Doing practical theology in a different tongue: Are my identities different when I do so?

Bilingual Context

 It is a pleasant summer morning, and I am walking my lurcher dogs through my town of Amlwch, which is the most northerly town on the island of Anglesey, indeed in Wales a whole. Periodically, when I am tuned in, I greet people

Good Morning

Bore da

Mae’n braf

Mae’n lyfli (lovely)

Bore da

Bore da. Mae hi’n braf

It’s nice, yeah.

It is a bilingual community, and Welsh and English are used interchangeably. Anglesey, with its neighbouring county, Gwynedd, have a higher proportion of first language Welsh speakers than the rest of Wales.[1]

The Learning Context

I am an avid learner. At present not only I am working towards a PhD, but I am learning the Welsh language. I am hooked. I began my learning in Learn Welsh’s Ysgol Haf (Summer School) in July 2014 and have spent every Friday in a Welsh Class from September of that year. I have followed the Wlpan programme, thus having completed Wlpan, Pellach, Pontio and about to embark on Uwch.

These courses were inspired by the revival of Hebrew in Israel. Following the Second World War, intensive Hebrew Ulpan courses were established in Israel to cater for the large influx of immigrants from different countries…One of the course tutors, Shoshana Eytan, was invited to Wales in 1972 to discuss her experiences, and in 1973 the first Welsh Wlpan course was established in Cardiff.[2]

While the methodology is similar with the concentration on linguistic building blocks, specific patterns and encouragement to take what we know into the wider community, the contexts of the two situations are different. The Welsh Wlpan is part of a strategy to revive the Welsh language. Crowe argues the Welsh Wlpan is more ‘on the offensive’ and exists in a context where very few learners learn the language for practical reasons.[3]

I would place myself in the category of those who need to learn on both a practical and theological level. I learn so I can communicate in the mother tongue of the majority of those I live and work amongst. The ethnographer, Carol Trosset also learned Welsh following the Wlpan model in 1981/1982. At that time, she described Welsh as a ‘dying language’.[4] It would difficult to describe the language thus at the end of the second decade of the twenty first century. Unlike Trosset, I am a priest-theologian and sit comfortably on the evangelical side of the Church in Wales, I therefore want to speak to people about their faith in their mother tongue. I am to some extent a missionary.

I am the Vicar of Bro Eleth which covers the north west of the Island including the towns of Amlwch, Llannerch-y-medd and Moelfre. The first two with populations of 3500 and 2100 respectively have 66% and 80% first language welsh speakers. In Wales the population just under 19% of the population claim to speak Welsh. Moelfre, which is approximately five miles away from Amlwch, with a population of around 1400 is a little different, with under 30% of the inhabitants able to speak Welsh. Thus, in the towns of Amlwch and Llannerch-y-medd life can be transacted solely in Welsh, in terms of conversation, business, education, shopping, entertainment and worship. This is not to say that it is the case all of the time, and indeed if a visitor to the area tuned into the conversations going on, they would hear switching between the two official languages of Wales, often it seems to be almost unconsciously, rather than the almost mythical assumption that when an English person walks into a pub or shop, the conversation deliberately switches to Welsh for the sole purpose of excluding the other.

I have been known to sometimes tweet in Welsh, spending far too long in doing so and to blog my sermons, which are being read by other Welsh learners. I also try to read novels aimed at Welsh learners. Learning a language spoken by a sizable proportion of the people who live around me takes a significant amount of my time

I find that I augment my class based learning by using the web, indeed periodically, I receive emails from Duolingo informing me that I had made it sad because I had not engaged with its internet-based learning for several days. I put aside the funeral preparation and spent the next twenty minutes clicking and learning. Many learners use social media either to augment their face to face learning or learn solely on the web (e.g., Say Something in Welsh).[5] Ann Jones has led a study on the use of various social media platforms for those learning Welsh.

It found that most learners use tools for sharing media and resources, for chatting and interacting with other learners, social networks and microblogging. Which social media they used and how, varied, so for example only the more experienced learners blogged, although a number used twitter, chat or email.[6]

I am not alone amongst my clergy colleagues on the Island, several of us are Welsh learners. Price, when writing his history of the Church in Wales since disestablishment, notes regarding the Diocese of Bangor, ‘some priests have learnt Welsh and they serve in an increasing number of parishes’[7] He goes on

It is difficult to see how there can be really effective pastoral ministry… until more native speakers of Welsh come forward for ordination’.[8]

Price is right on both a pastoral and missiological level, those who are first language Welsh should be served by clergy who are cut from the same cloth. Yet, part of me experiences a certain grumpiness to the assumption that I cannot provide ‘really effective pastoral ministry’. It is true that when I began to learn the language, I stumbled and often fell in terms of mispronouncing words and then getting the meanings of words wrong. My experience has been up to now one of gratitude, and often amazement, at my commitment.

If only some others thought the same way is an oft repeated comment

The Learning Experience

My experience is not universal. Learn Welsh courses throughout Wales, are currently being reviewed to ensure that the dovetail with the Welsh Assembly’s declared intention of 1 million Welsh speakers by 2020. One of the initial reviews noted simply

Hostility, reluctance or embarrassment from native speakers will easily discourage learners. Therefore, it will be helpful to encourage native speakers to become more involved in the development of learners as successful speakers of Welsh.[9]

Trosset is helpful here with her own observation of learning the language:

Another problem with speaking to learners is that language learners are essentially like small children in their linguistic ability: they need to be spoken to simply, to have a chance to repeat what is said to them, and to be corrected when they make mistakes.[10]

This is my experience. There are still first language Welsh speakers who I am unable to hold a meaningful conversation in Welsh with because I do not want to make a mistake in front of them. This is because to do so seems to be offensive. Language and identity are inextricably linked.[11] Of primary importance it is essential to note that it is too simplistic to say that ‘to be Welsh means to be Welsh-speaking’. Daniel Evans’s auto/ethnographic study of Porthcawl, situated as it is in what is described as British Wales speaks both of a love of the language that they do not speak and a strong Welsh identity.[12]

I have not only had to learn just a language, but to enter what is a different culture. Again, I find certain echoes, but some dissimilarities, in my own experience in Trosset’s journey as a learner.

On more than one occasion I was described as ‘the Welshwoman (Cymraes) from Ohio’. This is possible because, at its most fundamental level, to be Welsh means to be Welsh speaking. This was demonstrated in a conversation I overheard among three native Welsh speakers, concerning the girlfriend of a friend of theirs. One of them asked (in Welsh), ‘is she a Cymraes?’ The second replied, ‘I don’t know – she’s learned Welsh, anyway’, at which the third declared flatly, ‘Cymraes, therefore’. In fact, the two terms “Welsh” (nationality) and “Welsh speaker” are the same word in the Welsh language: Cymrol Cymraes. To ask “Cymro ydy o?” is to ask both ‘Is he a Welshman?’ and ‘Does he speak Welsh?’[13]

The dissimilarities in our experiences may revolve around the fact of gender and role, as well as the fact that Trosset was not rooted in a place. Moreover, I am an Englishman, while Trosset is American, which means that I am confronted by the histories of the complex relationships between England and Wales in a way that Trosset is not. Yet, just as Trosset is given honorary Welsh status at times, in Llannerch-y-medd, I am known as the English vicar ‘who belongs to us’.

There is a difference in time as well. Since 1981, what has been described as the passive revolution of devolution as happened,[14] with a general consensus that the process of devolution as engendered greater confidence in terms of what it means to be Welsh, although Evans uses the word interregnum for where he understand Wales to be at the moment. He notes that in many ways’ life continues for Wales in the same way as it did before devolution occurred. The Welsh Assembly administration has less power than its Scottish counterpart, and support for independence in Wales has not yet attained some of the statistical heights as it does within Scotland. Nevertheless, it would not be accurate to assume that nothing has happened. The desire for independence is not as prevalent, despite the fact that there is a greater curiosity about its possibilities, fuelled by the behemoth that is Brexit. Wales, like its neighbour, but unlike its Celtic cousins voted to leave rather than to remain.

Sophie Williams recent study comparing the experiences of national identity in Wales and the Basque Country because of their status as stateless nations offers us further material upon which to reflect.[15] Like Trosset before her, Williams draws on the work of Denis Balsom’s three Wales model dividing the country into three: British Wales, Welsh Wales and Y Fro Cymraeg.[16]

This does not appear to work as a singular model on Anglesey. Both Amlwch and Llannerch-y-medd fit comfortably within Y Fro Cymraeg, and yet even within these towns there would be different expressions of Welshness.

‘Being Welsh is about having an identity: that identity is expressed in language, rugby and the slate’. (Janet Sheffield, Tutor, Isle of Anglesey County Council)

Janet is from the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, which is shaped by its relationship with the slate quarries.

‘I do not use the language in my daily life. If you bless me in Welsh alone, I am not blessed’ – (Ruth Owen, retired farmer)

Ruth is Anglesey born and has never left Wales

Williams used focus qualitative focus groups in Wales, rooted in Balsom’s three areas. Williams writes,

Broadly speaking, therefore, conceptualisations of Welshness coalesce around five main elements: an intangible sense of Welshness as a feeling; a sense of pride in that feeling; a sense of self and identity; a sense of difference from others; and a sense of belonging to a place. Throughout, the subjective nature of these conceptualisations is apparent, as is the conflict between self-identification and external categorisation and the arbitrary way of applying the latter, with place of birth and family background key influences.[17]

There are degrees over overlap between Williams’s conclusions and Trosset’s earlier ethnographic research. Trosset observed that certain definitions of Welsh social identity, are hegemonic in Welsh culture. These concepts are egalitarianism, martyrdom, performance, and emotionalism.[18] Whilst, Trosset focused her research on contexts that are predominantly Welsh speaking her overall conclusions were re-confirmed in collaboration with Caulkins.[19]

Not unusually, those interviewed, by Trosset, Trosset and Caulkins, and now Williams who are first language Welsh deemed knowledge of the language as important to their identity as Welsh people. More surprisingly is the assertion that those from England can become Welsh if they learn the language. This is not to say that those who were born in Wales are deemed not to be Welsh. An example of a conversation that took place in Llanystumdwy will suffice to underline the point.

P7: I will never, ever be accepted as Welsh… we can have people who come over to England, or Britain, and they get citizenship…you can’t move to Wales and say I have dual nationality, if you move to Wales from England, you’re English, and that’s it

P6: You can if you become fluent in Welsh…

M: So, what does that mean for somebody like me that’s Welsh, but doesn’t

speak Welsh?

P4: Well, you are Welsh

M: I’m Welsh because I was born here already, so I don’t need to prove

myself as Welsh by learning the language?

P4 and P6: No

M: Whereas an English person would have to prove it and learn the


P2: Ie, dw i’n cytuno [Yes, I agree][20]

When Williams tests this hypothesis further, there is a degree of scepticism as to whether firstly an English person would be sincere enough to become Welsh, and indeed evidence of suspicion as to why someone from England would consider themselves to be Welsh.[21] Consistent across the three groups in Williams’s research is the framing of what it means to be Welsh over and against what it means to be English, or what is perceived as being English. For just as Williams’s research acknowledges that there is a continuum of what Welshness might mean, the same must be said of being English. The regional differences between the North East of England and Greater London are as pronounced as the differences between Swansea and Holyhead. Indeed, it may be that at one level the commonalities between a docker on the Humber are greater with a docker in Swansea than between the shop owner in Cardiff and the farmer on the Llyn Peninsular.

However, when we view this the other way around, what does the learning of and operating within a second language do to the individual who is the learner. First, I have found that language cannot be separated from culture, it is not learnt in an isolated sanitised way. It has been important to me to begin to grapple with some of the issues of being English in Wales. Second, as Robin Mann has noted

In attempting to accommodate and use Welsh in public, learners will often experience feelings of embarrassment and awkwardness.[22]

This is particularly acute for someone like me who is leading worship, speaking or attempting to chair a meeting. Whilst at the beginning, these can be laughed at, as I must get used to fact that I communicate differently in my mother tongue. I relish speaking without notes, but in Welsh much more must be scripted.

Thus, in school assemblies, I have begun incorrectly for 18 months. I am aware that hogyn and hogan are boy and girl respectively. I had learnt from watching the rugby or football, then hogia is boys. Thus, I deduced that hogannau must be girls, when it is in fact on Anglesey, gennod. Each act of worship in school has begun with me saying, ‘Bore da Hogia. Bore da Hogannau’. There has been uncorrected for several reasons. First, because everyone understood what I had said. Second, a sense of empathy with me for trying to learn, and third a reluctance to offer correction. This is true of adults, children had no problem in telling me that Jesus did not fly into Jerusalem on the donkey.

My identity

Mann notes further that a commonality faced by all learners is ‘a sense of being or feeling like an outsider in relation to an experience of attempting to speak Welsh’.[23] Trosset’s earlier study touched on this, suggesting that the learner in Wales is regarded as different.

Being a language learner does require a degree of self-motivation, especially if you are going to use that language in public. At first it is necessary to allow yourself to stumble and fall. There are times when what I want to say far outruns what I can say, and in this there is a level of faltering vulnerability.

At this stage, I cannot say whether I am a different person in Welsh. It is too early to say. I function differently. This is in part due to the limitations of my vocabulary. I am unable to preach in Welsh using more nuanced language. I have in a Civic service come for example to the offertory hymn and completely forgotten the word for collection or offering and said ‘sgynnoch chi bres’ – ‘do you have any money?’. It is in part because of how the wider Wlpan programme is taught, beginning with how to converse about life, family, holidays and interests. I have therefore had conversations in Welsh about subjects that I would not have in English. It may be that the Welsh speaking Kevin enjoys small talk (siarad man) more than his English-speaking counterpart.

Learning a language does offer a mirror to look into. I preach more simply in English because I have discovered that it is effective in Welsh. Similarly, learning something of the colonial/postcolonial complexities of the relationship between the two neighbours has forced me look at how I might conduct myself

I regularly tell a story of a conversation between myself, 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 metered out for using Welsh rather than English.

Archana Pathak who links together the disciplines of postcolonialism and autoethnography notes the following

postcolonial autoethnography has the capacity to achieve two intertwined goals: the creation of a scholarship that serves to reveal and disrupt dominant structures of oppression and the recognition that the process of knowledge production itself must be continually be scrutinized to assure that the scholarship does not reproduce the very systems it is working to dismantle.[24]

Postcolonialism becomes a particular lens through which her autoethnographic endeavour is conducted. Pathak follows Gonzalez in offering four ethics for a postcolonial ethnography, namely: ‘accountability, context, truthfulness and community’.[25] For Pathak, these ‘are intertwined and created a synergy’ which taken together ensure ‘that the colonialist voice is not reproduced’.[26] Unlike, the autoethnographies offered by Pathak and Gonzalez, postcolonialism moulds my own endeavour and context differently, namely that if Wales is considered to be postcolonial, then as an Englishman my identity is sometimes shaped by being identified with the historic oppressor. Autoethnographically, I am involved in postcolonialism and its history differently to that of Pathak and Gonzalez.

When I open the Bible, turn the pages in a prayer book or engage in conversation, I am different.

The critical autoethnographer enters strange and familiar situations that connect critical biographical experiences (epiphanies) with culture, history and social structure…. Epiphanies are experienced as social dramas, as dramatic events with beginning, middles, and ends. Epiphanies represent ruptures in the structure of daily life.[27]

Thus moving to Wales was for me such a rupture with the discoveries of difference and otherness that that series of events have brought.

[1] See Welsh Government, National Survey for Wales, 2017-18 Welsh Language: Confidence and attitudes (October 2018), p. 6.

[2] Colin Baker, Hunydd Andrews, Ifor Gruffydd and Gwyn Lewis. ‘Adult language learning: a survey of Welsh for Adults in the context of language planning’, Evaluation & Research in Education

Vol. 24, No. 1, March 2011, 41-59

[3] Crowe, A. (1988a). Yr Wlpan yn Israel. Aberystwyth: Canolfan Ymchwil Cymraeg i Oedolion.

[4] Carol Trosset, “The Social Identity of Welsh Learners”, Language in Society, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Jun. 1986), p. 167.

[5] See

[6] Ann Jones, Social Media for Informal Minority Language Learning: Exploring Welsh Learners’ Practices. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2015(1): 7, pp. 1-9, DOI:

[7]  Price, D T W. A History of the Church in Wales in the Twentieth Century. Penarth: Church in Wales, 1990, p. 62.

[8] Price, Church in Wales, p. 62. Contra, Morgan who writes,

[9] Chriost, Diarmait et al. Welsh for Adults, Teaching and Learning Approaches, Methodologies and Resources: A comprehensive research study and critical review of the Way Forward. Cardiff University, 2012, p. 48.

[10] Trosset, ‘Social Identity’, p. 171.

[11] Richard Jenkins, Social Identity. 4th edn. London: Routledge, 2014, p. 6.

[12] Daniel Evans, Post-Devolution Welsh Identity in Porthcawl: an ethnographic analysis of class, place and everyday nationhood in ‘British Wales. Unpublished PhD, Bangor University, 2014.

[13] Trosset, ‘Social Identity’, p. 173.

[14] Daniel J Evans, “Welsh devolution as passive revolution”, Capital & Class 2018, Vol. 42(3) 489–


[15] Sophie Williams, Rethinking Stateless Nations and National Identity in Wales and the Basque Country, London: Macmillan, 2019.

[16] Denis Balsom, ‘The Three Wales Model’, in The National Question Again: Welsh Political Identity in the 1980s by John Osmond, ed. (Llandysul: Gomer, 1985), 1–13.

[17] Williams, Rethinking Stateless Nations, pp. 82-83.

[18] Carol Trosset Welshness Performed: Welsh Concepts of Person and Society. London: University of Arizona Press, 1993.

[19] Trosset and Douglas Caulkins, ‘Triangulation and Confirmation in the Study of Welsh Concepts of Personhood’ Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Spring, 2001), pp. 61-81

[20] Williams, Rethinking Stateless Nations, p. 82.

[21] Williams, Stateless Nation, pps. 112 and 113.

[22] Robin Mann, ‘Negotiating the politics of language: Language learning and civic identity in Wales’, p. 213.

[23] Mann, ‘Language Learning’, p. 219.

[24] Pathak, Archana. ‘Musings on Postcolonial autoethnography: Telling the Tale of/through my life’, Holman Jones, Stacy, Adams, Tony E and Ellis, Carolyn (eds) Handbook of Ethnography. London: Routledge, 2013, p. 595 (emphasis mine).

[25] Pathak, ‘Musings on Postcolonial authoethnography’, p. 599. See further, Gonzalez, M C. ‘An ethics for postcolonial ethnography’ Clair, R P (ed) Expressions of ethnography. Albany: University of New York Press, 2003, pp. 77-86.

[26] Pathak, ‘Musings on Postcolonial autoethnography’, p. 599.

[27] Norman Denizen, Interpretive Autoethnography. 2nd edn. London: Sage, 2014, p. 53. Denizen describes epiphanies as ‘interactional moments and experiences that leave marks on people’s lives’. (p. 52).

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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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