secondary school. The head teacher explained in concise, yet forthright terms, that in every conversation he had with an English professional he carried with him the memories passed down by his parents of punishment being meted out to them for using Welsh rather than English in school. There can be no doubt of the power of this story and how it has been passed down the generations. Yet, it would be a mistake to draw from this that there was a universal attempt in the 1960s to stamp out the speaking of Welsh in Anglesey and Gwynedd without some documentary evidence which at this stage does not seem to be available.

Yet at the same time the absence of data does not diminish the power of the story, buttressed as it is by a common lament from people of the Headteacher parents generation that they were encouraged to live in English rather than Welsh to get on. Leanne Wood AM, the Plaid Cymru politician has spoken of her anger of her own lack of opportunities to learn Welsh as a child, and that her grandfather was discouraged from learning the language as it was deemed to be backward.[17]

The second following my public conduct of the two minute silence on 11 November 2017, when a young mother expressed delight that a Welsh learner was using the language publicly. This took place in the village of Penysarn. It is a commemoration that is largely for the local school, parents and staff. The village is overwhelmingly Welsh speaking, and yet this service has usually been offered in English. It would have been tempting to think that previous Anglican clergy had not offered to take this act of Remembrance in Welsh. However, the absence of any record in the service registers of the parish churches and lack of memory of the event from church wardens raised questions as to whether clergy had previously been involved. This was confirmed by the head teacher who explained that he had led the service previously, and whilst being a first language Welsh speaker was more comfortable using English on more formal questions. Stories may speak powerfully, but as far as possible the whole story needs to be known before it can be interpreted.

Chang’s second point is that auto-ethnography ‘can enhance cultural understanding of self and others’.[18] Yet, she rightly cautions that there is a danger of ‘excessive focus on the self in isolation from others’.[19] To others, I would add community. The community has a story to tell as much as individuals.

The fact that I find myself immersed in a different culture opens up as Chang suggests the opportunity for ‘self-reflection and self-examination’. There needs to be two caveats here. First, that, as we shall see, different parts of Wales have distinct ideas so it is perfectly possible that my reflections on moving may have been different had I moved from Birmingham to an estate in post-industrial Swansea. Even on Anglesey, there are different cultures, some of which revolve around language. In Amlwch, the Queen’s Head and the King’s Head are almost opposite each other. In the King’s, Welsh is spoken and in the Queen’s, English is spoken. Amlwch, as we will see, is not a magnet for English retirees or tourists. Regulars at both are proudly Welsh, their Welshness is simply expressed in a different way. Similarly, if we were to look in the service register at St Eleth, Amlwch, the neatly entered act of worship will be recorded in either Welsh or English depending upon whether Isabel or Pat are recording the service. Both Wardens are Welsh, yet one is comfortable operating in one language, and their colleague in the other. Second I enter into this ethnographic task as an Anglican vicar and occupy a leadership position.[20] As much as I want to call myself a ‘fellow pilgrim’, that is not how most of those who attend the churches I minister to see me; the level of deference to clergy in my experience is greater in Wales than it is over the border.

The third benefit Chang sees in auto-ethnography is that ‘sharing and reading autoethnography can also help transform researcher and readers (listeners)’.[21] It is in this area that I need to be particularly careful.

As I have alluded to learning a new language has seemingly opened new doors for me. Indeed I would go as far as saying that the act of moving to Wales has been transformative. In July 2018, I spoke at the first Coda Festival on the ‘Oppressor in the Mirror’ and then subsequently had a question and answer session with the Revd Canon Dr Manon James.[22] One of the questions put to me by Dr James was whether I now ‘considered myself to be English or Welsh’?

There is no doubt that I see myself differently as a result of living in and experiencing Welsh Culture. This is close to the launching point to how John Vincent begins his theology: ‘Where you are is what you are’.[23] However the temptation like all converts is for me to see Welshness in its entirety as I have experienced it and in doing becoming again the Oppressor in the Mirror, even if I might see the red dragon draped around my shoulders. Our research, reflection and writing needs to balance auto-ethnography’s aim to ‘provoke a response’[24] as it unsettles, criticizes and challenges with Pink’s observation ethnographers need to ‘be self-conscious about we represent ourselves to our research participants and to consider how our identities are constructed and understood by the people with whom we work’.[25]

Autoethnography and Granular Ethnography

Auto-ethnography offers a particularly innovative way into this research. Its ultimate goal is ‘cultural understanding’ reflecting on the experiences of communities and individuals.[26] Walton believes that three of the main currents of auto ethnography ‘have particular relevance to the reflective theological researcher’, namely story-telling and the gathering of the same, analytic ethnography and performance ethnography.[27] I will set out in chapter one how this will work in particular to our research question and research goals. However, at this stage I propose to work with Atkinson’s granular ethnography.

I want to urge the conduct of ethnographic research that is based on granular analysis. That is, it traces the grain of everyday life. The grain that is given by the naturally occurring forms of social order and cultural forms. The ethnography is therefore faithful to the multiple ways in which every day life is ordered and enacted.[28]

‘Tracing the grain of everyday life’ is particularly appealing to a Vicar. I am involved in and observe life at its messiness, both at its beginning and the end. I am at one and the same time at the heart and periphery of the communities that make up my Ministry Area. Atkinson has not yet set out how granular ethnography is done. It seems to be that ‘tracing’ can be done only by faithfully recording, reflecting and revising the stories of those involved in the lives of my worshipping communities, whether in the middle or on the periphery.

Interpreting the Bible in a Liberationist Way

The rise of Liberation Theology and the appropriateness of its approach for Wales will be discussed in chapter 4. For now I note that a liberationist approach to interpreting the Bible begins with experience. Vincent notes that this is an ‘experience of a particular kind – experience, especially of oppression’.[29]

Liberation theology is being worked out in shanty towns, land struggles, oppressed and humiliated groups, as well as areas of urban deprivation in the Northern hemisphere, wherever the rebuilding of shattered lives takes place.[30]

Liberation theology has had an incredible effect on the guild of biblical studies, as Sugirtharajah notes the ‘hermeneutic spiral’ and ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ are now firmly part of the ‘lexicon’ of biblical studies.[31]

Beginning with looking is at the heart of liberation theology, and indeed one might argue the starting point for all practical theology.[32]

Many liberation theologians…spend a significant part of each week working with grass roots communities….As part of their pastoral work they listen and help the process of reflection on the Bible which is going on (within) the grassroots communities.[33]

The Urban Theology Union (formerly Unit) has been at the forefront of developing a contextually rooted exegesis, refining the See, Judge, Act cycle, pioneered initially by Joseph Cardijn, and the subsequent shaping and re-shaping the many configurations of the pastoral cycle.[34]

Throughout my experience as an ordained person, I have endeavoured to relate the Bible to experience, leading and being led by those whom I am working with. One example will suffice for now.

In September 2002, when discussing with members of the congregation what we might do during Advent, the Apocalypse of John was mentioned (hereafter the Revelation) by two or three people, until the idea was adopted, albeit slightly reluctantly by myself.


It was decided that the group would meet 4 times, and that the first meeting as well as offering a brief introduction to the biblical text would involve a discussion that might shape the rest of the course.


My own particular methodology within the group was to attempt to make relationships between the biblical text and local context. Thus the opening statements made about the text were designed to ask a question about the experiences of the group. This pattern was repeated at each session, and in the last two sessions done so explicitly.[35]


This is not too dissimilar to the approach developed by UNLOCK! (formerly the Evangelical Urban Training Project) which seeks to relate text to context, starting with experience.[36]

Liberation theologians did not come from the context in which they undertook to read the Bible. The earliest practitioners in Latin America were priests and scholars who were drawn to work with communities on the edge. I too am not part of the community in which I work. Whilst, I am in many ways a participant observer, I need to remember that I am an outsider who needs to listen, hear and reflect before I speak.

Having hopefully established some of the merits of doing theology one step behind, it is to research goals and further discussion of the methodologies involved that we must turn momentarily before we set out the context of Wales, and in particular of Amlwch and Llannerch-y-Medd.

[1] Practical Theology 9 (2016): 142-144.

[2] This is one of the conclusions of Evans, Daniel John. Post Devolution Welsh Identity in Porthcawl: an ethnographic analysis of class, place and every day nationhood in ‘British Wales’. Unpublished PhD, Bangor University. 2014. pp.  85, 110=118

[3] See Ellis, Kevin. ‘Working Class Dreams, Working Class God’ Expository Times 121 (2010), 437-446.


[4] Vincent, John. ‘Developing Contextual Theologies’ in Duffield, Ian K, Jones, Christine, Vincent, John (eds.) Crucibles: Creating Theology at UTU. Sheffield: Urban Theology Unit, 2000, p. 24.

[5] Walton, Heather. Writing Methods in Theological Reflection. London: SCM Press, 2013, p. 3.

[6] Hammersley, Martin and Atkinson, Paul. Ethnography: Principles in Practice. 2nd edn London: Routledge, p. 1

[7] Pink, Sarah. Doing Visual Ethnography. 3rd edn. London: Sage, 2013, p. 34.

[8] Moschella, Mary Clark. Ethnography as a Pastoral Practice: An Introduction. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2008, p. 32.

[9] Vincent, ‘Contextual Theologies’, p. 31. Cf. Green, Laurie. Let’s do theology: Resources for Contextual Theology. London: Mowbray, 2009, pp. 107-113.

[10] Vincent, ‘Contextual Theologies’, p. 28. Cf. Bevans, Stephen, ‘Models of Contextual Theology’, Missiology: An International Review Volume 13 (1985), pp. 4-12. Bevans writes, ‘there is a strong conviction among most theologians that… theology which is not contextual theology – an expression of faith in terms of contemporary society, history and culture – is a false theology’ (p. 4).

[11] Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1992, p. 1.

[12] Davie, Grace, ‘Foreword’, Chambers, Paul. Religion, Secularization and Social Change in Wales: Congregational Studies in a Post-Christian Society. Cardiff: University of Wales, 2005, p. 1. See also Morgan, D Densil, The Span of the Cross: Christian Religion and Society in Wales 1914-2000 2nd edn Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011.

[13] Walton, Heather, Writing Methods, p. 3.

[14] Chang, Heewon. Autoethnography as Method. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, 2008, p. 52.

[15] Chang, Autoethnography, p. 52.

[16] Chang, Autoethnography, p. 55. Kim Etherington notes that without sufficient critical analysis autoethnography can be ‘self-indulgent, solipsistic and narcissistic’, Becoming a Reflexive Researcher. Using Our Selves in Research. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2004, p. 141.

[17] (accessed 15 August 2018)

[18] Chang, Autoethnography, p. 54.

[19] Chang, Autoethnography, p. 57.

[20] On the nuances of the religious leader being ethnographer within her or his community, see Moschella, Ethnography as Pastoral Practice, pp. 90-93.

[21] Chang, Autoethnography, p. 59.

[22] For details of the programme, see (accessed 16 August 2018)

[23] Vincent, John. ‘Liberation Theology in Britain, 1970-1995’ in Rowland, Christopher and Vincent, John (eds) Liberation Theology UK. Sheffield: Urban Theology Unit, 1995, p. 18.

[24] Walton, Writing Methods, p. 9.

[25] Pink, Doing Visual Ethnography, p. 37

[26] Chang, Autoethnography, p. 49.

[27] Walton, Writing Methods, p. 4, pp. 4-9.

[28] Atkinson Paul, Thinking Ethnographically London: Sage, 2017, p.11

[29] Vincent, ‘Liberation Theology in Britain’, p. 17.

[30] Rowland. ‘Introduction: the theology of liberation’ in The Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology. Cambridge: University Press, 1999, p. 3.

[31] Sugirtharajah, R S. Postcolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation. Oxford: University Press, 2002, p. 106.

[32] Rowland, Christopher, Rees, Bridget, Weston, Ruth. ‘Practical Exegesis in Context’ Rowland and Vincent, John (eds.) Bible and Practice: British Liberation Theology 4. Sheffield: Urban Theology Unit, 2001, pp. 12-14.

[33] Rowland, Rees and Weston, ‘Practical Exegesis’, p. 13.

[34] Latvus, Kari. ‘The Bible in British Urban Theology: An Analysis by a Finnish Companion’, West, Gerald O. Reading Other-Wise: Socially Engaged Biblical Scholars Reading with their Local Communities. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007, pp. 127-138. See also Lawrence, Louise J. The Word in Place: Reading the New Testament in Contemporary Contexts. London: SPCK, 2009, p. 22.

[35] Ellis, Kevin. ‘The Priest as Theologian’, Journal of Adult Theological Education. Volume 1.2 (2004), p. 123

[36] Richardson, Jenny. ‘You can keep your hat on!’ Rowland and Vincent (eds). Bible and Practice. Sheffield: Urban Theology Unit, 2001, pp. 27-34.

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Learning is important to me

Mae dysgu yn bwysig iawn i mi

Learning is very important to me. I think it comes from my parents, especially my dad. My dad was part of a generation who did not have the opportunity to learn. His dad, my grandfather, died when Dad was 14 years old. Dad had to leave school and go out to work, to help with the family budget.

Mae dysgu yn bwysig iawn i mi. Dw i’n credu ei fod yn dod gan fy rhieni, yn enwedig fy nhad. Roedd fy nhad yn rhan o genhedlaeth na chafodd y cyfle i ddysgu. Bu farw ei dad, fy nhad-cu, pan oedd Dad yn 14 mlwydd oed. Roedd yn rhaid i dad adael yr ysgol a mynd allan i weithio, i helpu gyda chyllideb y teulu

The disciples, Jesus’ friends were learners. They were learners of Jesus. In the time of Jesus, disciples used to choose who they would follow. In the ancient writings, the Midrash, there are some humorous stories of how disciples would choose who to follow. Jesus was different. He asked people to follow him. Jesus invited people to be his friends and learn from and with him.
Roedd y disgyblion, ffrindiau Iesu, yn ddysgwyr. Roeddent yn ddysgwyr Iesu. Yn ystod amser Iesu, roedd disgyblion yn dewis pwy y byddent yn ei ddilyn. Yn yr ysgrifau hynafol, y Midrash, mae yna rai storïau doniol o sut y byddai disgyblion yn dewis pwy i ddilyn. Roedd Iesu yn wahanol. Gofynnodd i bobl ei ddilyn. Gwahoddodd bobl i fod yn ffrindiau ac yn dysgu oddi wrth a chydag ef.

Our Gospel reading today is Mark’s account of the Transfiguration. It is pithy and punchy. That is how Mark does things; simply and well. Jesus is with his three of his closest friends. His clothes become dazzling white. I sometimes think of the advert I saw as a child about ‘Ready Brek’, where everyone was surrounded with the ‘Ready Brek’ glow. Mark is describing something more important than that. His language and style offer the glimpse that Jesus is different, Jesus is divine.
Ein darlleniad Efengyl heddiw yw cyfrif Mark o’r Trawsnewidiad. Mae’n “pithy a punchy”. Dyna sut mae Marc yn gwneud pethau; yn syml ac yn dda. Mae Iesu gyda’i dri o’i ffrindiau agosaf. Mae ei ddillad yn dod yn wyn gwyn. Dw i wedi meddwl am yr hysbyseb a welais fel plentyn am ‘Ready Brek’, lle roedd pawb yn cael eu hamgylchynu gyda’r glow ‘Ready Brek’. Mae Mark yn disgrifio rhywbeth sy’n bwysicach na hynny. Mae ei iaith a’i arddull yn cynnig cipolwg bod Iesu yn wahanol, mae Iesu yn ddwyfol.

The story has Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus, as if it is the most natural thing in the world. Both Moses and Elijah were significant figures in the history of Israel. They both were prophets, although Moses has become better known as the law-giver. Elijah is sometimes also linked with John the Baptist.

 Mae’r stori yn dangos Moses a Elijah yn siarad gyda’r Iesu, fel petai’r peth mwyaf naturiol yn y byd. Roedd Moses a Elijah yn ffigurau arwyddocaol yn hanes Israel. Roedd y ddau ohonynt yn broffwydi, er bod Moses wedi dod yn fwy adnabyddus fel y rhoddwr cyfraith. Mae Elijah weithiau hefyd yn gysylltiedig â Ioan y Bedyddwr.

One of the reasons for this event was to help Jesus friends see more clearly who Jesus was. Faith, like learning, is a process. Few of us have a flashing light conversions, although they do happen. Much of my learning is tentative and slow. My Welsh Class involves lots of repetition until particular patterns have sunk in.

 Un o’r rhesymau dros y digwyddiad hwn oedd helpu Iesu ffrindiau i weld yn gliriach pwy oedd Iesu. Mae ffydd, fel dysgu, yn broses. Ychydig iawn ohonom sydd â throsiadau trawiadol fel fflach, er eu bod yn digwydd. Mae llawer o’m dysgu yn brysur ac yn araf. Mae fy Dosbarth Cymraeg yn golygu llawer o ailadrodd nes bod patrymau penodol wedi suddo i fewn.

They see more clearly who Jesus is. it is not that Jesus becomes a different person. They see things differently. Learning always opens our eyes. Whilst Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah, Peter offers to build three booths (tents) for them. Sometimes, we smile and think Peter is being foolish; and yet he is being serious.

Maent yn gweld yn gliriach pwy yw Iesu. nid yw Iesu yn dod yn berson gwahanol. Maent yn gweld pethau’n wahanol. Mae dysgu bob amser yn agor ein llygaid. Er bod Iesu yn siarad â Moses ac Elijah, mae Peter yn cynnig adeiladu tair bwthyn ar eu cyfer. Weithiau, rydym yn gwenu ac yn meddwl bod Peter yn ffôl; ac eto mae’n ei fod yn ddifrifol.

First, Jewish people then and now celebrate the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). The Feast celebrates God being with his people. Second, do you remember the phrase in the first chapter of John’s Gospel: ‘the Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood’? Mark and John appear to have similar understandings of who Jesus is. God has moved into the neighbourhood, has become part of the community.

Yn gyntaf, yna mae pobl Iddewig wedyn yn dathlu’r Gwyl y Booths  (Pebyll? =Tents) (Tabernaclau). Mae’r Wledd yn dathlu Duw gyda’i bobl. Yn ail, a ydych chi’n cofio’r ymadrodd ym mhennod cyntaf Efengyl Ioan: ‘daeth y Gair yn gnawd a’i symud i’r gymdogaeth’? Mae’n ymddangos bod gan Mark a John ddealltwriaeth debyg o bwy yw Iesu. Mae Duw wedi symud i’r gymdogaeth, wedi dod yn rhan o’r gymuned.

Peter’s offer is overtaken by events. They hear a voice speak clearly. ‘This is my son. I love him. Listen to him.’
Mae cynnig Peter yn cael ei wario gan ddigwyddiadau. Maent yn clywed llais yn siarad yn eglur. ‘Dyma fy mab. Dw i’n ei garu o. Gwrandewch arno. ‘

There are connections here with the Baptism of Jesus, where a voice is heard, saying, ‘This is my son. I love him. I am pleased with him.’
Mae yna gysylltiadau yma â Bedydd Iesu, lle clywir llais, gan ddweud, ‘Dyma fy mab. Dw i’nei garu o. Yr wyf yn falch ynddo. ‘

Three of the closest friends of Jesus are encouraged to listen. Listening is not always easy. Sometimes it is difficult. Sometimes, it seems impossible. We do learn by listening. It involves all that we are.

Anogir tri o ffrindiau agosaf Iesu i wrando. Nid yw gwrando bob amser yn hawdd. Weithiau mae’n anodd. Weithiau, mae’n ymddangos yn amhosibl. Rydym yn dysgu trwy wrando. Mae’n cynnwys popeth yr ydym ni.

What do they need to listen to? Jesus in Mark says nothing new, it seems. In fact they are told to say nothing to anyone until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.

Beth sydd ei angen arnynt i wrando arnynt? Nid yw Iesu yn Mark yn dweud dim byd newydd, mae’n ymddangos. Yn wir, dywedir wrthynt i ddweud dim i unrhyw un nes bod Mab y Dyn wedi codi o’r meirw.

Perhaps it is the point about the Son of Man that is important here. Jesus friends expected great things of the Messiah. Jesus did great things. There were differences though between the great things expected of the Messiah and the great things that Jesus did. He constantly did not perform according to the script. Perhaps they had to realise that in following Jesus, they were following a different sort of Messiah. He was not yet a Messiah on a white horse. He did not throw out the Romans. He asked for allegiance; but showed them what he meant by washing their feet.

Efallai mai dyna’r pwynt am Fab y Dyn sy’n bwysig yma. Disgwylodd ffrindiau Iesu bethau gwych o’r Meseia. Gwnaeth Iesu bethau gwych. Ond roedd gwahaniaethau rhwng y pethau mawr a ddisgwylir gan y Meseia a’r pethau gwych a wnaeth Iesu. Nid oedd yn gyson yn perfformio yn ôl y sgript. Efallai y bu’n rhaid iddynt sylweddoli bod pobl yn dilyn math gwahanol o Feseia yn dilyn Iesu. Nid oedd eto’n Feseia ar geffyl gwyn. Nid oedd yn taflu allan y Rhufeiniaid. Gofynnodd am ffyddlondeb; ond dangosodd nhw beth oedd yn ei olygu wrth olchi eu traed.

We are about to enter the season of Lent. Lent is usually seen as time of giving things up. Sometimes people give up chocolate, alcohol or caffeine. Some people choose to do something extra. Perhaps it could be making time for something different and positive. Orthodox Christians in Greece and Russia call Lent, the ‘Great Feast’. They look at it as a space to make time for God.

Rydyn ni ar fin mynd i mewn i dymor y Grawys. Fel arfer, gwelir y tymor yn amser o roi pethau i fyny. Weithiau mae pobl yn rhoi’r gorau i siocled, alcohol neu gaffein. Mae rhai pobl yn dewis gwneud rhywbeth ychwanegol. Efallai y gallai fod yn gwneud amser i rywbeth gwahanol a chadarnhaol. Mae Cristnogion Orthodox Groeg a Rwsia yn galw’r Grawys, y ‘Gwyl Fawr’. Maent yn edrych arno fel lle i wneud amser i Dduw.

I trust that you have a happy and holy Lent, and that it may be something of a great feast. Amen.

Dw i’n ymddiried bod gennych Grawys hapus a sanctaidd, ac y gallai fod yn gwyl gwych. Amen

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Dust and Imago Dei

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus! (for tomorrow)

It is also the beginning of the great feast of Lent, as our sisters and brothers from the Orthodox Easter call it, as well as sometimes ‘the Lenten Spring’. For some of us in the Christian west, we get so plugged in to giving things up, particularly things that we like in a spirit of discipline and self-denial, that we miss out on the fact that Lent could be the beginning of new life or at least the opportunity to create space for new perspectives.

Like many others, I will mark people with the sign of the cross with the word: remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return: turn away from your sin, and be faithful to Christ.

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return are words that embrace both our mortality as well as our connectedness with the created order. We are dusty people. The marking with the cross in ash confirms our frailty, and the fact that the ash is created from the palm crosses blessed in the midst of celebrating the euphoria of Jesus entering Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) points towards the closeness of dustiness and glory.

Ash is created by fire giving this year a link to the ddraig goch (red dragon) the symbol of Wales (I know tenuous, but probably not as tenuous as some of the links made in some of my sermons). St David called those who believed in Christ because of him to be faithful in the little things.

Lent is a good time to begin such faithfulness.

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from your sin and be faithful to Christ.

For more:


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An Evangelical Apology

I came across this again….. I did nothing with it… until now… and for that I am ashamed.


I wrote this to an individual after an encounter. It is rough and ready; and offered in a spirit of grace.

To a sister on my journey (reflections used with permission)

I am basically an evo (an evangelical). I am though deeply ashamed at some of my evangelical brothers and sisters for the way they have pilloried the gay community, and gay christians in particular. There I have said it.

I treasure deeply the scriptures. I happen to believe that they are divinely inspired. I believe that when interepreted correctly they are authoritative for Christian belief and praxis. I also think it cannot be avoided the the scriptures say some things, often pointed, about sexual ethics. This is not surprising given that sexual relationships and sexuality are at the heart of what it means to be human.

I have, like many millions of others, studied what the scriptures say about…

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just a note


I will be posting here occasionally…. but I am also to be found here:

I know it is a bit confusing and complex. Then that is quite like me….

I have just posted this in the other place

I love Advent. I like Christmas.

I love the rhythm of a season that embraces both the fast and a rich sense of feast. With its focus perhaps on patriarchs, prophets, the Baptist, Mary of Nazareth and of course Jesus it is a sort of engagement with our family tree. I have a bag by my bed of photos my mum had saved over the years. There are some of me that I would rather no one else saw. But there are others of family and friends that I might have long since forgotten.

Advent affords us the opportunity to celebrate our family, warts and all.

There is also the option of explore Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell, which usually are given a body swerve in favour of other themes.

They are topics that give us pause for thought… and before Christmas…. that might be a good thing.

That is why I will enjoy deeply wailing and singing longer songs with tunes that are a tad sober. They will help me enjoy December 25th when it comes.

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Remembrance Sunday 2016

Ailadrodd hanes. Mae’n rhaid iddo. Nid oes unrhyw un yn gwrando

Geiriau gan y bardd Saesneg Cristnogol, Steve Turner.

Dan ni’n byw yn y byd lle mae’n hawdd peidio â gwrando

Gwersi o hanes yn cael ei anghofio.

Today is Remembrance Sunday. It is a time for Remembering obviously. It is easy to think of who and what we remember.

Pwy ydyn ni’n ei gofio? –      a

elodau’r lluoedd arfog a chollwyd eu bywydau-

y rhai mewn profedigaeth-

aelodau’r lluoedd arfog a anafwyd, yn gorfforol, feddyliol neu yn ysbrydol-

dinasyddion, gan gynnwys plant wedi’u heffeithio gan rhyfel-

y rhai sydd yn gorfod ffoi heddiw-

teulouedd wedi’u rhwygo ymaith

y rhai a bywydau wedi eu dinistrio


  • Members of the armed services who lost their lives
  • Those who were bereaved
  • Members of the armed services who were wounded, physically, mentally or spiritually
  • Civilians, including children caught up in war. Those who are still forced to flee today
  • Families who were torn apart
  • Many whose lives were shattered

Beth ydym yn ei gofio? 

Rydym yn cofio sefyll I fynu yn erbyn draft arglwyddiaeth. –

Rydym yn cofio y gôst o hynnu. –

Rydym yn cofio y pris a talwyd gan llawer am ein heddiw, na fysa nhw ddim yn weld ei fory –

We remember standing up against tyranny?-

We remember the costs of doing so-

We remember the price paid by many that for our todays many would never see a tomorrow.

Perhaps the bigger question is why are we remembering? This firstly seems a strange question, perhaps a little off-beam. Surely we are remembering all because of who and what. That is true.

But we stand here in the place of Remembrance.

remembranceMae Eglwys Sant Cybi yn lle i gofio

Mae eglwys yn yr gaer wedi gweld gwrthdaro

Here in this place: we gather week by week to remember Jesus Christ. The priest lifts the bread and wine and each time she or he says… do this in remembrance of me.

Nid ymarfer academaidd yw atgofio

Remembrance is not an academic exercise.

Indeed if Christian people gather and share in the bread and wine offered by Jesus and do not embrace the call to follow him, we are misremembering all that he stood for.

Similarly, if we gather here today, lay our wreaths, keep silence whilst stiffly stood, plant our crosses without a commitment to working to ensure that inhumanity towards each other is eradicated, we misremember those who have gone before us.

Dyma’r pam mae gweithred ymrwymiad mor bwysig.

This is why the Act of Commitment is so important

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount points us to this. The famous phrase, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ echoes down the centuries, although it has been occasionally misheard, not least by the scriptwriters of Monty Python for we forget that Jesus added for they ‘will be called children of God’. The purpose of his sermon was to build a radical community, wrought through with rainbowed colours of grace, inclusion and humility

To remember without embracing this is no remembrance at all.

To remember without the act of commitment risks today becoming nothing more than a pious feeling.

Mae Caergybi yn dre sydd yn balch o’i hanes.

Dre sydd gyda traddodiad cyfaethog morwrol.

Mae o yn derbyn y gwrthdaro sydd yn digwydd.

Mae o yn dallt fod angen I cofio.

Mae o yn dallt y lles o gofleidio Pawb sydd wedi dod o fewn y waliau. Hir fydd y parhaed

Holyhead is a town with a proud history

A town with a rich maritime tradition

It understands that conflict happens

It understands the need to remember

It knows the benefits of all who come within its walls. Long may this continue.


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A poem for Adoption Sunday

Not flesh of my flesh
Not bone of my bone
But still miraculous,
My own

Never forget
For a single minute
That you not being from my loins
Has made me into a different kind of man
And a changed human being

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